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Apple Pie


Cahoot
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Being one of my favourite desserts, but also having little experience making it myself, I'd like to start a discussion regarding the classic apple pie. In the past couple days, I've looked at way more apple pie recipes and discussions than any sane person should, and now I'd like to hear what you guys may have to say with your experiences. Specifically, I'd like to focus on three main topics or issues prevalent when making it: a soggy bottom, a gap between the filling and the top crust, and the type of thickener used.

 

Preventing a soggy bottom

There are of course tips like preheating the baking sheet in the oven before placing your pie pan on it, baking at a lower rack, and even blind baking the bottom crust for a short bit before placing the filling and top crust on. However, I feel like these are all bandaid fixes rather than addressing the core problem, which is a runny filling. A common method I've seen is to first macerate the apples, then either discard or cook down the accumulated juices, or cook the apples on the stovetop first for a bit until they've lot off some juices, then remove the apples and continue cooking the juices down. From what I understand, when macerating the apples, most of the "juice" that accumulates is just the sugar since it's hygroscopic, right? Then throwing them away would be a huge waste, and hence reducing the juice seems to be the best approach here. I've tried Stella Parks' apple pie recipe, which calls for macerating the apples and then filling the pie with the apples and the macerated juices without cooking them down, but the final outcome was much too soupy for me. Overall, reducing the juices seems to be the best method, but my question is, does it also address the next issue, which is:

 

Preventing a gap from forming between the filling and the top crust

This is caused by the apples further shrinking during baking, and a sub-symptom of this problem is mushy apples when the apples are overcooked. This is really my main inspiration for making this thread, after reading J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's article on how to solve this issue through stabilizing the pectin in the apples by keeping them at 160°F for 10 minutes: https://sweets.seriouseats.com/2011/10/the-food-labs-apple-pie-part-2-how-to-make-perfect-apple-pie-filling.html

 

He gives four methods to do so: on the stovetop, in the microwave, in a sous-vide water bath, or by pouring boiling water over top. Does anyone have experience with any of these methods, and how much of a difference is there in the results compared to just cooking down the apples/juices on the stovetop to reduce juices, but not doing the full keeping-at-160°F-for-10-minutes thing? Kenji's recommended simplest method is the boiling water method, but my concern (and from reading reviews) is that it gives the apples a watered-down taste, even after ensuring that they're dried out. From reading the reviews of his recipe, it seems that the most people have great results regarding the structure of the pie, but some find the taste lacking. 

 

Some may consider this blasphemous, but my ideal apple pie is gooey, sweet, and strongly spiced, kind of like the McDonald's hand-pies, so I was wondering if there was a way to combine the solutions used for the first two problems. Of course, Kenji actually has a recipe for this exact kind of pie: https://www.seriouseats.com/2015/11/the-food-lab-extra-gooey-apple-pie.html, which does combine the methods previously discussed. He gives options to hold the apples at 160°F for 10 minutes using either the stovetop or sous-vide, then further cooks the apples on the stovetop to reduce the juices. However, I don't have a Dutch oven or a pot large enough to fit all the apples required to do it on the stovetop, nor a sous-vide machine, so this is where I have to find an alternative, and I'll need peoples' insights into whether my ideas may work or if I'm just talking nonsense.

 

I see two other ways to accomplish what I want: a) provided I've a microwave-safe bowl large enough, combine the apples, sugar, and spices in the bowl, and use the microwave to accomplish the pectin-stabilization, then finish reducing the juices on the stovetop (potentially in batches if needed), or b) do the boiling water pour-over method first, then add the sugar and spices and reduce juices on the stovetop. However, the microwave method seems really tedious and difficult to maintain at 160°F for an entire 10 minutes, hence option (b) seems the simplest. Again, there are multiple ways I can approach this here. I could just take all the apples after they've been in the hot water, and cook them all on the stovetop for a bit like in the recipe, or an even simpler but more time-consuming way could be to macerate them further, then just take the juices and reduce them instead of cooking the apples themselves. For the more experienced cooks here, would this still accomplish the same thing, or do I need to actually cook the apple slices themselves on the stovetop?

