Paper Bag Apple Pie: a real (tasty) bag job

Apple pie baked… how?

In a paper bag.

And why?

Proponents say it yields a gorgeous flaky crust, and perfectly cooked filling.

True? Well, it worked for me; but I’ll let you be the judge…

As it turns out, this isn’t a novel way to bake an apple pie. Why, books have been written about it… well, maybe just ONE book.

Still, this old-fashioned, brown paper bag method is still employed by America’s most famous paper bag apple pie bakers.

The bakers at The Elegant Farmer in Mukwonago, Wisconsin, have been featured on none other than Bobby Flay’s Throwdown. And their apple pie has been named “best pie in America” by the Wall Street Journal, Gourmet, and Food Network.

Wall Street Journal? Food Network?

That’s famous.

This unusual baking method for apple pie actually caught my eye years ago, when it arrived via e-mail from reader Kathleen Johnstone.

I’d heard of turkey baked in a bag, but pie? Nope.

I eagerly read through the recipe… and noticed that my computer and Kathleen’s were on different wavelengths; a good number of the ingredient amounts were blank.

Well, after trying different ways of sending an attached document, Kathleen finally gave up and just sent me the ingredient amounts in an e-mail (the subject line of which was “Apple Pie for the 8th Time” — never say die!).

I baked the pie – a bit skeptically, I must say – but found it to be beautifully golden brown and deliciously comforting. I also enjoyed the streusel topping, which strikes me as rather easier than rolling out a top crust.

As Kathleen commented in her accompanying note, “Very good, and all the mess is inside the paper bag.” Which it was, I’m pleased to say.

If you’re not quite happy with your own apple pie recipe; or have a chronic problem with bubbly apple pie and the subsequent mess and smoke it makes, we recommend the following recipe highly.

A good crust is the root of all pie satisfaction. The crust below is my current favorite. If you have a recipe of your own, one you love – stick with it.

Hear ye, hear ye! THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG WHERE PIE CRUST IS CONCERNED.

However you make your crust – if you like it, it’s PERFECT.

“Can’t,” “shouldn’t,” “only,” “always,” and “never” are not in my pie vocabulary.

If you’re a pie crust purist (and will use ONLY lard, or NEVER vinegar, or ALWAYS butter…), that’s fine; and you’re welcome to share your thoughts here.

We can agree to disagree in an agreeable way.

(Can you tell that some previous pie blog posts have generated, shall we say, “high feelings” among my fellow pie bakers out there?)

Let’s start with the crust – yours, your mom’s, mine… even store-bought frozen, if that’s your favorite.

Though I hope to talk you into homemade with the following…

Place the following in a mixing bowl:

1 1/4 cups King Arthur Perfect Pastry Blend or King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
heaping 1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons vegetable shortening

Mix to combine.

Add 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ pieces.

Work the butter into the flour until the mixture is unevenly crumbly. You can use a pastry blender or mixer to do this, but really, your fingers are the best tools for the task.

Add 4 to 5 tablespoons ice water 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing with a fork as you sprinkle the water into the dough.

When the dough is moist enough to hold together when you squeeze it, transfer it to a piece of parchment, or a lightly floured surface.

Gently pat it into a smooth disk. Wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

While the dough is in the fridge, make the filling.

You’ll need 8 cups sliced apples, which translates to about 3 1/2 to 4 pounds purchased weight.

I’m using Granny Smiths here, because my favorite Northern Spy apples weren’t yet in season when I test-baked this pie.

Peel and core the apples; our apple peeler/corer/slicer can ready an apple in under 10 seconds.

All you have to do is cut the slices into smaller pieces.

One apple; 10 seconds. I kid you not!

Put the apples in a big microwave-safe bowl, and add the following:

¾ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons boiled cider, optional but tasty

Stir until the spices are fully distributed. Microwave the filling, uncovered, for 5 minutes. This softens the apples just a bit, and gets their juices flowing. Skip this step if you like; it’s not critical, though I think it helps.

Add 3 tablespoons King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, or ¼ cup Pie Filling Enhancer. Stir to combine.

Start preheating your oven to 425°F.

Next, spray a 9″ pie pan, one that’s about 1 1/2″ deep, with non-stick pan spray.

Why the spray? It makes it easier to get slices out intact, and helps counteract the stickiness of any potential filling leaks.

Take the dough out of the fridge. If it’s been chilling longer than 30 minutes, give it 10 minutes or so to warm up a bit.

Place the dough on a well-floured surface; a rolling mat works well here, and makes cleanup a breeze.

Roll the dough into a circle, making sure to keep the underside well-floured to prevent sticking. A giant spatula is a big (well, a giant!) help here.

Roll the crust until it’s between 12″ and 13″ diameter.

In hindsight, I should have rolled this crust a big bigger. Oh well… a top crust (or in this case, streusel) will hide a multitude of sins!

