Secret Ingredient for the Best Apple Pie
Elevate your apple pies, tarts, and strudels to a new level by adding this one simple ingredient. Apple cider syrup will bring a new dimension of flavor to any apple filling you prepare. This easy-to-make flavor concentrate requires only one ingredient and a little bit of time. Not only delicious in pies and other baked goods, this syrup will add the perfect fall flavor to your pancakes and waffles. And use some of this apple syrup to make an Apple Cider-Car Cocktail, it’s the perfect drink for Thanksgiving entertaining that will certainly get you in the spirit of the season.
I love fall. Of all of the seasons I think fall would have to be my favorite. I know many folks pick spring or summer, but there is something about the amazing colors of the autumn leaves and the crisp air that I find most exhilarating. Fall is also apple season. And yes apples are available all year long but there are none crisper or more flavorful than those in the market this time of year. Baked goods with apples are some of my favorites, next to blueberries that is, and not to forget rhubarb, and peaches and…..well OK most any baked good, but a slice of fresh baked apple pie or strudel definitely sends me to my happy place.
I was very pleased when I discovered apple cider syrup a few years ago in a gourmet baking shop. I thought the syrup sounded very intriguing, so I hesitantly offered over my arm and leg and made the purchase. The concentrated flavor of this syrup definitely worked as advertised and my apple fillings never had more flavor, but the product was quite pricey. So after a bit of research I discovered that this secret elixir really was nothing more that reduced apple juice. Just that simple. So for merely a few dollars and a bit of time I can make my own secret ingredient and have it available whenever and for whatever I want.
The secret ingredient for the most delicious apple fillings for your pie, tarts, and turnovers.
- 64 ounces organic apple juice not apple cider
In a sauce pan over medium-high heat reduce apple juice to about 2 cups or until it has the consistency of maple syrup.
Watch the temperature of the syrup as it begins to thicken, reducing heat as necessary to prevent burning.
I will not proclaim to be able to make a perfect pie by any stretch of the imagination. But here are a few tips I have acquired over the years that I find do help me.
I will tell you right now pie crust is not my strongest suit. I have always admired people who can crumble together a flaky buttery crust with ease. I also must admit that I often use packaged crusts, I know that will disappoint some folks but I guess since I have not perfected the crust I have focused more on fillings. There are many recipes and your mother may have taught you hers, but just in case here is one for a Basic Single or Double Pie Crust.
- Don’t over work the dough – When mixing the dough work in only enough ice water to form a crumble that will hold together when pressed. When rolling, work from the center out and only enough to form the size you need for your pan. Excessive rolling causes the gluten in the dough to strengthen creating a tougher crust.
- Keep it Cold – Whether you are using shortening or butter in your dough keeping it cold is key to a flaky crust. Lightly greasing the bottom of your pie tin will help crisp up the bottom crust of your pie. If you are working on a decorative or elaborate top for your pie, place the filled shell back in the fridge while you work on your design.
Everyone seems to have a favorite apple, however some work better for baking that others. While the red delicious is the iconic apple it is not the best for baking, and the granny smith may not be the first apple you grab for snacking but she is the work horse of the pie. I have learned that a mixture of apples will give you a good result and help to prevent the apples from shrinking during baking leaving you with a gap between the crust and the filling. Some of the best apples for pies are…
- Granny Smith
- Golden Delicious
- Jonathan or Jonagold
One of the things I enjoy about making an apple pie is that it really is quite simple, not a lot of fuss or muss. I was given a recipe for an apple pie spice mixture that is a fantastic blend and can be used for tarts and strudels as well. I keep a jar of this in my pantry during apple season which makes pie baking even easier.
- 4 Tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
Other tips that I would share with you are as follows.
- Evenly slice the apples – Whether you like thicker or thinner apples in your pie, slice them all the same thickness. They will bake evenly by doing this.
- Pre-cook the apple slices – Precooking the slices of apples slightly helps in two ways. It helps the apples to become nice and tender with out over baking the crust, and it reduces the shrinkage of the filling which can leave a gap below your top crust. Place the apples on a plate and microwave uncovered for 4 to 5 minutes just to take the edge off.
- Melted butter – Instead of dotting the top of your filling with butter, toss the sliced apples in melted butter. No need for lemon juice, and this allows for a more even thickening of the filling.
- Powdered sugar – Yes that’s right, powdered sugar. Using confectioners sugar instead of granulated gives a more even distribution throughout the filling. Sift your thickening agent (flour or cornstarch) with the powdered sugar along with your spices before adding to your apples. This will make sure your filling is completely thickened and evenly spiced.
