Make-ahead apple pie filling: a Thanksgiving Day time-saver

Ready… set… bake!

Thanksgiving is upon us, and like Fred the Baker on those old Dunkin’ Donuts ads, “It’s time to make the doughnuts.” Pumpkin doughnuts, naturally. And cranberry bread. And dinner rolls.

And apple pie, of course, because what’s Thanksgiving without a glorious apple pie on the sideboard?

Sure, you want a nice, fresh, preferably oven-warm pie. But who has time for peeling, coring, and slicing the apples, juicing a lemon, mixing the spices… on Thanksgiving morning? Or even the day before?

There’s absolutely no need to stress over apple pie less than 24 hours before sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner. You can prepare the pie entirely (save for baking it) and freeze the whole thing, then pop it into the oven once the turkey comes out.

Or you can make the crust dough ahead, wrap, and chill or freeze. Or roll it out, stick it in its pie pan, and freeze or chill.

Make-ahead apple pie filling: a short & sweet way to streamline your Thanksgiving prep. Click To Tweet

And you can definitely make the filling up to 4 or 5 days ahead, and stash it in the fridge; or even farther ahead, and freeze it. When the time comes to assemble the pie, your filling’s ready to spoon into the crust: just like Comstock in a can, only tastier.

My fellow test baker Susan Reid likes to pre-bake her filling; check out her Turkey Day Countdown for information on that.

Me, I prefer to simply sauté it. Ten minutes on the stovetop, and you’re done – the filling finished and in the fridge, letting you move on to other delicious tasks.

Making an apple pie for Thanksgiving? Make the filling today. Here’s how.

Apple pie filling via @kingarthurflour

Sauté the apples in butter

My favorite apple pie filling includes 2 tablespoons butter. So I start by melting the butter in a large frying pan. I add the apples and cook for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, while I mix my sugar and spices.

Apple pie filling via @kingarthurflour

Add sugar and spice

I stir the sugar and spices into the pan, and cook for a few minutes more.

Apple pie filling via @kingarthurflour

Cook until apples soften

How long? Maybe 5 minutes, however long it takes for your apples to start noticeably softening. They should be fork-tender, yet still hold their shape.

This will happen almost immediately with McIntosh and Cortland; in a few minutes with Granny Smith, and longer for many orchard-fresh heirloom varieties, like Northern Spy.

Meanwhile, I mix together my two thickeners – flour and cornstarch.

Apple pie filling via @kingarthurflour

Add thickener

I add the flour and cornstarch to the pan.

Apple pie filling via @kingarthurflour

Stir to combine

Stir, then cook over low heat for about a minute – basically just to make sure everything is well combined.Apple pie filling via @kingarthurflour

The final touch

I remove the pan from the heat, stir in my lemon juice and boiled cider …

Apple pie filling via @kingarthurflour

… and transfer the filling to a lidded container.

Into the fridge (or freezer) it goes.


Easy as pie!

Come Thanksgiving Day, the filling will be spooned into pie crust. My Easy No-Roll Pie Crust – pat-into-the-pan crust being another way to save time on your pie-baking.

Another plus: pre-cooking the filling means it’s already “settled,” and you won’t experience that annoying gap that sometimes develops between filling and top crust.

Now how hard was that? Get yourself into the kitchen and make your apple pie filling now – so you can relax later.

Happy Thanksgiving! May your time with family and friends be sweet as honey – and easy as pie!

I haven’t provided specific amounts for the ingredients in this post because I want you to try this method with your own favorite pie filling. Just remember, sauté the apple slices in butter; then add the sugar and spice; then the thickener; and finally any liquids, like lemon juice or boiled cider. Let me know how it works out for you, OK?

PJ Hamel

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!


  1. Jeffrey Farmer

    Hello! I followed one of KAF’s tips for avoiding a runny pie filling, which was to mix the slices with the recipe’s sugar and lemon juice, drain the juice from the apples and then reduce it to a syrup. Considering those steps used up the required sugar and lemon juice, for pre-cooking the filling, would I just add the thickener and spices and cook them on the stove for a while?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Good question, Jeffrey! That’ll depend on the type of thickener you’re using. If you’re using Instant ClearJel, that doesn’t require heat to be activated, though it’s best added in combination with a bit of sugar so it doesn’t clump. Reserve a couple tablespoons of the sugar, mix in the ClearJel, and add it to the mixture at the end and stir to combine. If you’re using anything other than ClearJel, it’ll likely require cooking to activate its thickening powers. Again, reserve a couple of tablespoons of sugar, mix it with your thickener, and once the syrup you’re cooking the apples in is bubbling, add it in a let it bubble for a good 2 minutes, stirring as needed. Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      That’s very interesting, Terry! Apples tend to change color due to oxidization. Sitting out (or in the refrigerator) for an extended period of time can cause them to get darker. Adding an acid like lemon juice to your filling should help avoid this. If you did add an acid and keep your apples tightly wrapped in plastic, we’d encourage you to get in touch with our Baker’s Hotline so that we can help you troubleshoot in more detail. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

  2. Deidre

    I had a freezer book that showed you could cook anything from the frozen state without thawing. I make my pie filling with fresh, uncooked apples, berries, peaches, etc and freeze them in a pie plates. Once frozen pop the pie plate-shaped fillings into Food Saver bags, suck all the air out and freeze indefinitely. When ready to bake a pie just pop the frozen filling directly into the crust then use a top crust or the topping of choice. Regular temperature but you will need to add a few more minutes to the baking. My freezer is stacked with frozen “fresh” pie fillings ready to go!

  3. Kel

    Can you not cook apples & just refrigerate the sliced apples with flour sugar and seasoning for a day or two?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Kel, the apples will likely turn brown and get very soft during those few days, so it’s up to you whether you’re OK with that appearance and texture. Annabelle@KAF

  4. Debbie S Clark

    I would like to can some apple pie filling. Should I add the boiled cider to the syrup used in canning or wati to add it before baking the pie?DD

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Debbie! You can add the boiled cider along with the other ingredients in your canned filling. Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Jan! It will keep for about three months or so well wrapped before freezer burn starts to set in. Annabelle@KAF

  5. Jennie Julian

    My apple pie recipe doesn’t call for lemon juice – do I need to add some if I’m making the filling ahead of time?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Jennie, the lemon juice will add a little extra tartness and help keep the apples from browning prematurely, but if you don’t care about that (since it’s all going to end up brown in the oven anyway), feel free to omit it. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

  6. Evelyn

    Do you still bake the pie as you would a regular one? Is the baking time or temperature reduced? I’ve got the filling in the frig and plan to bake tomorrow.

    1. Susan Reid

      Hi, Evelyn. Bake as you normally would (high heat at first to help set the crust), then turn down. As soon as the crust is the deep golden brown you’re looking for, you can take the pie out; this may happen up to 10 minutes sooner than the recipe calls for. Susan

  7. Mzk

    Hi – I’m a little worried I cooked the apples a smidge too long. I would rather not start over. Can I adjust the cooking time because of this? Should I mix in additional sliced apples? Thanks for any ideas!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Your thought of adding some uncooked apple slices into the filling is fantastic. It’ll help your pie pop with fresh flavor and also give it some crunch. Add about 1 apple, thinly sliced to the pre-cooked filling. You can also consider blind-baking the bottom of your crust so that you can reduce the overall bake time. The only catch here is that you’ll want to top the pie with something like streusel topping (rather than adding a top crust, which will need to bake for the full amount of time). In the end, we have faith your apple pie will be fantastic, even if the filling is slightly soft — it’s homemade apple pie so by default it’s delicious! Kye@KAF

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