Transfer the crust to the pan. Again, that giant spatula comes in handy.

Settle it gently into the pan, without stretching.

Did you know that stretching your pie crust is one of the reasons a crust sometimes shrinks as it bakes? It pays to be gentle.

Gather up the overhang, and crimp the crust nicely.

Do as I say, not as I do. I was in a hurry, and this crimp is U-G-L-Y.

See previous advice about hiding your sins…

…with streusel!

Mix the following until crumbly:

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup (2 1/8 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) cold butter, cut into pats

Spoon the apple filling into the crust.

Spread the streusel on top.

Ah, here comes the paper bag part. Put the pie in a large brown grocery bag. Paper, not plastic!!!

Fold the opening closed, and secure it with staples or paper clips.

Note: If you have ANY hesitation at all about doing this – contaminants in recycled paper, lead-based inks, you’re afraid of the bag catching on fire, whatever – substitute parchment paper. Staple two pieces together to fashion a bag; you’ll want to make sure your pie pan doesn’t have an overly wide rim, so it fits in the “bag.”

I baked the pie a paper grocery bag, and it turned out fine. This doesn’t guarantee results for everyone. As I said – any hesitation, use parchment, OK?

Put the pie in its bag (paper, or parchment) on a baking sheet.

Bake the pie in a preheated 425°F oven for 1 hour.

Remove the baking sheet and pie from the oven, and carefully slit the bag open, watching out for steam.

See? The bag caught the drips…

…and the pie baked perfectly. Golden crust, light-gold streusel…

…and apples with just enough bite to let you know you’re eating an apple pie, not applesauce.

As I mentioned, you can bake the pie in a parchment bag, if you’re afraid of baking in paper.

Here, I’ve simply stapled two pieces of parchment together.

For best results, cut 3 or 4 large slits (or 7 or 8 smaller ones) in the parchment; parchment isn’t as porous as paper, and your pie runs the risk of being soggy unless you allow some of the steam to escape.

Bake at 425°F for 1 hour, and tear open to reveal…

…a lovely, golden apple pie.

Let the pie cool for an hour or so before cutting. Serve it warm, or at room temperature.

Vanilla ice cream is always welcome. I’m guessing those folks at The Elegant Farmer, out there in the Dairy State, aren’t afraid of a big scoop of ice cream on their paper bag apple pie…

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Paper Bag Apple Pie.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Sure, Jessica, day-old pie is fine. Especially if you reheat it shortly before serving. Try putting it into the cooling oven once you take the turkey out. Enjoy! PJH

  1. mackenzie

    I grew up going to elegant farmer as a kid, and my mom has always used the paper bag method. I’m making my first apple pie today, and im glad I found this because i was unsure of how long to bake and at what temperature. Thanks for your post! And thanks for the shout out to elegant farmer 😉

    Reply
  2. Lucy

    I have been baking pies for over 35 years. Every kind you can imagine and honestly, after studying Shirkey Corrihers book, I stick with your KA pastry flour, a nice touch of sugar, then a combination of chilled lard first, frozen butter second for fat and at least 1 tablespoon of vodka or gin in the iced water, preferably 2. Properly combined, well chilled and carefully rolled makes a great pie for anything unless you want pate sucre. Yellow farm house cookbook, by C. Kimball’s pie crust has a good balance and I cooked through the Joy of Cooking in 1978 before it was fashionable to do so. Long live pie, cake, anything King Arthur bakes.

    Reply
  3. Helen

    I have been making a very similar pie for about 30 years. Was published in Jackie Olin’s cookbook “Can We Cook”. Difference is filling has no lemon juice and use regular granulated sugar. But biggest difference is, you bake it at 350 for 90 mins. Turns out perfect every time.
    This recipe is very adaptable. Sometimes I use brown sugar for topping, Granny Smith apples or Rome…all of them work well.

    Reply
  4. Lyyn

    I have a frozen apple pie which I made and plan to bake it tomorrow. Is it OK to put it into the paper bag frozen or is it necessary to thaw it first. Thanks for your advice.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Sorry for the late reply, Lyyn. You can do either, though please keep in mind that the pie will take 10-15 minutes longer to bake if frozen. Jon@KAF

  5. Julie D

    I have been wanting to try using this recipe and baking an apple pie in a paper bag for awhile now so, decided to try it out for dessert for Christmas. I got all kinds of stares when I put it in the oven, not to mention the comments about whether or not the bag would catch on fire. I ignored those negative Nelly’s and did it anyway. My husband is picky and opinionated about his desserts, and especially apple pie. He prefers crumb crust on top over a crust. My vindication came when we all sat down to dessert and everyone started shoveling bites of a perfectly golden brown crust, topping and tender apple filling into their mouths. I thought I was going to pass out when my husband said….and I quote, “this is THE BEST apple pie I have ever eaten”. I have to say…..it was…..IT WAS!!!!!!!

    Reply

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *