Apple Pie: the most American of all the desserts; thinking about it gets my eyes star-spangled and my heart all warm and fuzzy. Although it’s perhaps the most iconic, I’d argue there isn’t ONE apple pie we all know and love. Everyone has their different opinions, preferences, and expectations when it comes to this warm, flaky dish of love. Today, I’m sharing my ultimate choose-your-own-adventure to making an apple pie, so hopefully you end up eating your most beloved pie, not just the one that’s my favorite.
In my relatively short stay on this planet, I’ve made a lot of apple pies. Growing up, I’d get up early on my sister Heather’s birthday to make her an Apple pie for breakfast. These days it wouldn’t be so unusual for me to wake up at 6am to bake a pie, but the average 10-15 year old usually isn’t found partaking in such early morning activities. I also have a tradition of making the apple pie for Thanksgiving and/or Christmas with my 12-year old cousin who, until we started said tradition about 7 years ago, liked neither apples nor pies.
Despite this somewhat extensive apple pie experience, when I sat down to write out a recipe for you, I realized I never use one. Really, never. I guess at some point in my childhood I figured it out, or more likely watched someone on the Food Network make one and thought, hey, I could do that too. As such, I’ve been making apple pies for a good 15+ years without measuring or really thinking too hard about what should go into them. If you know the basic elements, and are comfortable tasting the seasoned apples before you bake them, you don’t really need a recipe.
So, here we are. I can tell you how to make a delicious pie, but it’s not one based on specifics. It’s based on a basic method, and what you’re craving in an apple pie. In my experience, following your heart always yields the most delicious dessert, anyway. I’m going to lay out all your options, including the things that are non-negotiable, and let you decide what pie you want to make. Stay with me, things are about to get very detailed.
The Ultimate Apple Pie Guide
Every apple pie starts with a flaky, tender crust. Don’t tell me you’re buying yours in the little rolls at the grocery store. Your favorite Apple pie starts with homemade, trust me. I know what I’m talking about. For a traditional Apple pie, you should stick with my favorite all-butter pie crust recipe.
You could also consider doing any one of the following:
-adding 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar to the crust recipe for the ultimate cheddar-apple experience
-subbing in some or all of the flour with white whole wheat flour for a more robust, complex whole grain flavor
-using vegan butter instead of regular to keep this dairy-free/vegan
Every apple pie needs apples (duh…), and I generally use 6 per pie. If your apples are particularly small, use 8; if they’re huge, 4 or 5 might be fine. Six apples seems to be the sweet spot, where the pies always turn out with the right amount of filling.
My only rule for picking apples for a pie is to choose at least two different types. I like to choose firm apples for pie, AKA an apple that’s crunchy when you bite it. Softer apples like Macintosh are better suited for applesauce (in my humble onion) but truly any apples will work in a pie as long as you have a few different types. You can cut the apples into thin slices or thick chunks, depending on what texture you like in your apple pie.
If you’re overwhelmed by the options at your grocery store/local farm, here are some pairing ideas, to get you started.
For a more tart filling: 4 Granny Smith and 2 Honeycrisp apples
For a more sweet filling: 3 Fuji and 3 Braeburn apples.
For the uncertain, or adventurous person: pick any 6 apples. Yes, any. Go to the farmers market or walk down an aisle in the grocery store, and just pick 6 in any random order you’d like. Variety is the spice of life, and your pie will thank you for being so creative. I happen to love Mutsu and Russet, which are heirloom varieties, but I’m also a sucker for a good old Gala & Jonagold combo, too. Did I mention I live on Braeburn road? No, I’m not joking.
The filling to a great apple pie isn’t just apples. You’ll need some combination of the following:
-lemon juice, flour, cinnamon and (maybe) nutmeg, vanilla extract, sugar (brown sugar, cane sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc-they all work)! and a pinch of salt.
I’ll give you a base recipe to start with at the bottom of this post, but my advice is to season all the apples, then taste them. You’re looking for a sweet, well-spiced, slightly tart bite. If the seasoned apples don’t taste great to you, add more cinnamon or sugar and keep tasting. The flavors will continue to concentrate as the pie bakes, but if they don’t taste like much to you when they’re raw, they won’t magically turn into deliciously seasoned apples when they bake.