 

Type of thickener

Finally, a common point of discussion from where there seems to be no consensus is the best type of thickener for pies. Everyone has cornstarch and flour in their pantry, but tapioca starch is also commonly available. I've seen some people say good things about ClearJel here and there, but overall it appears to be very uncommonly used. However for a gooey pie like what I'm going for, are the clearer results from tapioca starch or ClearJel even needed, or would cornstarch or flour do fine? Another factor is that since the filling would need to be quite thick, would using cornstarch/flour leave too much of a starchy taste or leave the filling too goopy?

 

If you've made it this far I gotta commend you for enduring all my inane rambling, but I'm looking forward to hear additional insights into my thoughts and see if I can reproduce an apple pie that I'm happy with :)

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Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

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Here in Italy we make something similar called "torta di mele". The crust is made with standard shortbread / shortcrust, it's not flaky. The filling usually includes raisins and pinenuts, recalling the usual filling for strudel. Spices are a bit of cinnamon, cloves and sometimes nutmeg, but they are used lightly.
Personally I think this is a rustic pastry and needs to remain rustic. So I'm against all the technical solutions like the ones by Lopez Alt.
The most important thing is the choice of apples, I think reinettes are the best ones.
I'm against the pre-cooking of apples, this way they end up overcooked. I'm against adding flour to the filling, if you really want to then go with cornstarch and avoid wheat flour. Here we use to add a generous sprinkle of bread crumbs (or cookie crumbs) on the bottom crust before adding the filling, and add a bit of crumbs to the filling before mixing it. They work well for absorbing the liquids released by the apples, the taste is much better than if using flours. If you use dried raisins in the filling then they will absorb almost all the liquids, which is a great thing if you like them. A bit of lemon juice is mandatory for the filling, it makes a big difference.

 

 

 

Teo

 

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Teo

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6 hours ago, Anna N said:

Thanks for letting me know, I completely missed it! It was a nice read with some interesting ideas, but I also wanted to have a more in-depth discussion on techniques for making the pie itself.

 

4 hours ago, teonzo said:

Here in Italy we make something similar called "torta di mele". The crust is made with standard shortbread / shortcrust, it's not flaky. The filling usually includes raisins and pinenuts, recalling the usual filling for strudel. Spices are a bit of cinnamon, cloves and sometimes nutmeg, but they are used lightly.
Personally I think this is a rustic pastry and needs to remain rustic. So I'm against all the technical solutions like the ones by Lopez Alt.
The most important thing is the choice of apples, I think reinettes are the best ones.
I'm against the pre-cooking of apples, this way they end up overcooked. I'm against adding flour to the filling, if you really want to then go with cornstarch and avoid wheat flour. Here we use to add a generous sprinkle of bread crumbs (or cookie crumbs) on the bottom crust before adding the filling, and add a bit of crumbs to the filling before mixing it. They work well for absorbing the liquids released by the apples, the taste is much better than if using flours. If you use dried raisins in the filling then they will absorb almost all the liquids, which is a great thing if you like them. A bit of lemon juice is mandatory for the filling, it makes a big difference.

 

 

 

Teo

 

I'd never heard of it before, but torta di mele looks very similar to Dutch apple pie (which I've also never had but is on my list of things to make), down to the shape, shortcrust pastry, raisins, and light use of spices. I also didn't know that the raisins absorb most of the liquid - speaks to my inexperience haha, but definitely an idea to consider using. I understand what you mean by it's a rustic pastry, since here in North America it's also one of those basic pies that people pass down recipes for generations, and over-complicating it or making it too fussy is probably against the spirit of "as American as apple pie". However, I thought it'd be a fun experiment to ways to solve common problems I see people having with it, and plus I haven't seen any recipe for the gooey-type of pie I'm going for outside of Kenji's. I'm not sure if they're common in Europe, but it's similar to the thick filling in pies here sold in supermarkets or even fast food places, such as the McDonald's hand pie:afa3b5dc8d83b03589d072851be7f889.jpg.d38f107c7f325935f3d3d61c9e44c4e9.jpg

I'm sure people look down on that preference, but it's my guilty pleasure lol. About the pre-cooking of apples, couldn't you just cut the apples thicker to prevent them from overcooking? Additionally I guess it would depend on your personal preference on how you like the consistency of the apples, but maybe there's something I'm missing here too. The lemon juice was also something I was unsure about since some recipes include it while others don't, but my intuition is that a small amount can only help out. 

