Apple Pie

July 15, 2020
Photo by Anna Billingskog
Author Notes

What makes a good apple pie great? Tart, firm, easy-to-find apples (Granny Smith or Honeycrisp). An all-butter double crust (lighter and flakier than shortening, less porky than lard, maximal crust to filling ratio). As I saw it, there were only two existential questions remaining: Thick wedges or thin slices? To par-bake the bottom crust or not?

An apple pie full of thick apple wedges better mimics the experience of biting into a fresh, fleshy apple, while thin slices reminds me more of a Spanish tortilla (nice but not what I’m going for). In my first test, I found that pre-cooking the wedges slightly helped cook off extra water, but made for an overly soft filling. So, how else can we get rid of excess liquid? Maceration. Toss raw apples in a spiced sugar mixture and let sit until shrunken and saucy (a method apple pie aficionados Stella Parks, Deb Perelman, and Rose Levy Beranbaum also subscribe to, albeit with thin apple slices). The liquid the apples relinquish doesn’t get tossed, oh no—instead, we reduce it down into a spiced, super-appley syrup for the filling.

As is the case with this blackberry cobbler recipe, let the season decide which spices to include. Spices this warming can feel too heavy for a mid-summer pie, so try subbing in crushed coriander seeds or a bay leaf for the allspice, ground ginger or cardamom for the black pepper, or omitting the spices altogether and leaning on the lemon. I leave the peels in as I love the bitterness and fragrance against the sweet apples, but feel free to fish them out before baking.

Onto the crust: If something’s not broken, why fix it? I’ve yet to find a pie dough more reliable and yes— stress-free—as Stella Parks’, but by all means, go with whichever all-butter crust recipe makes you most comfortable.

Though dry crispness a blind-bake promises, I’m not totally convinced it’s worth the extra step and planning (for a custard or curd pie, however, I’m sold). So, how else might we avoid a soggy bottom crust, especially with a filling this wet? A dance with the freezer (keeping the crust as cold as possible throughout assembly ensures that the buttery layers remain intact), and an extended, relatively low-heat bake atop a hot baking sheet (so the crust has a chance to really cook through). A yolk-only wash makes for a deeply burnished top, and both flaky salt and raw sugar combine for a multi-dimensional sparkly finish. I skip the lattice because it’s too tempting to fuss, and fussing is the antithesis of flakiness. Clean slices will reward the patient baker, but there’s an equal (if not greater) joy in serving the pie right from the oven, with a handful of spoons and pint of vanilla ice cream.
Coral Lee

  • Prep time 3 hours 35 minutes
  • Cook time 2 hours
  • Makes 1 9-inch double-crust pie
  • Filling
  • 2 1/2 pounds (about 4 large) tart, firm apples, such as Granny Smith or Honeycrisp, peeled and cut to 3/4-inch thick wedges
  • 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (75 grams) light brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground allspice or cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 small lemon, peel removed in large 2-inch swaths, plus 1 tablespoon of its juice
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • Assembly
  • 1 quantity all-butter double-crust pie dough, chilled (see headnote)
  • 1 egg yolk beaten with a splash of water
  • Flaky salt and turbinado sugar, for finishing
In This Recipe
  1. Combine the apples, sugars, spices, salt, lemon peels, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice in a large bowl. Toss to coat well, making sure the cornstarch is well distributed. Let macerate for 3 hours at room temperature.
  2. When the apples have been macerating for an hour, start on the crust: Divide the chilled dough in half, and return one portion back to the fridge. On a floured surface, roll the other portion out to an 11 to 12-inch round, and drape onto the rolling pin. Gently transfer the dough to your pie pan, lifting the edges to let the dough settle in and up the sides. Place the lined pie pan in the fridge. Roll the remaining portion to a 9 1/2-inch round, drape onto the rolling pin, and transfer onto a large baking sheet. Let both top and bottom crusts rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before assembling the pie.
  3. When the apples are shrunken, tumble into a colander set over a medium saucepan. Transfer the colander to the sink, and let the apples continue to drain while you concentrate the juices in the saucepan. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, and let burble until very thick and caramel-like, about 1-2 minutes. You should have 1/4 to 1/3 cup syrup. Toss the drained apples with the cornstarch right in the colander.
  4. Remove the lined pie pan from the fridge. Fill with the apples, slightly doming in the center, and spoon the syrup on top.
  5. When the oven is ready and the pie has been chilled for at least 30 minutes, brush on remaining egg wash, and sprinkle with flaky salt and turbinado sugar. Cut a few slits into the top crust with a paring knife. Place the pie onto the preheated sheet, and bake for 30 minutes. Rotate the pie, drop the heat to 350°F, and bake another 1 hour and 30 minutes, or until burbling, burnished on top, and well browned on the bottom (this is why glass pans are handy! If working with a metal pie pan, start checking for doneness at the 1 hour mark).
  6. For clean slices, let pie cool for at least 2 hours before digging in; otherwise, serve straight from the pan with spoons and vanilla ice cream.

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Coral Lee is an Associate Editor at Food52. Before this, she cooked food solely for photos. Before that, she cooked food solely for customers. And before that, she shot lasers at frescoes in Herculaneum and taught yoga. When she's not writing about or making food, she's thinking about it. Her Heritage Radio Network show, "Meant to be Eaten," explores cross-cultural exchange as afforded by food. You can follow her on Instagram @meanttobeeaten.