Looking for a classic apple pie that you can enjoy all year long? I tested many variations and this recipe is the clear winner! I find it has the perfect combination of flaky pie crust and flavorful filling.
Table of Contents
- The pie dough
- Keep the butter cold
- Achieving a flaky crust
- Let the dough relax
- Tips for rolling out pie dough
- Pan selection
- Transferring the crust to the pie dish (3 ways)
- Apple selection
- Size of the apple slices
- Making the apple pie filling
- Layer the apples
- Forming the crust
- Bake time and cooling
- Make ahead tips
- What to serve this with
- Classic Apple Pie Recipe
There’s nothing better than a slice of warm apple pie topped with whipped cream or à la mode with ice cream. Cutting through the buttery crust reveals layers of tender fruit coated in delicious spiced syrup. The components are simple; pie dough and apple filling. However, there are endless ways to bring this dessert together that can dramatically impact the taste.
In culinary school, I learned the technique for making a flaky crust. The process can be a little tricky, but I’ve got you covered with a foolproof dough. The good news is that you can make it ahead for when you’re ready to slice the apples and bake.
The pie dough
I use a classic pie dough recipe called Pâte Brisée, which is extremely versatile for sweet and savory pies. It’s made from all-purpose flour, butter, water, and salt, that’s it! But it’s how you prepare and incorporate the ingredients that make a huge impact on texture. Fruit pies need a tender yet sturdy crust due to the moisture they release. The crust should be neutral in flavor to let the filling shine.
Keep the butter cold
One of the most important steps is to chill the butter after cutting it into ½-inch cubes. This process hardens the butter and prevents it from melting when incorporating it into the flour. The heat generated from the sheer force of an electric mixer and the warmth from your fingers when handling can alter the results. I also recommend using ice water to keep the butter cold so that it doesn’t melt and lose the pockets of fat in the flour.
Achieving a flaky crust
Use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, food processor, dough/pastry blender, or your fingers to break the butter into the flour. You want the butter pieces to reduce down to about the size of a pea. Those pockets of fat melt during baking and the moisture turn into steam, leaving layers between the pie crust. It’s a very similar concept to making homemade biscuits.
Let the dough relax
Once you add water to flour, gluten-bonding occurs, creating a pliable dough. However, before rolling, it’s essential to give the protein in the dough time to relax. It’s just like muscles that tense up after a workout.
If you try to roll it out too soon, the butter will be too soft and the dough will contract and be harder to roll. A crust baked within 1 to 2 hours after making will be tougher and chewier in texture.
I separate the bottom and top crust pieces into 1-inch round discs and cover them in plastic wrap. Give it at least 4 hours to rest in the refrigerator, or overnight is ideal.
Tips for rolling out pie dough
The butter inside the dough will be completely solid. Let it sit on the counter until it feels more flexible. I give it about 5 to 10-minutes. If the dough cracks in the center when you begin to press and roll, let it sit a little longer.
It’s essential to work quickly to ensure the dough doesn’t get too warm. The top and bottom crust pieces should be about ¼-inch thick. This size provides a sturdy layer that bakes nicely all the way through.
Similar to my blueberry pie, I use a 9-inch glass pie dish to yield nice tall slices. Alternatively, a 9 ½ or 10-inch size will work but won’t be as high. Glass cookware takes a little longer than ceramic or metal to heat up, and it holds heat longer once removed from the oven. This allows the crust in the pan to finish cooking when cooling, turning more golden in color.
Glass is also easy to see the appearance change and check for doneness. A metal dish can be used, but it tends to be thinner. It heats up quickly and can cook the crust too fast before the apples have time to tenderize or the filling has time to thicken.
Transferring the crust to the pie dish (3 ways)
- If the dough is still cool, it shouldn’t be difficult to lift and place it into the pie dish.
- Wrap the dough around the rolling pin and then unroll the dough over the pie dish.
- Fold the dough in half and then in half again, creating a triangle shape. Place it inside the pie dish. Unfold once which gives you a half-moon shape. Then unfold again.