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Dried raisins absorb lots of liquids and become full and plump, almost like before being dried. That's the good side of using them, they pack their flavour plus the apple flavor. When you bake with raisins the end result should always be hydrated (absorbing liquid during cooking, or being soaked before cooking), if they remain dried then they do not taste good.

Now I understand what you mean with "gooey". You can't get that result with only apples and cornstarch, there's too much "goo" if compared to apples. If you want that effect then you need to add a jam / compote to the filling. Or juice some apples, thicken the juice with cornstarch and add it to the filling. No way to get that effect using only the liquid released by apples. Remember that industrial food is made with the idea to minimize costs, so using a byproduct from another process is a way to cut costs (byproduct juices cost less than apples, sugar costs less than apples) .

About overcooking, it depends on the size of the apple pieces yes, but it mostly depends on the cooking times of the crust, which tend to be higher than the cooking time of most apples, even in big pieces. Besides that, apples are different than quinces: quinces get better with long cooking times, apples don't.

 

 

 

Teo

 

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Teo

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So I did some further research into fast-food apple pies, and something interesting I found was that a "secret ingredient" McDonald's used to use in their hand pies was apple powder, essentially ground up freeze-dried apples. Stella Parks apparently actually used this idea in her BraveTart book for recreating the McDonald's pies. The powder is supposed to fulfill the function of a thickener, absorbing the liquids released, while also adding more apple flavour. This would be a super fun idea to play around with, but unfortunately the cost of getting freeze-dried apples in the quantities I need would be prohibitively high :(. Looking at other chains' ingredients lists for their apple pies, they seem to use a variety of starch- and gum-based thickeners, and HFCS is also common - obvious main purpose is sweetness, but maybe it also contributes to the jammy texture? 

 

I think using apple compote or jam is also a neat idea to get the texture I'm going for. All these ideas may be too much experimentation than feasible for me to do in my spare time right now, but it's fun to think about at least!

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@Cahoot have you considered buying a can of apple pie filling? Usually the canned fruit pie filling you find in the grocery stores have the sort of gloopy filling that I think you are trying to recreate in your apple pie.

 

Now one of my favorite apple pies is the Dutch apple cake https://forkandflower.com/index.php/2013/10/17/appeltaart-a-dutch-apple-pie/. Loads of apples, very little pastry, no gloopy gel.

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23 hours ago, Cahoot said:

I think using apple compote or jam is also a neat idea to get the texture I'm going for. All these ideas may be too much experimentation than feasible for me to do in my spare time right now, but it's fun to think about at least!

 

You can peel and core a couple of apples, cook the pieces in the microwave (full power for 4-5 minutes), blitz them with an immersion blender to get a puree, add a bit of cornstarch (depends on the apple puree weight), blitz again, then add this to your filling. If you want it to be sweet, then add sugar to your taste. Not much experimentation for this.

 

 

 

Teo

 

Teo

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  • 2 weeks later...

Soggy bottom: I always blind bake my pie crust for apple pie until it is golden

Apples: I cook mine on the stovetop in butter and brown sugar. I add spices to that. 
Starch: I always use corn starch. I find it less claggy than flour. 
Top crust: I can’t help with that as my family love a crumb topping on apple pie. 
 

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  • 8 months later...

An interesting method used by Dave Arnold following a recipe in the book "Pie Marches On", suing no starch.

Apples are mixed with sugar and drained. The apples go into the pie and baked. The liquid is reduced and added after baking.

Seems like it will be quite foolproof in preventing a soggy bottom. I think that if I'd try it, I would add a little starch (tapioca) to the liquid, so that it will have a slightly more traditional texture. It will still be less starch than usually needed. It will also be easy to make sure the starch is fully cooked.

I think this can be even more helpful with more challenging fruits - those high in water or low on pectin.

Edited by shain (log)
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~ Shai N.

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