- Apple Cider Syrup – This really is the key to maximum apple goodness.
- Raisins and Dried Cranberries – Either of these will add a bit of interest and flavor to your filling if desired but are not necessary. Toasted walnuts also can offer a some interesting texture and taste if desired.
Make the top of your pie your personal signature. With a little bit of time and a few simple tools you can turn an ordinary looking pie in to a work of art. There are many versions of lattice that are not too difficult to do, and cookie cutters can make fun shapes to add dimensions to your pie. If you need some inspiration, here is a link for some Amazing Pie Crust ideas.
- Keep it Cold – It is important to keep your dough cold. If your work of art is taking more time than you expected, put it back in the fridge for a bit.
- Parchment Paper – You might find it helpful to work your design on a piece of parchment. This allows for easy transfer on to your pie or back in the cooler for a bit. Trace the outline of your pan on the underside of the paper for a helpful guide.
- Pizza Cutter and Ruler – These basic tools make cutting strips of crust a breeze.
- Cookie Cutters – Use your cookie cutters to add seasonal touches to your crusts, or make a special pie birthday pie with your special persons favorite shapes. Fork tines and butter knives work well to add detail to your shapes.
- Chill before Baking – When you have finished your Picasso and sealed the edges, pop your pie back in the fridge for about 20 minutes before baking. This will help to keep your top crust flaky.
- Make it Shine – Egg wash will bring lots of color to your crusts but can hide details. Try using whole milk. It is easy to work with and will bring a nice color and shine to your pie. And don’t forget the sprinkles. Sanding sugar can add a lot of sparkle and fun to your crust.
When it comes to baking there are just a few tips I would offer.
- Rack Position – If your oven has a bottom element place your oven rack slightly below center. This will help the bottom crust to brown. If you have a top element the center rack will work fine but don’t go higher.
- Parchment Paper – Place your pie on a parchment lined sheet pan. This makes for easy transferring in and out of the oven as well as making clean up a lot easier in the case of a spill over.
- Heat Shield – After 30 minutes in the oven, lay a flat piece of aluminum foil over the top of the entire pie. Don’t try to bend it around the crust just lay it gently on top. Then remove the foil about 30 minutes prior to the final baking time. The crust should stay tender and brown nicely with out burning. Adjust the time for removing the foil based on the color of your pie nearing the end of baking. If your crust has lots of color leave it on.
- Let it Cool – A fruit pie is the temperature of the sun when it comes out of the oven, and holds it heat for quite a while. Allow about 2 hours for the pie to completely cool. This will also give the filling enough time to set up so you can cut nice clean pieces.
Easy recipe for the best apple pie filling you have ever tasted bursting with appley goodness.
- 8 cups apples mix of Granny Smith and Fuji, cored, peeled, and thinly sliced
- ¼ cup dried cranberries (optional)
- 2 tablespoons butter melted
- ¼ cup apple cider syrup* see recipe above
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 ¼ cup confectioners' sugar
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Double Pie Crust made from scratch or packaged
- Sanding sugar
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350°F.
- Microwave the sliced apples uncovered on a plate for 4 to 5 minutes, until they have softened a just a bit. Drain off any liquid then transfer to a large mixing bowl. Allow to cool to room temp and toss in the dried cranberries.
Add melted butter, apple cider syrup, and vanilla. Toss to evenly coat.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, flour, spices, and salt. Add to apple slices and toss to combine.
- Lightly grease the bottom of a 9” - 10” pie tin with shortening. (This help to brown the bottom crust)
- Roll out half of the dough to form the bottom crust. Spoon apple filling into the crust.
- Roll out the top crust and position it over the filling. Trim off any excess and seal and crimp the edges. Cut a slit in the center for steam to escape or cut the remaining crusts in strips to create a lattice.
- Brush the crust with milk and sprinkle with sanding white sugar.
- Place the pie on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Carefully lay a sheet of aluminum foil on top of the pie covering its entire surface and bake for an additional 80 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes for a total of 2 hours or until the filling is bubbling and the crust is lightly browned.
- Remove the pie from the oven, and allow it to cool for several hours.
- You can store the pie for a day or two at room temperature or cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.
- Apple pie also freezes well. Wrap chilled pie tightly with plastic wrap and foil.
Here is a Recipe for basic pie crust or use your own favorite.