Snow White's To-Die-For Apple Pie Recipe

IMPORTANT: start this recipe **at least** one day ahead!

Just in time for Thanksgiving, I wanted to share with you all a foolproof recipe for the most delicious, beautiful, guaranteed-to-delight-and-impress-your-friends-and-relatives apple pie you have ever tasted:

Tastes even better than it looks, might I add...

Let's start out by describing exactly what the perfect apple pie IS NOT, and then I'll share the amazing techniques that fix all those problems and gives you rich, flavorful goodness and a perfect texture.

The main problem with apples, from a pie perspective, is the fact that apples are juicy.

Shocking, I know. Stay with me here...

While apple juice is delicious stuff, it is best served in a glass rather than surrounded by pastry. Homemade pies have a frequent problem in this regard:

(Source: wikimedia commons)

As the apples bake, they release their juice which makes the pie soupy, totally destroys the under-crust to the point that it stays more like dough than crust, and renders each slice virtually impossible to serve without splattering everything. What's more, the apples, having lost all that water, are now waaaaay smaller than when you put them in the pie shell, so you've got this gaping void at the top of your pie. The apple-pie-attic can sometimes reach dizzying heights:

(source: momsapplepieusa)

Store-bought pies and commercial apple pie filling generally try to evade this problem by adding an absurd quantity of thickening agents (and, I suspect, extra apple juice because it's cheaper than whole apples!) so all the extra juice forms a synthetic-tasting gloop and the pie filling has just about no texture at all (and barely any apples!).

No. Absolutely no. Definitely not. This is not a pie. This is apple-flavored pudding wrapped in flour and crisco. Get it away from me. (source: thinkstock)

Now, how do we get all the benefits of the rustic, loaded-with-apples homestyle apple pie, without having apple juice flooding the bottom of your pie tin and an empty attic big enough for Cinderella to move into? Like this:

Look at that bottom crust. Just look at it. Note the apples going all the way to the top (confession time: I let some apples fall out of the center top when I was cutting the earlier slices!). Note that there's just enough juice to be moist, and it clings to the apples where it belongs, but is not flooding the pie dish.

The great secret, you see, is to get all that water out of the apples BEFORE they ever make it to the pie shell. Now, if you were to cook the apples first, your apples would be sauce, so that's out of the question. So, what do we do? We rely on the amazing power of osmosis, of course!

The actual science behind how and why this pie works so well is geeky--very, very geeky---so if you're just want to know how to make the perfect pie just read the recipe right here. If you want to know WHY this works, scroll to the bottom of this post: this is basically the most delicious chemistry experiment you've ever tasted.

The short version is that this involves a process called maceration

Obviously named by someone who never spent any time around teenagers...

that uses sugar to draw the moisture out of the apples, and then we boil off the water (but NOT the apples, which are set aside to preserve their texture) to get an intense, concentrated flavor of the remaining juices, and then repeat. You can also let the sugars brown a little in the pan and add a rich caramel flavor, if you are so inclined. A great advantage of this is that, because you are getting rid of the water ahead of time, you can use whatever apples you want even if they're very juicy. I personally like to use a variety of apples in each pie:

This particular pie uses honeycrisp, fuji, jonathan, and golden delicious varieties, because that's what my creepy-old-beggar-lady produce delivery co-op brought today.

Just remember, since a very large volume of water is leaving the fruit before you put it in the shell, you are going to need waaaaaay more fruit than you'd think you would actually need. This is the relative volume of uncooked apples to pie shell that we're going for:

The crust is adapted from America's Test Kitchen's Vodka Pie Crust, which also has a super-geeky science trick behind why it works so well, which is also at the bottom of this post. The only modifications I've made to the crust is to use 100% butter (because it tastes better and, unlike vegetable shortening, I always have it around) and to make up for the slight loss of flakiness by freezing the butter.

Now, on with the recipe:

Snow White's To Die For Apple Pie Recipe

Start at least one day prior to serving!


  • 16 very large apples, varieties of your choice (use extra for any smaller varieties)
  • A couple of tablespoons of lemon juice and/or vodka
  • 1 ½ cups sugar (classic version), or 2 cups sugar (caramelized version)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ginger

Peel and core the apples. If you value your time and are respectful of your finite share of life before your inevitable mortality, use one of these:

You're doing between 16 and 24 of these bad boys, remember. I feel like Snow White looks at this and thinks, REVENGE IS MINE!!!!!

The apple crank basically makes a slinky of appleness, and then you just chop it in half sagittally like you would a whole apple:

Image credit: chowhound

Toss your apple slices in lemon juice regularly to prevent browning. When you feel like you've used enough lemon juice and you don't want it to get too lemony, switch to vodka.

