The Perfect Apple Pie

Making the perfect apple pie is all about having a perfect apple pie recipe, and this article contains some of the best, including recipes for pie crust, Dutch apple pie, cider apple pie, sugar-free apple pie and other varieties.

| October/November 1991

The perfect apple pie recipe is elusive, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a more popular fall dessert. You'd probably be hard-pressed to find a more popular dessert any time of the year. But as the leaves fall and the air cools, a harvest of apples can only signal one thing — pie season. While apple pies grace dinner tables (as well as lunch boxes, late-night snack runs, stolen bites at breakfast, you name it) and restaurant menus year-round these days, there is something magical about a slice of ovenwarm apple pie on a crisp fall night: steam wafting from a vented top, fragrant cinnamon and sugar harmonizing with the sliced apples to produce a delightful crustbusting ooze and vanilla ice cream or cheddar melting with the whole business like a lovestruck teenager at the high school homecoming dance.

For as many opportunities as there are to eat apple pie, there are an equal number of variations. The school of thought on apple pie recipes ranges from the puristic (a vented double crust, a little lemon juice, a touch of sugar for taste, and perhaps an egg or a bit of flour to keep the mess together) to the blasphemous (the land of crisps, crackles, and crumbs). Once you've sorted through that, there are the debates over sliced vs. chunked, precooked vs. raw, peeled vs. unpeeled, single crust vs. double crust, baking quickly at one high temperature vs. lowering to a moderate oven...well, you get the idea.

The quest for the "perfect" apple pie recipe is a subject of lengthy and heady debate, a matter I certainly wouldn't presume to settle (I was once told never to enter into any argument that involves someone's mother). However, within all the shades of gray, there are some fail-safe truths to baking a perfect apple pie.

Use an apple that will hold its shape. Be sure that your apple is firm enough to withstand cooking. Applesauce is a lovely confection, just as long as it's not wrapped in your pastry.

Check the pie every few minutes or so toward the end of baking. Crusts and toppings can burn quickly. Ten minutes of forgetfulness will leave your effort faintly resembling a pile of charcoal briquettes.

Start with a fresh crust. It should be simple: just flour, butter, water, sugar, salt. Yet, whether due to time constraints or timidity, many people are turning to frozen crusts. A good number of these, in all fairness, prove to be quite passable. But even if your fellow pie-eaters don't know you cheated, you'll know. While the capacity for creating something suspiciously close to a lead pancake certainly exists, the benefits of learning once and for all how to make pastry are numerous (it tastes better, costs pennies, and you don't feel like you just lip-synched the national anthem).

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