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.

DSC_6580

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
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. KayZee

    Would it be possible to cook this filling a bit longer, blind bake a bottom crust and cut-outs for the top, then assemble the pie without further baking? Sort of a “no bake” (except for the crust) apple pie?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We don’t see why not, KayZee! You could even bake off a streusel topping to sprinkle on top. You might want to choose apples that are softer such as Macintoshes since they won’t be baked/cooked quite as long. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

    2. KayZee

      Thanks so much for your response. I love the idea of your streusel topping, too. I’m going to try it for Thanksgiving next week!

  2. JoAnn Billitti

    I just made my filling and it is delicious! My questions are: (1) how long do you bake the pie with this pre-cooked filling, and (2) will the apples then get over-cooked?
    I plan to refrigerate this for a couple days, then try it in a pre-formed crust. Hope you can respond before that. Thanks – JoAnn

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You’ll be able to reduce the total baking time slightly since the apples will have gotten a bit of a head start. Consider checking the pie for doneness about 5 to 10 minutes early. The crust should be nicely golden brown and the juices in the filling should be bubbling. To avoid the pie filling from becoming too soft, you’ll want to make sure you use a relatively crisp/firm apple (Granny Smiths, Fuji, and Honey Crisps are always good choices), and only cook the filling until the slices start to soften (and not longer). We think you’ll love this pie-baking shortcut once you give it a try. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  3. Nancy Simon

    I’ve never used boiled cider in an apple pie. I will try to make my own but have no idea how much to use in one pie recipe? Please reply. Nancy

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Nancy, our Apple Pie recipe calls for 1/4 cup (78g) of boiled cider, which is a generous amount. If you’re new to using this ingredient, you might want to start with two to three tablespoons. You might find this article on our blog about making homemade boiled cider helpful if you’re going to try opting for the DIY route. Good luck and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. Pam Armand

    I love making apple cobbler ahead of time but do not like the crust when it is frozen. I recently had to make enough dessert for 90 people, so we decided apple cobbler would be great. I sliced about 8 apples, added lemon juice, one cup of sugar, one tablespoon of flour and one tablespoon of cinnamon, and place on a lined 9 x 12 metal pan. I wrap in non-stick plastic wrap and place in the freezer until solid. When you are ready to make the cobbler, you can take the apples out, make a double King Arthur pie crust recipe, and using a 9 x 13 casserole dish, place one layer of pastry on the bottom, add the apples (no need to thaw), and then lay strips of dough across the top. Bake at 375° for 60 minutes. Scoop into cups, add a dollop of cinnamon whipped cream, toasted chopped pecans and Ghirardelli caramel sauce. Success! I now keep a bag of frozen filling in the freezer, ready for baking.

    Reply
  5. Roselie Sander

    I’m the type who really likes measurements when trying something new and I don’t see any measurements in this blog, and if I do freeze my pies, what temp should I bake them at? I appreciate the effort to make a quick, concise blog but for those of us who feel needy when it comes to details, this is coming up short. Would someone please give me measurements for the apples, sugar, spice, etc. AND the recommended oven temp for both frozen and unfrozen versions? TY from Vermont

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hello Roselie! PJ writes at the end of this article: “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.” This gives you lots of flexibility to use any pie recipe that you’d like, all of which will include measurements by volume and weight, as well as the baking instructions. You’ll never need to change the temperature if your pie is frozen — you’ll still use whatever oven temperature the recipe recommends — you’ll probably just need an extra 5 minutes or so. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

    2. Nancy S.

      There’s a link provided to PJ’s favorite pie filling.
      Where she states: “My favorite apple pie filling…” — ‘apple pie filling’ is a clickable link to a KAF recipe.

  6. Jenn

    And, if you put a large ziploc bag over a pie plate and then fill the bag and freeze, the filling will already be in the shape of the pie plate. No need to thaw and scoop!

    Reply
  7. Carolyn Brown

    I tried this method and it worked beautifully. Apple pie is my husband’s favorite. I make the boiled cider and keep it on hand.

    Reply
  8. Cindy E

    Just wondering if you can use clear jel in place of the cornstarch and/or flour and get the same thickening results? And when time to bake the pie from frozen, how long should it bake and at what temperature. TIA 🙂

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Cindy, meet your new best friend, our Pie Filling Thickeners guide. This is a great page to bookmark or even print off so you always have it as a resource. You’ll see it suggest which amount of which thickener is needed for different fruits, and that we recommend an extra 1/4 teaspoon of whichever thickener you choose per cup of fruit if you plan on freezing it.
      Come bake time, the temperature and time will be on whichever recipe you’re using, and if it’s going in frozen, expect it to take a few extra minutes. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

  9. Barbara Pendleton

    I love to make apple pies stuffed full of apples.
    I have never precooked the apples but I’m going to
    Try this as it may fill up the crust better ( there is usually
    A huge space of air between the top crust & the apples)
    Never used boiled cider. Is this just plain cider?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Barbara! If you’re interested in shrinking or eliminating that pie gap, this blog article is just the ticket. Boiled cider is apple cider that’s been reduced down to about 1/8 of its original volume, giving it a thick, syrupy consistency and a very concentrated, tangy flavor. We carry it and if you have a day to spare, you can also make it at home. Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

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