The Perfect Apple Pie: Tips for mastering a classic dessert

I consider any month to be a good time for pie, but November is a particularly notable time for pie to shine. Between the peak apple harvest just behind us and Thanksgiving dessert just ahead of us, pie is poised for its moment in November.

Today I want to talk about apple pie. Specifically, what makes a perfect apple pie? Unlike blank-canvas desserts like ice cream or layer cake, apple pie is a simple classic we rarely tinker with. Instead of reinventing it with creative flavors or techniques, we can focus on nailing the fundamentals.

A word on the recipe: You likely have a favorite pie crust recipe, and feel free to use that! I’m using our Best Apple Pie recipe here, which is a wonderful basic crust and filling. I’ll share some tips that I use to make an apple pie, but keep in mind that these are just suggestions for you to try out in your kitchen. You might have your own methods (and I’d love to hear them in the comments).

Truly, the best way to master pie is practice. Get in the kitchen and start baking! Try this recipe and these tips, and experiment until you find what works best for you. Our guides to pie baking and pie crust are an excellent resource, with tips for even the most seasoned pie bakers.

Let’s start with the crust. Any basic pie crust recipe will work, but for the Best Apple Pie crust, you’ll need:

2 cups King Arthur Pastry Blend or King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
heaping 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter (very cold)
3 to 5 tablespoons ice cold water

Whisk together the flour and salt. Cut the cold butter in with a pastry cutter or fork until it resembles coarse lumps. Drizzle the ice water in slowly, starting with 3 tablespoons and adding more as you need it, until the dough comes together in a ball.

Gather it together, divide it in half (here are some tips on dough division), press each half into a disc, and refrigerate (wrapped in plastic wrap) for at least 30 minutes.

Apple pie via @kingarthurflourNow, on to the filling. You’ll need:

9 medium apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons Apple Pie Spice (I used a mix of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves because I love ginger!)
1/4 cup Boiled Cider
1/4 cup King Arthur Pie Filling Enhancer (or substitute 1 to 2 tablespoons Instant Clearjel or King Arthur Flour Unbleached All-Purpose Flour)
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar

Begin by prepping your apples and placing them in a large bowl. You’ll see I have apples of all shapes and sizes: I like using a mix of varieties to keep the flavor and texture interesting. Apple pie will be delicious regardless, but I suggest finding the best apples you can get your hands on. Go apple picking! Go to a farmers’ market! They’re wildly more flavorful than what you can find at a supermarket usually.

Now, here’s where I diverge from the recipe slightly. The main concern with fruit pies is a soggy crust. This happens because the fruit filling releases lots of liquid as the pie bakes, which soaks the crust and prevents it from staying crisp and flaky.

Most recipes include a thickener in the filling to help firm up all that liquid. This recipe calls for Pie Filling Enhancer, which is a type of starch combined with sweetener and ascorbic acid. You can also use Instant Clearjel (the same type of starch), or you can just use flour if you want.

Flour has slightly less thickening power, but it will still be effective.

Apple pie via @kingarthurflour

I add in one extra step to prevent a soggy crust. I slice my apples and toss them with just the sugar, salt, spices, and lemon juice (no boiled cider, no thickener). Then I let them sit and macerate for up to 2 hours. If you’re in a hurry, you can absolutely skip this step, or just let them sit for as long as you can.

Apple pie via @kingarthurflour

While they sit, the apples will start to release some of their juices. When you’re ready to bake, take the liquid at the bottom of the bowl and put it in a small saucepan (you can also do this in the microwave). Depending on the type of apples, you may have as little as 1/4 cup or as much as 1/2 cup. It doesn’t look like much, but it makes a difference! Add the boiled cider and cook the liquid until it has reduced by about half and thickened into a syrup. Don’t let it get too thick: It should be easily pourable.

Apple pie via @kingarthurflour

Apple pie via @kingarthurflour

 

Apple pie via @kingarthurflour

Now, add the flour or Pie Filling Enhancer to the sliced apples. Roll out your crust and place the prepared apples into the crust. Drizzle the syrupy reduced apple liquid over the filling and top with the second crust.

Apple pie via @kingarthurflour

This method proactively reduces the amount of liquid that the apples will release while baking, and it also adds a wonderful concentrated, almost caramelized, apple flavor to the filling. The boiled cider adds an additional depth of apple flavor, creating a pie that’s far more rich and decadent tasting than a regular apple pie, without adding extra sugar or anything else!

Even if you don’t follow this extra step of reducing down the liquid, this particular recipe will still be more flavorful than most because of the boiled cider.

A general life tip: boiled cider is exceptionally good drizzled over ice cream or stirred into thick whole milk yogurt. Some might say dangerously good.

When you top the pie with your second crust, you can either use a full crust or decorative topping like lattice or a design. I prefer a full crust because, to be honest, that means more crust for me to eat!

Be sure to cut slits in the top of your pie if you use a full top crust. This allows steam to escape, which prevents the top crust from getting soggy and soft.

