Apple Pie Cookies from Bent Willow Baking Co.

The Franklin, North Carolina, bakery shares a charming fall dessert

Photo: Courtesy of Bent Willow Baking Co.

Bethany McCall could talk about bread all day long. “Bread is my forte, where my true passion lies,” she says. This is good news for those who step through the doors of Bent Willow Baking Co., McCall’s bakery in downtown Franklin, North Carolina, where she sells her artisan sourdough, croissants, and focaccia. Opened two years ago, the bakery has become a fixture of the community and a popular stop for tourists traversing Western North Carolina.

McCall didn’t plan on becoming a professional baker. She grew up in Franklin and discovered baking as a creative outlet as an adult. When her three children became school-aged, she decided she wanted to open Bent Willow and began renovating a 1920s home built by her husband’s great-great-great grandfather, which already had a commercial kitchen. The resulting modern-meets-vintage space—with rattan furniture, plenty of plants, and brass accents on the bar—is a tribute to the home’s history. “I’ve spoken with so many older family members who said that [original owners] Bruce and Sue were so much about family and friends, and they were always gathering around food,” she says.

Before she could officially open, though, McCall realized she needed some help. “I was sleeping thirty minutes a night and baking all night long,” she says. She enlisted pastry chef Logan Kimsey, a cottage baker in Atlanta at the time, to keep the pastry case full of jam-filled Danishes, thick cinnamon rolls, sweet and savory biscuits, and a variety of cookies.

Standout items at the bakery tend to be seasonal. The focaccia, for example, comes topped with tomatoes in the summer and caramelized onions and goat cheese in the fall. “We always try to be as conscious about the sourcing of our ingredients as we can be,” McCall says. In the fall, the apple pie cookies especially shine. The recipe, developed by Kimsey, is taken to the “next level” by brown butter, McCall says, which adds a toasty, nutty richness. At the shop they’re made gluten-free, but home bakers can use all-purpose flour if they’d like.


  • APPLE PIE COOKIES (Yield: 30 cookies)

    • ¾ cup unsalted butter

    • ½ cup cream cheese

    • 1 cup granulated sugar

    • 1 + ⅔ cups packed light brown sugar

    • 2 large eggs

    • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

    • 3 + ⅔ cups all-purpose or gluten-free flour (GF flour blend should contain xanthan gum)

    • 1 + ¾ tsp. baking soda

    • 1 + ¾ tsp. salt

    • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon

    • 1 cup store-bought dried apple pieces

    • ¾ cup caramel bits (the bakery uses Kraft)


  1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a small sauce pot or sauté pan. Continue cooking, stirring  occasionally, until the butter turns lightly brown and begins to smell toasty. Remove from heat  and transfer to your mixing bowl, then refrigerate the browned butter until it has solidified. This step can be done in advance.

  2. Combine the chilled browned butter with the cream cheese, granulated sugar, and light brown  sugar and use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or a handheld mixer to cream together  until light and fluffy (4 to 6 minutes on medium speed). 

  3. Add eggs and vanilla extract, then mix again for 4 to 6 minutes, pausing to occasionally scrape  the sides of the bowl with a spatula to ensure the ingredients are evenly incorporating. 


  4. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon, then add along with apple pieces and  caramel bits, and mix on low or by hand just until combined.

  5. Use an ice cream scoop to portion even scoops of dough onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, then refrigerate the dough for at least four hours before baking. Once chilled, dough can be kept refrigerated for 3 days or frozen in an air-tight container for up to 6 weeks.

  6. Bake from chilled/frozen on a parchment-lined tray at 350°F (325°F convection) for 7 minutes,  rotate pans, and bake 7 to 9 minutes more until the edges are brown and the centers are lightly  set.