Throw the sugar over the apples. If you're going to caramelize the juice, use 2 cups instead of 1.5, because you'll lose some sweetness with the caramelization process.

Let rest, covered tightly in saran wrap, at least 2 hours. If you can get the timing to work out, doing this first maceration overnight is nice. Look how much volume the apples lose after just one round:

Then, drain the apples and save the juice: I find a 12-quart stockpot with a pasta insert works perfectly for this, especially as the apples will continue to drain. Have another stockpot ready to transfer the apples to and from and to catch drippings from the pasta insert.

Look how much juice these apples gave up in one round of macerating:

Look, all of that could have flooded your entire pie, and we're going to keep all of the flavor and none of the sogginess!

Bring the juice to a boil and reduce until you have a very thick syrup. The apples will continue to drain, so you can pour in that extra juice midway through. If you are going for a classic apple pie, use a narrow & deep saucepan, stir frequently and keep the heat juuuuust at boiling. If you want to caramelize this sauce, go with a wide & shallow saucepan for maximal surface area, and you can be a bit more aggressive with the heat. (Note, you should do most of your caramelization on the last round, as this will reduce the solution's ability to pull out more water.)

An induction cooktop is lovely for keeping careful control over the heat.

Once your sauce is reduced, pour it back over the apples in your stockpot, and let rest again (at least an hour, preferably 2).

This would probably be a good time to get started on your crust:


  • 2 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided into 1 ½ and 1 cup portions
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 sticks frozen unsalted butter, cut into thin slices
  • ¼ cup cold vodka
  • ¼ cup cold water
  • 1 egg, beaten senseless

Give the 1 ½ cups flour, salt, and sugar a whirl in your food processor to combine. Then, add the slices of frozen butter and pulse until all the flour is stuck to the butter and it holds together. Then add the second cup of flour and pulse only a few times until the extra flour is just incorporated and the mixture is crumbly (this step makes sure there is less-incorporated flour that will make the pastry go all light and flaky rather than being a dense homogenous mass).

You can either add your water and vodka in the food processor or in the mixing bowl: I like to sprinkle them over the crumbs, give 2 quick pulses to get it started, and then transfer to the bowl. Do NOT fully incorporate the liquid via food processor--while this recipe has a high tolerance for working the dough, that would definitely overdo it.

By hand, work the dough until it just comes together. I find disposable gloves are fantastic for this, just make sure you get the powder-free kind:

Then, when juuuust combined, separate your dough and flatten into two disks, wrap in plastic wrap,

Notice the little flecks of butter, the mark of the perfect pie dough that has not been kneaded any more than it absolutely needed.

and refrigerate for at least two hours and preferably overnight, to allow it to rest.

"Cooking really upsets food."

(notice we haven't used the egg yet...that comes at the end)

You would think that the giant sauté pan of juice we already got would be all the apples had to offer, BUT NO. You will notice there is almost as much left to drain the second time. As the syrup gets more concentrated, it will bubble very vigorously:

So be sure to keep an eye on it

For the ultimate flavor-packed not-at-all-soggy apple pie, repeat this process for at least four rounds, preferably five. As your syrup gets thicker, let it cool enough that it doesn't cook the apples when you pour it back on, but also keep stirring the apples so they get coated and you don't get one giant hard candy amidst a bunch of apples. If you do get some blobs that harden before they coat the apples, it's fine: the additional water coming out of the apples will dissolve them.

Note the apples are already taking on a gorgeous caramel color.

Once the apples are doing their last round of maceration, roll out your pie dough, set into your pie plate (preferably a 9.5 inch deep dish or bigger), cover with saran wrap, and return to the fridge. You can even lay what will be the top of the pie crust into the plate over the saran wrap for the under-crust.

Do the last round of reduction of the sauce, and if you want to caramelize, this is where you can turn up the heat and let it brown more. To finish it, add the butter at this stage, which will keep the caramel as a sauce rather than a hard candy:

You still add butter even if you're not doing the caramelized version, FYI.

Around this time you should preheat your oven to 500F. Yes, you read that right: 500F.

Pour this back over the apples and toss until completely coated. Then, add your flour and spices and stir until incorporated. Take your pie shell out of the fridge, set aside the top crust, and then dump all your apples into the lower crust, making a very impressive mound on the top. Drizzle any remaining juice out of the stockpot onto the pie--this stuff is delicious, so don't let it go to waste!

