I love getting my hands dirty in the kitchen (dirty dishes, however, are a different story). I’m always looking for excuses to knead squishy doughs, crank out noodles, and cut out biscuits. I just find it so satisfying to use my hands to transform a shapeless blob into something beautiful and delicious.
And of all the shapeless blobs I like to work with, pie dough is my hands-down favorite. I relish the act of making pie dough far too much to buy it from the store. I love cutting the butter into the flour just right, adding the ice water until the dough is moistened just so. The process can be intimidating, and I’ll admit I’ve made a lot of bad pie crust over the years, but the more you do it the better you get.
You start to get a feel for it in a satisfying way — something you don’t get when simply following a recipe by rote. Making pie crust is all about technique, requiring you to be engaged and responsive.
It’s mindful cooking.
Plus, making pie always feels a little like a special occasion, because I get to pull out my grandma’s rolling pin, my little flour shaker, my pretty ceramic pie dishes and sweet little pie birds (which help to vent steam from the fruit). Sure, a metal pie pan and some slits in the top crust would do just fine, but they’re not nearly as fun.
This fall, after getting a little overzealous on our apple picking excursion, I decided to use most of our haul to make and freeze apple pie filling, so I could indulge my pie-making itch anytime. All that peeling and coring and slicing make apple pie my least favorite to make, but it’s my family’s favorite kind to eat.
I followed some tips from the baking experts at King Arthur Flour, who recommended cooking the filling first. It was a genius idea. With the apples already roasted and soft, you can really fill that pie shell full. The cooked apples won’t collapse during cooking and leave that irritating gap under the top crust.
After roasting several baking dishes worth of apple pie filling, I scooped the filling into ziptop bags, and popped them in the freezer. You can bake the filling from frozen, but I have better luck letting it thaw overnight in the fridge first. It’s just easier on the crust.
Now all I have to do is make my crust, pour one of my pre-made fillings inside, and I’ve got apple pie, anytime.
Make-Ahead Apple Filling
Enough for 1 deep-dish 9-inch pie
Pre-cooking the filling keeps the apples from collapsing inside the pie during baking, and leaving a big air gap under the crust. For a variety of flavors and textures, use a combination of apples, like Fuji, Granny Smith and Honeycrisp. To make a finished pie, you can find my crust recipe and technique here. If you’re not a dough nerd like me, and live in Portland or Seattle, you can get excellent pie dough from Grand Central Baking.
1/2 cup apple cider
7 medium apples, peeled, cored and sliced (about 9 cups sliced 1/4-inch thick)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
2 tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small saucepan set over high heat, bring the apple cider to a boil. Simmer until reduced to 1/4 cup. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
In a large bowl, combine the apples and lemon juice. Toss to coat. In a small mixing bowl, stir together the brown sugar, granulated sugar, flour, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and clove. Sprinkle the mixture over the apples and toss to coat evenly.
Arrange apples in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Pour the reduced apple cider over and dot with the butter. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until apples are tender. Allow to cool completely and refrigerate or pour into a ziptop freezer bag and freeze for longer storage. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before using.
To use: Line a deep-dish 9-inch pie plate with rolled out pie dough. Pour in cooled filling, mounding the apples in the center. Cover with another sheet of dough, trim the edges to 1/2-inch from the rim of the dish, then fold under and crimp. Refrigerate pie for 30 minutes while the oven preheats.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut several slits in the top crust to vent the steam. Brush the top of the pie with egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water or milk). Sprinkle with sugar. Bake on the center rack of the oven for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake about 20 minutes more, until crust is golden and filling is bubbly. Allow to cool before slicing.