Apple pie via @kingarthurflour

Bake the pie in a preheated 425°F oven for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375°F and bake for an additional 45 minutes. The pie is ready when it’s golden brown and the juices are bubbling.

You’d be wise to bake your pie on a parchment-lined baking sheet to catch any rogue drips of filling.

Let the pie cool for at least 15 minutes, and then serve it warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. If you can resist eating the entire thing, save a slice or two in the refrigerator to eat chilled for breakfast.

A cold slice of apple pie on a misty, chilly November morning is one of life’s greatest small pleasures. Here’s the recipe; find out for yourself!

comments

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Erin, if you’re referring to the slicing of the apples themselves, thick and thin will likely mean something different to everyone. As a general rule of thumb, a thin slice would be anything under 1/4″, most commonly around 1/16″-1/8″ thick. Anything larger than that could be considered thick. If you were referring to cutting a thick slice of pie, in our opinion, it would be hard to make a slice of pie too thick! Annabelle@KAF

  1. Amanda

    I did everything as suggested and my pie was still really runny. It taste amazing though! The strange thing is that I made this pie last year without cooking down the juices and it wasn’t runny at all. Would it have anything to do with the apples I used? I used a mix of honey crisp, Jonathan, and Granny Smith.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Amanda, pre-cooking the apples can change the consistency of pie filling. If you do decide to pre-cook the apples, it’s important to reduce the juices they release until they’re a syrupy consistency otherwise you’ll have a runny filling. Also, keep in mind that cornstarch tends to break down as a thickener if it is heated at too high a temperature for too long, so if you baked this year’s pie for a bit longer than last year’s or sliced into it before the juices cooled, that could have also caused the difference in consistency. It sounds like the pie ended up tasting great anyways, which is great news! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      John, we’ve recommended dark corn syrup or honey as a substitute here, and other bakers have suggested that using Golden Syrup or maple syrup could also work. Happy baking! Mollie@KAF

  2. Tom Dawley

    Boy!!! Headed to KA school this Sunday…been there twice….for breads now its Pies…cannot say I have ever had so much fun…and the people at KA are great..

    Tom

    Reply
  3. Kitty

    This trick of macerating the apples and boiling down the extra juice to a syrup works like a charm. Best apple pie I have ever made. Reviewed by my husband (who almost never says positive things about my cooking, but couldn’t help himself this time), my grandson who devoured the last piece, 4 days old, because he doesn’t like pumpkin or pecan (his other choices at T’giving), my sister, the apple fanatic, and my beautiful granddaughter (who has never said anything critical about me in her 16 years, so possibly is not as discriminating a critic). Anyway thank you for a wonderful week of baking with all the KAF recipes.

    Reply
  4. Laurie

    The problem I have with apple pie is the apples sink and the top crust stays up nice and high! It still tastes great, but its messy to cut. I mound the apples nice and high, and press on the top crust, but the apples always shrink and the crust doesn’t move with them! I use Cortland apples and they always get nice and soft. Any ideas what I can do about the top crust? I do cut slits in the top. Thanks

    Reply
  5. MaryAnn

    Pies are so easy to make but some people have so much trouble with them
    It just takes a little practice- If you slice the apples too thick they will take more time to cook
    I wait for the apples to bubble up and see the juices spill out
    I keep a cookie sheet on the rack below to catch the drippings

    Reply
  6. Shari Z

    Wow, I’m so impressed with this recipe! I’ve shied away from making pies for a few years because I had trouble making a good dough and the fillings were so juicy, the crust became soggy. I tried this recipe, complete with the buttermilk powder and Clearjel, and it was a success! The dough was still a bit of a challenge in the processor, but it ended up fine.

    I used a mixture of Granny Smith and Gala apples, and the taste was absolutely heavenly! I used the apple pie spice from KAF and the boiled cider (first time) and my husband gave the results 2 thumbs up. I also followed the tip for letting the apples rest and then adding the boiled cider and reducing the liquids to a pourable syrup.

    The only problem I had, other than getting the dough to process well was having enough dough for the top crust! I followed the tip about 2/3 for the bottom and 1/3 top, but didn’t have enough dough to cover the heaping filling. I think 9 apples was too many, or maybe I’ll have to find smaller apples!

    All in all, this pie was a winner and I’m looking forward to making lots more, plus a blueberry, which is my husband’s favorite. Thanks KAF for a great recipe!

    Reply
  7. Nilhan

    Thank you for this delicious recipe and for sharing your lovely memory.. I baked this Saturday, it was really delicious. I scratched both top and bottom. This help me to take out extra apple juice -filling the pie cup- by spoon. But the top was not crusty like yours. What you suggest for better crusty, should I use less flour or more time in refrigerator?

    Reply
    1. Posie Harwood, post author

      Hm, what do you mean exactly by “scratched” both top and bottom? And was the problem that the top wasn’t golden, or that it got soft rather than crisp?

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