Then, cover the pie with the other sheet of dough: be sure to cover loosely, because these apples will actually expand slightly as they bake, instead of contracting, because they've lost so much water. Trim the edges so that the top crust is just a bit smaller than the outer edge of the pie plate (be sure to get a pie plate with a large, flat flange--it makes this so much easier and neater, and it presents beautifully too!), and the lower crust is just a bit larger:

Then, take the lower crust and fold it over the top to seal it:

Crimp the edges by pressing the fingers of one hand away from the pie and interlocking the fingers of the other hand pressing toward the pie:

Take your beaten egg and brush all over the crust to make the pie nice and golden when it comes out of the oven. Then, cut your vents:

If you're inclined to decorate, use some extra scraps of pie dough. For this one, I cut some leaf shapes, egg washed them, and then cut in the veining:

Add your decorations to the pie, sprinkle with turbinado sugar, and it will be ready to bake:

Put this glorious thing into your 500F oven. The high temperature will get the crust nicely golden, and blast the lower crust to ensure it gets cooked before any juices (yes, there are still some!) seep into it. Since it is so hot, you want to make sure your pie crust is very smooth, because any little small lumps of dough are the bits that are most likely to burn.

Bake at 500F for 10 minutes, and then reduce the heat to 375 and bake for another 40 minutes, at which point you should have this:

Notice the beautiful dome on this pie, and the best part is that the apples fill it all the way up, as you can see from the top view:

And the cutaway:

Be sure to cut the pie with a really sharp knife, because with an ordinary pie server the apples will slide out of the way (as happened on the top!). The apples have a wonderful texture and just the right amount of bite, but the only downside is they can resist perfect slices if your knife is too dull.

So, there it is! All the secrets for a somewhat labor-intensive (pro tip: do this while you have to be in the kitchen anyway doing other stuff) but absolutely worth it apple pie!

Now, if you want to know exactly why this works, read on!


Apple Osmosis:

The first thing you need to know about the chemistry of this pie is that water is a much smaller molecule than other biological molecules. Incidentally, due to the spatial arrangement of the unpaired electrons to which each of the hydrogen atoms bonds and the paired electrons all trying to be as far away from each other as possible around the oxygen atom, water molecules look just like Mickey Mouse:

Look, I warned you this was gonna get geeky, didn't I?

The apples themselves act as a semipermeable membrane and water (being smaller) is much more able to pass through the apple flesh than other molecules (some aromatics do pass through but much more rarely, and softening of the apple flesh releases some additional juices, but to simplify things we can look at this just in terms of water transport).

So, what happens when we put a few spoonfuls of sugar around the apples?

Oh, hello there...

Well, now the outside of the apple is hypertonic--which is a fancy way of saying more concentrated than the inside of the apple, which has its own carbohydrates, aromatics, and proteins--and the system needs to reach equilibrium. Since it's much harder for the sugar to travel in than the water to travel out, we have a net movement of Mickey Mouses out of the apples, which have gotten smaller. Note that all the Mickeys don't leave at once...just enough to make the concentrations equal.

Once we drain and reduce the juice, the water evaporates away like a Mickey balloon escaping from a distraught four-year-old:

With all that water gone, the syrup is hypertonic again, so it can pull out even more water:

And so on until the apples are no longer going to ruin your pie crust.

Now, isn't your life enriched from seeing that?

Pie Crust:

Now that we've established that water is Mickey Mouse, then obviously ethanol would be Donald Duck.

Just go with it, okay?

On second thought, not actually an unreasonable parallel...

So we've got Mickey water and Donald vodka...


Not to mention whatever the hell this is:

Basically, water (i.e. Mickey Mouse) facilitates tight bonds between proteins in flour so that they form a close-knit conglomerate:

Shown: gluten.

The trouble is that all that kneading/jamboreeing around, making more tight bonds, results in a very tough and chewy pie crust, and we certainly don't want that.

So, the vodka gets in Mickey's way and prevents so many bonds from forming:

As Donald is wont to do.

This way, you're much more free to work with the crust so it can be moister and easier to roll (and more forgiving if you need to re-roll it) without forming a tough matrix of gluten.

I should point out that this just reduces the amount of gluten in the pie crust to make it optimally tender and flaky, but it DOES NOT mean that the recipe is gluten free, so please keep that in mind if you have any dietary sensitivities.

I hope you learned a little something extra here, I hope you make this delicious pie, and most importantly I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving full of love from your friends and family!

No comments:

Post a Comment

About the Author

Satiricalifragilistic grew up during the Disney Renaissance, and The Little Mermaid was the first movie she ever saw in theaters at age 3. Her mother flatly refused to let her leave the theater when Ursula got huge and terrifying, and maybe that explains her troubled psyche.

While she'll admit to being an inveterate nitpicker, she firmly believes in loving a piece of art even while criticizing it, and in the importance of engaging critically with what she loves. She has special contempt for anyone who tries to claim the politics in Disney films don't matter because "they're just movies," because she knows exactly how much the Disney Canon influenced her little gradeschool self—for good and for ill!

She loves art, design, music, dancing, movies from Hollywood's Golden Age, and British comedy...expect a lot of these to turn up in her reviews and mashups!