If you Google “apple pie recipe” you’ll get over a 150 million page results. Probably half of them say they are the “best ever” or “easiest” or some other catchy moniker. By no means have I created something brand new. Apple pie is apples, sugar, and spices baked in a pie dough. It’s been around forever. However, through much trial and error and frustrations, I have learned a few things through troubleshooting results from less than desirable pies. The pie recipe here is pretty standard, but it’s the content in this blog post that’s worth the read.
Apple pie is a fond memory, and when I make it I’m reminded of my childhood. My Nana, grandma from Connecticut, made two things well: apple pie and apple sauce. The rest of her cooking was startlingly bad in so many ways. That’s not even me being picky, her cooking lives on today in a series of chuckles anytime family gets together. Nana cooked with love, but, unfortunately for her dinner table guests, her love language was protecting people from choking and germs. Her hamburgers were boiled so that they’d fall apart when you bit into them. Can’t choke on something that falls apart, right? Her broccoli was hard boiled until it couldn’t even hold up to a fork. And her chicken was roasted into leather so that no bacteria could thrive. Oddly enough, even though she was worried about people choking, you were pretty much guaranteed to choke on her baked chicken. But that apple pie. That was good.
There are somethings I learned from my Nana either directly or indirectly to make a good apple pie. She’d sit at the kitchen table next to the garbage can and peel a bowl of apples which would take a solid hour. After an arduous peeling process she’d cut little pieces of the apple flesh using a paring knife. She was content doing it, but I don’t like using my time that way and it annoys me to waste that much edible food. So, what I do now is skip the peeling and use my mandoline slicer to get 3/16″ pieces of apple with the skin on. I can prep my apple filling in under ten minutes this way. If you don’t have a mandoline, just slice off pieces as thin as possible. You can peel the apples, but with thin slices, you really don’t need to.
The thin slices of apples create layers in the pie that stack on top of each other, rather than a pile of little piece of apples that fall out when the pie is cut. This also makes the pie full with lots of apple instead of a gelled sugar filling. If you buy canned apple pie filling or use the stuff in bags, that’s mostly sugar turned in a gel with bits of apple in it.
Use a variety of types of apples for better flavor and diversity in texture. However, you can’t just use any apple for an apple pie, because some varieties are grainy or tough and won’t bake well with others. I do a combination of Granny Smith and a red apple for my pies. The tartness of the Granny Smith helps even out the sweet flavor without adding more sweetness to your pie. Here are some of my favorites to use for apple pie.
- Granny Smith
- Cosmic Crisp
I have seen social media content creators using Honey Crisp for pie and claiming it’s the best pie. Honey Crisp has a really hard flesh that is great for snacking on, but it doesn’t soften while baking like others do. If you’re going to use Honey Crisp you’ll need to pre-cook the apples. Even then, why ruin a perfectly good apple you could just eat when you could bake a pie with better suited apples that are cheaper. That’s just my opinion though.
An apple pie is a dessert. You’d think that’s obvious. But, in modern culture there’s a tendency to try to make everything “healthy” by cutting back sugar, butter, and wheat based flours. I totally understand subbing ingredients if it’s a medical or ethical need. I’m vegan, and I substitute ingredients all the time for ethical reason. If you’re trying to make a dessert healthy, for no need, reflect on what you’re looking for from that treat. A delicious dessert or a sub-par treat that you’ll eat regularly. I understand health and wanting to limit decadence, being someone who’s worked hard to lose weight, but if I’m going to have dessert I want it to taste really good and have a great texture, aroma, and look. Pie should have sugar and fat. They are needed for taste and baking.
Both fat and sugar are gluten inhibitors. Gluten is what makes bread chewy. You don’t want a chewy pie. When you start to cut out sugar and fat from baked goods, it changes the overall structure. Gluten forms when gliadin and glutenin, the proteins in wheat, combine with water and friction. The less water there is, the less gluten can form. The less friction the is, mixing, the less gluten too. If a pie crust is really tough and makes you chew it like bread, that means that it was either overmixed or ingredients were substituted. If you use the standard fat to flour to water ration for your dough, you won’t have to worry as much about overmixing. If the filling is overly watery, that means it probably didn’t have enough sugar in it or it wasn’t baked long enough to melt the sugar. Sugar melts at 366F which is why pie bakes at 375F and for a long period of time. The goal is to get the water in the apples to evaporate out, that’s why you poke holes in a solid crust or use a lattice, and for the sugar to melt and turn into a caramel.
Always start your bake with a loose aluminum foil cover that just covers the outer crust. The center of the pie has the most liquid in it and will take longer to bake. The outer edge is just flour and butter and a little water which will bake quickly. The foil ring deflects heat away from the edge of the pie, allowing the outer edge to bake slower than the rest of the pie.
