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Want Picture-Perfect Pie? Bake it in a Bag

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I love pie—but my pie recipe could use some work. My pies, assembled with great care and affection, have emerged from ovens half-burnt, under-cooked, very un-golden-brown, and with sad shrunken crusts. So when my boyfriend told me that the best pie he'd ever had was served to him in the brown paper bag it was baked in, I didn't waste time tracking it down. This, this could be my great opportunity to make a perfect pie. But it didn't take long for the search for the recipe to turn into a full-fledged investigation.

If I can make a pie that looks like this, so can you.
If I can make a pie that looks like this, so can you. Photo by Mark Weinberg

A very quick Google lead me to The Elegant Farmer, a farm located in the small town of Mukwonago, Wisconsin and the self-declared (and trademark-registered) home of the "Apple Pie Baked in a Brown Paper Bag."

The phone number on the website led me through a labyrinth of recorded menu options—the first of which offered me a "timely message of encouragement from the Bible." After selecting 2 for the market (as opposed to 3, which funneled into the Wisconsin Electric Railroad Museum), I was led through several more options. I clicked through 0, then 1, then 3 before landing at Debbie McCready, the market's Wholesale Customer Service Representative.

The secret to the perfect pie? Bake it in a bag.
The secret to the perfect pie? Bake it in a bag. Photo by Mark Weinberg

Debbie explained to me that the recipe originated from an old cookbook the owners of the farm, "Farmer Dan and his wife Karen," came upon years ago, and had since developed into a large-scale pie operation. "The bag," she said, "allows the pie to absorb the flavors of cinnamon sugar while keeping the apples crispy." Over the course of our conversation, I began to get the hint that this recipe is kept Coca Cola-Level Top Secret. She also made clear that the several recipes for it that exist online are not the original recipe—though she gave me permission to give it my best shot. "Now you know I can't tell you that," she repeated as I asked more questions and jotted down the clues she let slip:

  1. "It's not a short bake-time at all—it's actually different temperatures."
  2. "The crust is sugar cookie-like."
  3. "We cut a hole in the bag during the baking process."
  4. "No, you cannot just use any brown bag. We get ours specially-made."
  5. "Tapioca makes for a better pie experience."
  6. "The pies we sell at our market use a lard crust."
Photo by Mark Weinberg

As soon as I got off the phone, I combed the site for more clues—I only wished I had a blue notebook to jot down the clues in. On the pie reheating guideline page, I found a list of the ingredients. On the same page, I learned that they suggest baking frozen pies at 325° F for 60 minutes and fresh pies at 425° F for 10 minutes. With these clues, I set forth to create and test a recipe:

From the ingredients list, I assembled my filling from five "sweet-tart apples," cinnamon, tapioca pearls, granulated sugar, all-purpose flour (I diverged here from their use of enriched flour in the filling), and the juice of half a lemon. For the crust, I first asked for your help, confused a few of you, then settled for a contemporary of the Pie in a Bag, a recipe from my grandmother's collection that called for lard.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

For the baking process—arguably the most important part—I placed my pie on a baking sheet, then folded parchment paper over it and tucked it under its edges. I then baked it at 375° F (my boyfriend, a much more talented baker than I, talked me out of the very low cook time they suggest for reheating of 325° F) for 50 minutes, then upped the temperature to 425° F. At this point, I cut a hole in the bag up to the edges—careful to stand out of the way of the escaping steam—and placed it back in the oven for another 8 minutes. And when I took the pie out of the oven, to my amazement and wonder— drumroll, please —it was perfect.

The pie crust was evenly cooked, the crust (likely due to the magic of Crisco) had the texture of a sugar cookie, and the filling was delicious—the apples were held together by the tapioca and melded with the cinnamon, but still slightly crispy. It may not be the exact recipe of The Elegant Farmer's (and if it is, they won't tell me), but you can be sure I'll be baking future pies in parchment paper. If not for the flavor, then for the dramatic presentation. Introducing the Amazing Apple Pie Baked in a Haphazard Parchment Tent:

Apple Pie Baked in a Bag

Apple Pie Baked in a Bag

Leslie Stephens Leslie Stephens
Makes one 9-inch pie

For the dough:

  • 2 cups sifted flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 9 tablespoons shortening (Crisco, if possible)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons cold water

For the filling, assembly, and baking:

  • 5 apples (I used a 2 honeycrisp, 2 macoun, and 1 granny smith)
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon tapioca powder (or equivalent tapioca pearls)
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for assembly
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • White of 1 egg
Go to Recipe

Do you have any tricks for baking pies? Have you had The Elegant Farmers' Apple Pie Baked in a Bag? Tell us in the comments below!

Tags: Kitchen Hacks, Bake, Tips & Techniques