Granny Smith and Honeycrisp apples give the perfect sweet and tart, balance in the filling. Granny Smith apples hold their shape and give a nice soft bite when cooked. Their tartness goes well with the sweetness of the sugar and spice mixture.
Honeycrisp apples have a nice sweetness and stay firm in texture. Other good baking apples include McIntosh and Fuji, as they don’t get too mushy. Each apple variety has a unique taste profile. You can customize the filling based on your preference.
Size of the apple slices
Cut the apples into ½-inch thick slices. This size ensures that the texture softens during baking but still keeps its wedge shape. If the slices are too thick the apples will be hard and crispy in the center. If too thin, they become a mushy mess.
Making the apple pie filling
A good filling should yield tender and juicy apples coated with a syrup-like glaze that clings to the surface. All-purpose flour thickens the juice. The dry flour should evenly coat the apples. As the apples cook and bubble, the starches in the flour swells, creating a sticky coating. Granulated and brown sugar also thicken as they concentrate.
The molasses in brown sugar adds a wonderful caramel taste. A mixture of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and vanilla delivers warm, earthy notes, adding a burst of flavor and dimension to each slice. Once the sugar is mixed with the apples, it will start to draw out the moisture from the fruit due to osmosis.
Let the apples sit for about 2-minutes in the mixture, this will provide more liquid for thickening with the flour when baking.
Layer the apples
Instead of just dumping the apples into the crust, layer them in by hand to stack them on top of each other. This keeps the pie more uniform in texture and makes it easier to slice. This technique also reduces the size of the gap between the top crust and filling after baking.
Forming the crust
Once the apples are in, carefully lay the crust on top, unless you’re planning on making a lattice crust. There will be excess dough, so tuck them under the edges of the bottom crust. Seal the edges by crimping them with your fingers or incorporate a unique design.
Make sure to add a steam vent. I use a small round cookie cutter, about 1-inch in size to make a hole in the center of the pie. This allows the apples to release their heat, so the pastry doesn’t get soggy. Before baking, brush the top of the pie with egg wash to add a more golden color. For a churro-like topping, sprinkle on some cinnamon and sugar. It adds a nice subtle crunch.
Bake time and cooling
This apple pie recipe takes about 1-hour to bake. As oven temperatures vary, watch out for the color change. Be aware that the pie crust sitting in the dish will continue to darken after removing from the oven. Carryover cooking will occur.
Cool the pie on a wire rack for at least 3-hours before serving. This duration helps make it easier to cut and serve as the filling will set, and the butter in the crust will firm up. The pie tastes best the same day.
Make ahead tips
- The pie dough can be made 48 hours in advance and kept refrigerated.
- Freeze the dough for up to 1 month, then defrost in the refrigerator overnight.
- The pie can be assembled the day before, refrigerated, then baked.
- For the best taste, do not freeze the assembled pie.
What to serve this with
Should you cook apples before putting them in a pie?
There are pros and cons. Pre-cooking the apples coaxes out the moisture and prevents a watery filling. You can also load more in the pie as they shrink down, but it requires more to start with. Cooking prevents a gap that can form between the filling and top crust as the fruit won’t reduce in size further. However, I find that the pie loses texture, almost like chunky applesauce, that’s why I prefer not to cook them. If you have enough flour, the starches will absorb the juice and thicken the filling properly.
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Classic Apple Pie
- 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 ¾ cups unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes, chilled
- ¾ cup ice-cold water, chilled
- 5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 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
- 1 ½ pound granny smith apples
- 1 ½ pound honeycrisp apples, or Fuji
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 ½ teaspoon unsalted butter, softened for dotting on apples
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 large egg, beaten for egg wash
- Keep the measured ice water and diced butter in the refrigerator until ready to use. In a stand mixer bowl, add the flour and salt. Combine using the paddle attachment on the lowest speed (Stir) for about 10-seconds.
- Add chilled diced butter to the bowl. On the lowest speed, turn the mixer on and off quickly for a few seconds to coat the butter with the flour. This helps to prevent the flour from spilling over. Continue to mix on low speed until the flour and butter resemble wet sand with coarse crumbles and some pea-sized pieces remaining, about 60 to 75-seconds. Use fingers to break up any large pieces. Do not overmix. The dough should not bind together before the water is added. Alternatively, use a dough/pastry blender or your fingers to break the butter into the dough.