Know your oven and its heating zones. Every oven is a little different and the hot areas are going to vary. Your oven is a big box that heat bounces around inside. The temperature that you set your oven to isn’t necessarily the temperature that’s inside your oven. And, the temperature is going to change depending on what you’re baking. You’ve experienced this. You have two racks of cookies going. The one sheet looks great but the other one is either undercooked or burned. The most consistent place for accurate and even temperature is on the middle rack and right in the middle of the rack. All of the heat that’s circulating throughout the oven bounces around at different temperatures and hits that spot like the engineers intended. If you have a gas oven and it heats from the bottom, the bottom rack is going to the be hottest. Heat rises, which means that the top rack is going to be the second hottest. As the heat rises in the oven it goes along the sides and cooks at a higher temperature than the middle of the oven, which is why you need to rotate baked goods mid-bake.
The top of your pie is covered in a crust that’s just flour, butter, and water. It will cook faster than the rest of the pie. The bottom of your pie has a pie pan barrier to deflect heat, plus, there’s all of the cold and wet filling in the pie sitting on top of it. To have a better bake you should use the second up from the bottom rack. Higher heat hits the bottom of the pie pan with cooler heat hitting the top. If you bake your pie on the middle rack you’re getting the same heat for top and bottom, even though the top and bottom benefit from different temperatures.
Your butter needs to be cold the entire time you’re working with the dough, and giving your dough time to rest will allow the butter to firm up again and the gluten to relax. I give step by step instructions in my DOUGH RECIPE, but I can’t stress enough the rest periods. Cut the butter into the flour, then refrigerate or freeze. Add the ice water and shape into discs, refrigerate. Roll the dough out for the bottom crust, refrigerate in the baking dish. Melted butter makes a tough crust. Cold butter rolls out into thin sheets that create flakey layers.
I’m sure over time I’ll add to this blog post. There’s so many factors to consider when baking, and with just a few tips and technique, you will have a higher success percentage. Even though I know all of these things, I still bake a dud from time to time. Baking is a science with so many variables, but the more you know the more you can control them.
Homemade Apple Pie
- 9" Glass or ceramic pie pan
- 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
- 7-8 cups sliced apples
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Pie Dough Crust (See Blog for Details)
Before You Prepare the Filling
- Prepare the pie dough into the disc stage, prior to rolling it out, and keep it in the refrigerator until the apples are sliced and coated. Preheat oven to 375°F so that it is ready to bake once your pie is prepared.
The Pie Filling and Baking
- In a small bowl, mix together the flour, sugars, spices. Set aside.
- Slice the apples into 1/8" or 3/16" thin slices. It up to your preference to peel first or leave the apple skin on. Transfer the apple slices to a large mixing bowl, gently toss with the lemon juice. Sprinkle half of the dry mixture on the apples, toss to coat, sprinkle the remaining mixture on, toss to coat. Set aside.
- Roll out the pie dough into two 1/8" thick discs. Carefully drape one sheet over your pie plate and lightly press into place. Layer or scoop the prepared apple slices in the pie plate making sure there are no large gaps with no apples. Place filled pie dish in refrigerator while you roll out the top dough.
- Roll out the remaining half of the pie dough to 1/8" thick. Use the least amount of flour on your counter as possible. You don't want the dough to stick to the counter, but you don't want it coated in flour either. Remove pie plate from refrigerator, cut the 1 tablespoon of butter into small pieces and place on top of apple filling. Drape the top dough over the filling, trim the edge so that both top and bottom crust barely extend beyond the dish, then pinch the bottom and top crust together into a fluted (wavy) pattern. Poke or cut holes into the top crust to allow steam to escape, brush the dough with a little milk.
- Place the pie pan on a baking sheet. This makes it easier to remove the pie from the oven without accidentally breaking the crust. Cut a piece of foil so that it only covers the outer inch of the edge of the pie. Place lightly on top of the pie.
- Place the baking sheet on the second lowest rack in your oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Take the foil off, rotate the pie 180°, bake for 25 more minutes. If the top looks golden then bake for 5 more minutes. If the top still looks pale, bake for 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven and place the pie dish on a wire rack to cool.
- Let cool at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving. Preferably allow the pie to rest in the pan for 60 minutes to allow the sugars to cool and firm the filling.
Looking for a meal to go with your apple pie? There are many across this site, but a truly delicious one, especially for Fall weather, is this creamy curry potato soup. Easy to make and prep ahead for. Rich texture using plant based ingredients and common pantry items. It’s definitely a must try!
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