One way or another, your pie needs a top. I like to use the same pie crust for the bottom and the top of my pies. If you want to do the same, just make the pie dough recipe as written to yield a double-crust. If not, make half the recipe and consider topping your pie with the following:
-classic crumb topping (3/4 cup flour + 1/2 cup oats + 1/4 cup brown sugar + 4 tablespoons soft butter + a sprinkle of cinnamon, all mixed together until crumbly).
-the coconut crumb topping from this fruit crisp (or sub almonds or walnuts in for the coconut)
Once your pie has been assembled, it’s critical to bake it properly. You already went to the trouble of making your own pie dough, peeling and coring your apples, and seasoning them to perfection; a soggy-bottomed and/or burnt-topped pie would be a major letdown. To avoid these pie dilemmas I always bake my pies on the lowest possible rack of the oven. That way, the heat hits the bottom of the pie directly, making for a firm bottom crust, and the top never needs to be covered for risk of burning.
If you sliced your apples thinly, about 40 minutes at 375 degrees is enough bake time; thick apple chunks will take closer to 50 minutes to soften up.
If you’re still with me, let’s just break this down. I’ve been making apple pies for years without a recipe, and I believe you can too, if you just know the basics:
6 total apples (at least 2 types)
juice from 1 lemon to add a little tang
any sugar you like for sweetness
cinnamon for warmth
a few tablespoons of flour to thicken
a drizzle of vanilla and a pinch of salt, for depth.
Homemade apple pie should be good enough to stand on its own, either warm or room temperature. Still, some additions stand out as better than others. I prefer mine with either a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or a thick slice of sharp cheddar (or warmed up and crumbled over a bowl of yogurt or oatmeal for breakfast the next day, but that’s a different story).
Apple season just started in Massachusetts, and I can’t wait to use Quonquont Farm’s Paula Reds and Williams Prides to make another pie this weekend. As the season continues, I’m looking forward to their Galas, Jonagolds, and Northern Spys. They also have Macoun, MacIntosh and Cortland apples, too! If you make an apple pie this week, let me know your favorite way to serve it! As always, I love seeing your pictures on Instagram– remember to use #bakedgreens so I can see your beautiful pies.
- All-Butter Pie Crust, plus any additions of choice (see recipe link in blog post)
- 6 apples of your choice, peeled and sliced*
- 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/2-1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon**
- a pinch of nutmeg
- 1/3-2/3 cups brown or coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey, etc.***
- juice from 1 lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- a pinch of salt
- 1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Put a rack on the lowest possible shelf in the oven.
- 2. Mix apples with flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar of choice, lemon juice, vanilla, and salt. Taste a few apple slices, adding more cinnamon or sugar, if necessary. Set aside while you prepare the dough.
- 3. Roll out the bottom crust of your pie on a floured countertop. Transfer crust to the bottom of a pie pan, letting excess dough hang slightly over the sides. Dump prepared apples into the bottom crust, then roll out the top crust and drape it over the apples. Tuck the edges of the top crust under the edges of the bottom crust, and use your fingers or the tines of a fork to seal it tight. Use a sharp knife to poke a few holes into the top of the pie. Sprinkle with a big pinch of sugar.
- 4. Bake on the lowest oven rack for 40-50 minutes, or until top crust is lightly golden brown. Allow pie to cool for at least 30 minutes, but preferably for an hour or more before slicing and serving. Pie should stay relatively crisp and fresh for 3 days at room temperature.
- *Be sure to choose at least two different varieties of apple for your pie.
- **Start with 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, and add more to taste. I typically prefer around 1 teaspoon, but the pie in the pictures has a full 1 1/2, which was assertively cinnamon flavored, but still quite delicious.
- ***Start with 1/3 cup of your sweetener of choice, then taste and add more as needed.
- See notes in above blog post for more ideas about substitutions and customizations.