- Gradually add 1 tablespoon of ice-cold water to the bowl. After each addition, turn the mixer on for 1 to 2-seconds. Only add enough water until the dough looks lumpy and hydrated, but not wet or sticky. Where it just begins to clump together with small crumbles on the bottom of the bowl. All of the water may not be needed, about 8 to 10 tablespoons is typical. When the dough is pinched together, it should compress and hold, not be dry or crumbly. Do not over mix. The dough will be pressed together before resting.
- Separate the dough into 2 even-sized portions, about 1 pound (454 grams) each. Press them into a 1-inch thick round disc and cover separately in plastic wrap. Place both in a resealable plastic bag. Store in the refrigerator to rest for at least 4-hours, overnight, or up to 2 days.
- Once removed from the refrigerator, allow the crust to sit at room temperature for about 5 to 10 minutes or until pliable. This will make it easier to roll.
- Dust the counter and top of the dough with flour. When rolling out, make sure to rotate and dust with flour underneath and on the top. This will prevent the dough from sticking and make it easier to transfer to the pie dish. Roll the dough into a 12 to 13-inch circle, about ¼-inch thick.
- Place the rolled out dough into a 9-inch pie dish and gently press against the sides and bottom. With a paring knife, trim the excess dough that hangs over the edges. Alternatively, if making a lattice crust, leave a ½-inch overhang to fold over the crust edges later. Place the prepared pie dish in the refrigerator to keep cold.
- Roll out the second portion of dough using the same steps as the first one. This dough will be the top crust. Roll into a 12-inch circle. Lay it flat on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, transfer to the refrigerator. While the dough chills, make the filling.
- Peel the apples and discard the core and stems. Slice the apples into ½-inch thick half-moon shapes. This should yield about 10 cups of sliced apples (2 ½ pounds, 1.1 kg). Place them into a large mixing bowl.
- In a small bowl, whisk together flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and lemon zest.
- Sprinkle the mixture on top, toss to coat. This should have a consistency of wet sand. Add the vanilla extract and toss. Let the filling sit for about 2 minutes.
- Place the oven rack in the center position. Preheat to 375°F (190°C). Line a half sheet pan with aluminum foil and set aside.
- Take the crust pieces out of the refrigerator. Place the apple filling mixture into the pie dish. Make sure the apples lay flat and fill in any gaps. Dot the apples with softened butter, this prevents sticking of the crust.
- Lay the flat top crust over the apples. Trim the excess dough, to about ¾-inch hanging over the pie plate. Gently press the dough against the apples and fold the excess underneath the bottom crust edges. Crimp by pinching the dough using the pointer and thumb fingers. Using a small round cookie cutter, about 1-inch in size, cut a hole in the top of the pie. This creates a vent to let steam escape.
- In a small bowl, mix granulated sugar and cinnamon. Lightly brush the whisked egg on the top of the crust. Sprinkle with the cinnamon-sugar mixture.
- Place the pie dish on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake until the crust is golden brown, about 60 to 70 minutes. The sides will continue to darken when cooling.
- Let the pie sit on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. Cool on a wire rack until warm or room temperature, at least 3 hours before serving. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
- Making a Lattice Crust: Using the top crust portion, roll out a 13 by 10-inch rectangle. Cut the dough into ten strips that are 13-inches long and 1-inch wide. Quickly chill or freeze them to make it easier to weave. Lay 5 parallel strips evenly over the filling, then weave the remaining pieces. Trim a 1/2-inch lattice crust overhang on the edges to press with the bottom crust. Fold the excess dough over the edge and crimp.
- Storing: The fully baked pie can be covered and left at room temperature for one day before eating or refrigerated. Wrap and store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- To Reheat: Place pie dish on a parchment-lined sheet pan and loosely cover with foil. Bake at 225ºF (107ºC) until warmed through. About 20 to 25 minutes, depending on if it’s been at room temperature or cold from the refrigerator. Individual slices can be reheated on a foil-lined baking sheet until warmed through.
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