11 Secrets to Baking Perfect Apple Pie From Superstar Chef Thomas Keller
If only we tried these apple pie tips sooner.
Baking the perfect apple pie—evenly tender apples; a buttery, flaky crust that’s golden-brown on top with no sogginess underneath—is one of the most important kitchen skills you can master. Nailing it can take a lifetime.
But because apple season is already here—and Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner—we’re down to speed things up. That’s why we consulted superstar chef Thomas Keller, founder of The French Laundry, Per Se, and apple pie technique instructor at Masterclass on pie-making skills not to skip.
His top tip for baking the perfect apple pie is controversial. Keller says to incorporate both diced and grated apples into your filling. “The grated apple cooks quickly and consistently, allowing for excess liquid to evaporate and resulting in an applesauce texture with just the right amount of moisture,” he says. “Alternatively, the diced apple provides a textural contrast.”
When you consider how prone the bottom crust of apple pie is to getting soft and soggy from water leaching out from the fresh apples, this trick makes so much sense. Grated apples have significantly more surface area exposed, which means moisture inside the fruit is able to evaporate at a higher rate in the oven compared to larger-sized apple pieces. Combining the two sizes helps preserve the textural contrast between the crust and filling (because we all know a grated apple pie would be… less than ideal). You’ll still be biting into a sweet, tender-cooked apple chunk—it just won’t be encased in mushy, limp pie crust. Keller recommends using a 1:1 ratio of grated to diced apples.
Looking for more ways to perfect your pie skills? We’ve got you. Here are 10 other genius tricks Keller shared with us.
Keep fat cold
When it comes to your classic apple pie, start with cold fats: chilled butter and lard. For a vegetarian replacement, opt for cold vegetable shortening or cold clarified butter in a 1:1 substitution.
Make your kitchen cool, too
Just as oven temperature is important in baking, so is the temperature of your kitchen. Ideally, you don’t want your environment to be too hot, as butter and other fats you may be working with will melt quickly.
Go for granny smith
According to Keller, granny smith apples are best for apple pie due to their hard, crisp, and tart properties.
Cornstarch = your secret sauce
Add a small amount of cornstarch to your filling, as it will help it set.
Use your hands
Instead of using any tools to combine your crust’s ingredients, use your hands to work the flour mixture.
Roll the right way
When rolling your dough, gently push or slide the rolling pin across the surface of the dough to smooth out any unevenness or ridges. Repeat this four times, rotating the dough a quarter turn each time.
Don’t let it sit overnight
Bake the pie dough the same day that the pie is being made. If you refrigerate pie dough overnight, it’s going to get very firm and will require taking the dough out of the refrigerator to temper it for rolling. You then run the risk of emulsifying the fats and the flour, which will prevent a flaky crust.
Use cling wrap
Blind bake the pie crust by lining the crust with a double layer of cling wrap. Fill it with baking beans, then fold the excess cling wrap over the beans to expose the edges of the pie crust during baking. Parchment paper is not as strong as cling wrap, and aluminum foil tends to stick into the dough.
Enlist a baking stone
Using a baking stone will help the crust and pie bake evenly. If you do not have access to a baking stone, you can use a large cast-iron pan that fits the pie tin, a heavy-bottomed baking tray, or just two stacked baking trays.
Lattice the crust
Use the iconic lattice top—it not only adds visual appeal, but also helps to vent the filling, keeping the crust crispy.