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Upside-down apple pie

Maura Friedman

Upside-Down Apple Pecan Pie


Our winning holiday pie recipe is an upside-down apple pecan pie

Our contest-winning fall pie recipe is an upside-down apple pie. Wondering where on earth such a recipe came from and how to make it? Read on.

Have you ever flipped a pie upside down to serve it? We hadn't either, until we tried this pie from Southern Kitchen reader Joann Conway, who won our holiday pie recipe contest.

Conway said she was first inspired to make the pie while traveling and picking up a free booklet containing a similar recipe. "I believe it was in North Carolina," she wrote in an email. "The upside down technique intrigued me."

She said she was, at the time, playing a monthly couples bridge game where they all competed to bring the best dessert: "I served the upside-down pie and was hounded for the recipe, which I shared. As players arrived for the next months' bridge games, one of the gals informed me that her husband had been baking one of the pies each day and eating the whole thing! Needless to say, that ended soon after."

Conway serves the pie every year for Thanksgiving, in addition to many other times a year. She streamlines the process by preparing the apple filling ahead of time, placing it in an empty pie plate, and freezing it until solid. Once hard, each crustless "pie" is popped into a large bag and is ready to be plopped into the pie crust come baking time. "Helps with holiday prep to have all that out of the way," she said.

The original recipe, by Elizabeth Deer, was a winner of the North Carolina Consumer Apple Recipe contest in 2004. Conway, however, has upped the molasses flavor by using all brown sugar, and increased the ooey gooey sauce by adding more butter to the base. Home-mixed apple pie spice also helped to build flavor and a lighter touch with the pecans makes for a more elegant presentation. We also chose to bake the pie for over an hour to ensure a crisp crust and ultra-tender apples.

It turns out that upside-down apple pie is a sleeper hit in recipe contests. It first made an appearance in the 1951 Pillsbury Bake-Off using, of course, Pillsbury Pie Crust, and a corn syrup-filled sauce. This style of pie has also made an appearance, topped with a crumbly chopped pecan sauce, in Southern Living and Taste of Home, where it gets a sugary cinnamon-roll-inspired glaze over the top.

A second-generation American of both Italian and Polish descent, Conway started cooking around age 12. "Cooking has always been an expected accomplishment in my family," she said. "We still prepare ethnic meals. Some more often than others!" One particular dish that Conway said she's never even tasted is Polish duck blood soup. "Just can't bring myself to pick up the spoon!" she said.

Beyond her family's traditional dishes, Conway loves to roast fresh local vegetables and she said she makes a "mean chicken salad." 

"Crabs are another staple of the area and I use an easy recipe from Old Bay to make crab imperial," she said. "Sweet corn in season is another favorite of mine. We also have Dr. Martin lima beans which are a delicacy. And, of course, chocolate! Any way, any time, any how! At age 76 I am in good health and attribute it in part to a 'fresh' diet."

Of course, Conway's upside-down apple pecan pie isn't exactly health food. Between the copious amounts of butter in the sauce to a rich double-crust pie dough, it is certainly an indulgent (and totally worth it) treat.

The pie recipe may sound (and look) intimidating, but all you need to create this spectacular pie is confidence in your butter usage and a good recipe for sturdy, double-crust pie dough. (We recommend this one.) Be sure to flip out the pie and serve it while it's still warm, so that the caramel sauce has plenty of opportunity to drizzle and drip all over your plate.

Upside-Down Apple Pecan Pie
Serves: 8
Hands-on time: 30 minutes
Total time: About 2 hours

1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cups pecan halves plus 1/3 cup chopped pecans
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
Cream Cheese Pie Dough, or other pie dough for a double-crust pie, both halves rolled into 10-inch rounds
6 Rome apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

Heat oven to 450 degrees.

Use your hands or a rubber spatula to spread the butter across the bottom of a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. Arrange the pecan halves in the pie plate and gently press into the butter. Sprinkle 2/3 cup of the brown sugar over the pecans and press firmly to adhere to the butter and pecans.

Place one one the rounds of pie dough over the brown sugar and press into the sides of the pie plate. Leave additional overhanging crust in place for now.

Combine the remaining brown sugar with the apples, chopped pecans, lemon juice, flour, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt. Toss gently to combine. Spoon the apple filling on top of the first layer of pie dough and spread to an even layer. Place the top crust over the apples.

Trim the edges of both layers of pie dough so that there is about 1 inch of crust overhanging. Fold the top layer of crust over the bottom to seal. Crimp the edges, if desired. Cut a few slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape and place on a rimmed baking sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake until the apples are tender and the crust is crisp and browned, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Let cool for 5 minutes.

Place a large platter over the top of the pie and very carefully flip the pie out onto the platter so that the pecans and sugar syrup are on top. Serve.

Photo Credit (pie in pie dish): Maura Friedman
Photo Credit (sliced pie): Ramona King

Author image

Kate Williams is the former editor-in-chief of Southern Kitchen. She was also the on-air personality on our podcast, Sunday Supper. She's worked in food since 2009, including a two-year stint at America’s Test Kitchen. Kate has been a personal chef, recipe developer, the food editor at a hyperlocal news site in Berkeley and a freelance writer for publications such as Serious Eats, Anova Culinary, The Cook’s Cook and Berkeleyside. Kate is also an avid rock climber and occasionally dabbles in long-distance running. She makes a mean peach pie and likes her bourbon neat.