Having a homemade apple pie filling recipe ready to go makes dessert preparation fast and easy! Perfect for loading into a buttery pie crust, pastry dough, or top on cakes, pancakes, waffles, oatmeal, or yogurt.
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When autumn hits, I can’t wait to start making apple-inspired recipes. My classic apple pie recipe is always on the top of my list. However, this can become an all-day event when made from scratch. To speed up the process, you can prepare the apple pie filling in advance to grab and bake it. It’s so much better than the store-bought canned options. It’s even freezer-friendly!
Nothing is better than using fresh and ripe ingredients to make the fruit shine. I use my favorite baking apples and cook them on the stovetop. The slices sauté with butter and a sweet, cinnamon-spiced mixture. If you want to add spiced apple flavor to any recipe, this is a quick and easy method. The glazed fruit is ready to use in just 30-minutes!
For the best flavor balance, I use two types of apples for the filling. Granny Smith apples keep their structure when cooked and have a pleasant tart taste to balance the sugars in the filling. However, they aren’t very juicy. Therefore I also add Honey Crisp apples to give a burst of sweetness, balanced with malic acid, and they hold their texture well when heated.
Other types of apples like Fuji, Braeburn, and golden delicious are good cooking apples for the filling. Avoid using varieties that break apart into a mushy texture, like Red Delicious.
Prepare the apples
Purchase 3 pounds, about 7 medium-sized (3-inches wide). Peel, core, and slice them. For a pie, cut the apples into 1/2-inch thick pieces. You could go to as thin as 1/4-inch, depending on the application. If you plan to use them in a small-sized pie crust or puff pastry to make individual servings, dice them into 1/2-inch cubes.
The smaller size will cook much quicker. If you are not cooking right away, try my tips for preventing apples from browning. My favorite quick solution is submerging them in cold water after cutting them. You should yield about 9 cups for the recipe.
Cook the apple pie filling
Use a large skillet with high sides or a dutch oven. It starts with 9 cups of apples, but as they lose moisture, they reduce to about half the volume. Saute the apples with dark brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt over medium heat in melted butter.
Cook, occasionally stirring, until the apples are crisp-tender and still retain their shape. This process takes about 8 to 10 minutes for thick slices. A cornstarch slurry mixture is added at the end of cooking to thicken the juices into a glossy sauce that glazes the fruit. Vanilla is mixed in last so that the aroma is preserved.
When to stop cooking the apples
If adding to a pie, you want to retain some moisture and structure, as it will cook further inside the pie crust. Stop cooking when the fruit reaches 160°F (71°C). This temperature helps the pectin in the cell walls become more stable, preserving its shape, especially as it bakes.
If you are using the apples for a topping, you can cook them for a few more minutes for a softer bite. Don’t heat past 185ºF (85ºC). Above that point, the enzymes that help to strengthen the pectin in the cell walls to hold its structure will inactivate, creating a mushy texture better for applesauce or apple butter.
Storing the filling
If you don’t plan on using the filling right away, you have a few storage options. Make sure to let the filling cool to room temperature. Then, you can refrigerate it for up to 7 days or freeze it for up to 3 months. Remove as much air as possible from the plastic bag to reduce freezer burn. I like to defrost it in the refrigerator the night before, so it’s ready to use the next day immediately.
Substituting for canned filling
This homemade apple pie filling makes about 5 cups, or about 2 pounds (908 grams). Store-bought canned filling typically comes in 20-ounce cans (1 pound 4 ounces, 567 grams, about 2 ⅓ cups). This recipe can be swapped for two 20-ounce canned fillings.
Ways to use the apple pie filling
- Use them for apple crisp or apple crumble
- Use my pie crust recipe for apple pie, dutch apple pie, mini pies, or hand pies
- Top them on oatmeal, overnight oats, yogurt parfait, or ice cream
- Add them to waffles or pancakes
- Fill them in apple turnovers
There are benefits to pre-cooking apples. They are about 80% water, which will release when sliced and cooked. Cooking concentrates the juice to reduce the chance of a soggy crust. This prevents gaps between the filling and the crust, giving a more dense layer of fruit because the volume is already reduced. If you prefer a crisper texture of the apples, you can skip the pre-cooking.
Apple pie filling is composed of apple slices, brown sugar, and granulated sugar mixed with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Lemon juice and vanilla extract balance the flavor of the fruit. A thickening agent is added, like cornstarch or flour, so that the juices glaze and stick to the apples.
The create a sticky sauce that clings to the apples in the filling, you can either add a cornstarch slurry or all-purpose flour. The starches will absorb the moisture, swell up, and thicken as it cooks so that the juices aren’t runny. Cornstarch gives a more glossy sheen compared to flour. You need about half the amount of cornstarch for the same thickening power as wheat flour.
This recipe was not developed for home canning. A specific type of modified cornstarch, the right amount of sugar and acid, using sterilized jars, and proper canning techniques to ensure the apple pie filling is safe to eat unrefrigerated is required.
Why do you put lemon juice in apple pie?
The citric acid helps to balance the sweetness of the sugars. It also lowers the pH of the apple mixture, making the pectin in the cell walls of the fruit stronger so that it holds its shape and retains some moisture. This is important because you don’t want a mushy filling. A little bit goes a long way, so only a few teaspoons are needed. Too much, and this will throw off the taste of the filling.
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Apple Pie Filling Recipe
- 1 ½ pounds granny smith apples
- 1 ½ pounds honeycrisp apples, Fuji, or Braeburn
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup dark brown sugar, packed
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- ¼ cup water
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Prepare the Apples – Peel, core, and cut the apples into ½" thick slices. Alternatively, cut into ½" dice for smaller pastries or to use as a topping.
- Cook the Apple Filling – Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Melt the butter, then add the apples, granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Saute until apples are tender, but not overly soft and most of the moisture is released, about 8 to 10 minutes. For smaller diced apples, this will take about 5 to 7 minutes. Don't heat apples above 185ºF (85ºC), or they will become mushy.
- Thicken the Filling – In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch and water. Add the cornstarch slurry to the filling. Continuously stir until the apples are coated with the syrupy glaze, about 1 minute. Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
- To Serve – Use immediately for a topping while still warm. Alternatively, cool completely and store in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to use.
- Recipe Yield: About 5 cups cooked apple pie filling.
- Serving Size: ½ cup filling
- Storing: Cool and store in a glass jar or airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.
- Freeze: Transfer to a large resealable plastic bag. Press out the air and flatten the filling, then seal. Freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost before using.
- Sweeter Filling: Double the amount of sweetener. Add ½ cup brown sugar and ½ cup granulated sugar.
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