The best way to make apple pie (tested and approved)
But apple pie is surprisingly difficult to make. There are so many variables that can radically change your experience with a recipe, from the types and quality of apples you use, to how evenly you slice them, to the type of crust you put on top and how you slice and crimp them. Despite a lot of testing and research by many different people, I could spend the money days Reading about whether butter or lard produces a crispy crust, or about the pros and cons of pre-cooking apples – there is very little agreement on what produces the best results.
This is partly because everyone has different preferences when it comes to how great apple pie tastes. This became especially evident when other Kitchen employees tasted the pies. Some people prefer the flavor of an all-butter crust, while others prefer the crispness and ease of a shortening crust. Some like tart pie, others prefer sweet pie. Some like a filling that still has some deliciousness to it, while others want all the gooeyness they can get.
So, when it came time to compete for four much-loved pie recipes, declaring the winner wasn’t just about my own taste. It was about a pie that I felt would produce successful and delicious results for as many bakers as possible.
How did you choose the apple pie contenders?
We often choose our showdown contenders based on the most searched-for recipes online, which means the same few celebrities show up again and again: Ina Garten, Alton Brown, Martha Stewart, the Pioneer Woman. That didn’t really work here.
As it turns out, people aren’t too keen on Ina Garten’s apple pie (the addition of citrus zest seems very polarizing). Alton Brown’s pie requires some hard-to-find ingredients (and has a lot of negative feedback). I found similarly lukewarm comments on Martha and Ray’s pies.
So I did some extra digging.
Gordon Ramsay’s pie caught my attention because it won a Buzzfeed baking award and included an interesting technique for caramelizing apples. I remembered that Smitten Kitchen, after doing a bunch of testing, had recently updated their already beloved pie, so I felt it was worth including. Commenters have raved about the King Arthur Flour Pie. And I simply can’t ignore Grandma’s Apple Pie on AllRecipes.com, which has more than 10,000 reviews, most of them rave reviews, and is the first thing that comes to mind when searching for “apple pie” online.
As with all of our recipe battles, I kept as many factors as consistent as possible. I used the same brand of ingredients for all the pancakes. I baked them all in the same brand and style of pie dish, on the same day, in the same oven. I let them all cool for a full five hours before slicing (I recommend you do this too – apple pies need… long time to prove).
The only factor that differed from one pie to another was the apples. I felt that in order to determine a winning recipe, I needed to stick to the instructions as closely as possible, which meant using the type of apple called for.
Smitten Kitchen calls for Mutsu, which it describes as a blend of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious. I originally had trouble finding Mutsu, so I used a combination of Granny and Golden, but I was able to get Mutsu on my second test. Gordon calls for “tart apple bread,” so I went with Grandma. King Arthur Flour recommended using multiple varieties and provided a list of their favorites. I chose three: Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, and Cortlandt. Grandma called Opel simply Grandma (which sounded like a brand name).
Meet the four apple pie contenders
1. Best pie for fried apple lovers: Gordon Ramsay’s Caramel Apple Pie
This was the only pie that required you to pre-cook the apples – and let me tell you, they were delicious. Cut them into cubes (not slices!), fry them in butter and sugar until caramelized, then assemble them in the crust and bake. It reminded me of Cracker Barrel’s fried apples – that’s the highest compliment.
Thanks to its short ingredient list, easy assembly, and relatively short baking time, this pie was also quick to make—except for the crust. Instead of a traditional pie crust, this pie is made with sweetened tart dough, which was more difficult to work with. It also wasn’t as brown and crisp as I would have liked.
My suggestion? Make applesauce, leave the pie, and eat it with ice cream. If you prepare the crust, flour the surface generously to prevent it from sticking.
Overall rating: 7/10
Read more: Gordon Ramsay’s apple pie recipe is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before
2. Best Pie If You Want a Quirky Baking Project: Apple pie from Grandma Opel
Of all the pies I baked, these were the quickest in and out of the oven. That’s because you do absolutely nothing to the apples (other than peeling and slicing them) — you just assemble them directly into a pie crust, place a lattice crust on top, and then pour a buttery syrup over the not-quite-fully-baked pie.
The result was a gooey (borderline soft) pie with a hint of caramel flavor and absolutely delicious crunchy crust bits. But the recipe as written could easily set you up for disaster. I was glad that I had read a number of the reviews – and that I knew how to make a pie. If you want to try something different, you will definitely enjoy this pie. Just be sure to read my tips in the link below before starting. Oh, and you’ll need to choose your own pie crust recipe. We recommend this.
Overall rating: 7.5/10
Read more: I finally tried Grandma Ople’s 5-star apple pie (over 10,000 reviews)
3. Best pie for Apple fans: The most perfect apple pie from Smitten Kitchen
This was the only pie that had me soaking the apples, tossing them in sugar and spices and setting them aside, before assembling the pie. This gave them time to soften and retreat, which meant I could pack more into my shell. I used nine whole apples!
This pie came very About to take first place in the house. Although it’s time consuming, it’s easy to make and has the classic apple pie flavor (it’s made with everyone Warm spices) and a golden brown crust (I really liked the whole butter crust recipe and technique). But it turned out to be different every time I made it, and the apples never softened as much as I had hoped. If you want the apples in your pie to retain a little texture (which many people do!), this is the pie for you.
Overall rating: 8.5/10
Read more: My honest review of Smitten Kitchen’s “Most Perfect” Apple Pie
4. Best Apple Pie: King Arthur Flour Apple Pie
To me, this is the perfect apple pie. The crust, made with a combination of butter and vegetable shortening, is easy to work with and bakes flaky and crispy. The filling was the most flavorful ever, thanks to the secret ingredient: boiled apple juice! (Although you can substitute apple juice concentrate, which is easier to find.)
The filling was soft but not too chewy also Tender, each bite contained a flaky crust, gooey filling, and vanilla ice cream that was simply out of this world. This is the pie I recommend to most bakers.
Overall rating: 9.5/10
Read more: King Arthur Flour’s secret to the best apple pie ever