Apple pie should have a golden-brown, tender, flaky crust, a filling with good structure and just the right amount of balanced sweetness. We tested, tasted and tweaked 13 variations before landing on the ultimate recipe for this Canadian classic. (As it turns out, “easy as pie” is a bit of a paradox.)
What are our takeaways from this pursuit of perfection? How to make a perfect apple pie comes down to four essential factors:
1. The Crust
It must be flaky, golden and cooked all the way through. Our dough is a combination of lard for flakiness, and butter for flavour. Baking the pie on a preheated baking sheet on the lowest level ensures the bottom crust cooks through, starting the pie at 425F for the first 20 minutes achieves a perfectly browned crust, and finishing off at 375F guarantees the apples are tender.
2. The Apples
The right apples equal the right flavour. (Several types of apples bake up nicely in a pie, so it can become a matter of preference.)
Our favourite apple combination for apple pie
Golden Delicious and Granny Smith. Golden Delicious provide sweetness, but on their own break down and become mush (not good). Granny Smiths are crisp and tart, but maintain their shape when baked. Together, the two balance each other and make apple magic. (And no pie filling is complete without a squeeze of lemon juice and a bit of salt to round out the flavours.)
Northern Spy, Braeburn, Gala And Courtland
All of these apples could have worked well, but are fairly one-dimensional in flavour on their own (and harder to find in some grocers).
These apples can’t take the long baking time (and usually turn to apple sauce).
They’re overly sweet, and have a mealy texture not suitable for pie.
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3. The Method
Our goal was to avoid a gap forming between the domed top crust and the apple filling. The answer turned out to be partially cooking the apples first. While it may seem counterintuitive, heat during sautéing activates pectinase, an enzyme that makes pectin more heat stable, helping the apples keep their shape when baked. We tried using raw apples, soaking the apples in boiling water, and sautéing the apples with the cornstarch; we played with the amount of sugar, lemon juice and cornstarch, we tried cutting the apples to different thicknesses, and we tweaked the baking temperature and baking time. We tried it all. The bottom line? Cook the apples first for the best results.
4. The Cool-Down
Resist the temptation to cut into that warm apple pie. Waiting at least 2 hours — 3 or 4 is better — prevents the pie from turning into a runny mess.
Pro tips: Fend off the dessert fiends until it has cooled, and always have vanilla ice cream on hand!
Originally published November 2017; Updated November 2018.