I’m not sure how my grandmother did it. She baked multiple pies each week for her family of 11. She didn’t meticulously measure ingredients or fret about shrinkage and tough crust the way I do. For me, pie baking is an art and a science. It’s a skill that has taken me much time and patience to learn. I’ve tested so many recipes for dough and filling, my own family is tired of eating pie (wait, is that actually possible?!). For pie dough, I’ve experimented with all-butter, all-shortening, pure lard, vegan and more. I’ve made every variation of fruit pie you can probably think of – rhubarb, strawberry, blueberry, pumpkin and lemon, to name a few. And the one I always come back to? Straight-up classic apple pie with cinnamon. If you’re curious about making apple pie, or maybe want to learn a new tip or two, keep reading!

Making Pie Dough

Butter Versus Shortening
All-butter crust? Delicious, yet finicky. All-shortening crust? A bit greasy, but pretty much foolproof. I find the best of both worlds comes from a ratio of 2/3 butter to 1/3 shortening or lard. With this mix, you get beautiful buttery flavor, but the higher melting point of shortening helps maintain structure in the crust.

Use Room-Temperature Butter
Here’s a tip that’s been a game changer in both my pie dough and my biscuit game. Instead of grating a frozen block of butter (no thank you – too messy!), start your dough with room-temperature butter. Yes, you read that right! Cut room temperature butter into your dry ingredients with a fork or pastry blender. (I actually prefer rubbing butter into flour with my fingers.) After the butter-flour mixture is coarse and crumbly, place the bowl in the freezer for 30 minutes before adding the liquid ingredients.

The Pinch Method
Oh, how wonderful! You’ve mixed up a soft, supple, elastic-y pie dough. You may think a dough such as this is a pie maker’s dream; however, I’m here to tell you it is not. Too much water in your pie dough results in a crust that first puffs up, meaning any design or crimping loses its shape, and then, to add insult to injury, shrinks away from the pie plate. The pinch method is a great readiness test. Though your pie dough may look dry and crumbly in the bowl, if the crumbs hold together when pinched between your fingers and thumb, you don’t need to add much more liquid.

Brrrrrr… It’s Cold
Chill your pie dough in the fridge, wrapped tightly in plastic, for a minimum of 1 hour before rolling. I like to make my pie dough the day before baking, resting my dough in the fridge overnight. This gives the flour time to fully hydrate, and also gives any formed gluten time to relax. Overdeveloped gluten equals tough pie crust.

Let’s Talk About Apples

Which Apples Are Best?
Let’s get real. Apple pie is apple pie. Even if the apples bake into complete mush, the pie will still taste great. That said, I like to use a 50/50 mix of softer apples, such as MacIntosh, with apples that hold their structure, such as Granny Smith or Honeycrisp.

Sliced Versus Cubed Fruit
I’m on the fence about how to cut apples for apple pie. I love the way thinly sliced apples compact into flat layers during baking; however, I find pie made with cubed apples easier to cut through with a fork when eating. I think this is mostly a personal preference, and you should do what you like.

A bottom crust filled with apples.

Assembling the Pie

Give It a Rest
Remove pie dough from the fridge 15 minutes before you want to roll it. Bringing up the temperature of the dough slightly makes it easier to roll and reduces the risk of cracking.

How to Roll
Place a disc of chilled pie dough between two sheets of wax paper. Roll the dough firmly and quickly from the middle out to the edge. Turn the dough a quarter turn and roll again from the middle to the edge. Continue this process until the dough is 1” (3cm) wider than the diameter of your pie plate. Rolling firmly and quickly reduces the risk of over-rolling, which can make for a tough crust.

Rolling out the crust.

Shaping/Assembling the Pie

Seal the Deal
Once the bottom crust is filled with fruit inside the pie plate, roll the top crust. Drape the rolled top crust over the fruit and trim the edges of both crusts with scissors, leaving about 1” (3cm) to 1/2” (1 1/2cm) of overhang. Gently press the edges of the two crusts together with your fingers to seal. Roll the edges of the crusts together toward the outside of the pie plate. Tuck the outside edge of the dough under to create a thick ridge to crimp. Press the ridge of dough gently with your fingers to “adhere” it to the edge of the pie plate. This will help prevent shrinking while baking. Crimp however you like.

Rolling out the crust.

How to Bake

Catch the Drips
While the oven is preheating, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and have it ready to go on the rack beneath your pie. The paper-lined sheet will catch any drips that would otherwise burn and smoke on the oven floor.

Cover the Crust
When your pie is ready to go into the oven, place a silicone or metal pie shield around the outer crust. Keep the pie shield on for the entire bake, removing it only for the last 15 minutes. Pie shields are a fantastic way to protect the crimped outer crust from burning.

Covering the edges of the crust with a pie shield.

Be Patient

As tempting as it may be to slice a freshly baked pie, your best bet is to let it cool on a wire rack for 5 – 6 hours before slicing. Letting the pie sit gives the filling time to cool and thicken, making for much neater slices.

Sliced apple pie.

I hope you loved these apple pie tips! Sometimes the simplest thing can make the biggest difference. Happy baking!

Kelly Neil

Kelly Neil is a food photographer and blog publisher living and working in her hometown of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. See more of her work at kellyneil.com.

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