How to Ruin Apple Pie Filling

When you're making the perfect pie, keep these apple pie filling tips in mind.

Anna Aguillard
Double Apple Pie with Cornmeal Crust
Photo: Iain Bagwell

When it comes to apple pies, we always seem to be worrying ourselves silly over the crust. While we’re all over here busting our backs trying to achieve the buttery, flaky, golden-brown dome we remember from grandma’s confectioners oven, we often forget to pay equal attention to an equally finicky piece of the pie: its filling. From the initial choice of apple, all the way to cutting into the baked pie—plenty of apple pie filling flubs exist along the road to perfection, making it pretty easy to ruin even the flakiest of piecrusts.

In order to make the perfect apple pie filling, NEVER:

1. Choose the wrong apple variety
The science of baking goes all the way down to the cellular level; due to a fruit’s biological makeup, sweeter apples break down easier than more acidic apples. To avoid filling that looks like applesauce and tastes like grainy sludge, avoid particularly sweet apples, like Red Delicious. The tart Granny Smith apple holds its shape best. Mix in a few slices of aromatic Golden Delicious for a touch of sweetness, and you’ve got the core of a perfect apple pie filling. Avoid apple varieties like Fuji; the excess water will result in a runny filling.

2. Use overripe fruit
Even if you choose the perfect apple variety, if the fruit is overripe, your apple pie filling will turn to mush. The perfect apple pie filling is not too sweet. It has just the right amount of tartness to offset the added richness of brown sugar and cinnamon. Overripe apples lack the tartness necessary to maintain the filling’s crisp taste.

3. Carelessly cut your apples
First of all, you gotta peel those apples. Not peeling the apples in your pie filling is right up there next to sitting grandpa’s easy chair: it should never be done. Stringy peels prevent the apple slices from combining together into the thick, smooth consistency that you want/need. Secondly, make sure you cut your apples into thin wedges. When layered in a piecrust, thickly cut apples result in more air pockets, and more places for trapped steam to collect. When the steam escapes the pockets, you end up with the dreaded pie gap between crust and filling.

4. Throw raw apples right in the pie crust
Some experts will tell you to par-cook apples before filling a pie by pouring boiling water over cut apples and soaking them for 10 minutes. Others say to roast them to reduce water content. Still others say to let cut apples sit for 30-40 minutes to drain natural juices. But all seasoned pie bakers agree on doing something before throwing apples into the crust. The most common complaint in the world of apple-pie-filling is that the apple slices turn to mush—treating them prior to baking help apples keep their crunch while still cooking all the way through.

5. Overdo the additions
Cinnamon, nutmeg, and sugar are as important to a pie as anything, but we don’t call it “cinnamon and nutmeg sugar pie”. We call it “apple pie.” When you first bite into the pie, you want to taste fresh apples, not the strong kick of cinnamon or the sickeningly sweet taste of sugar. Stick to ¼ to ½ tsp of spices, and try to stay under 1 - 1½ cups of sugar (use both granulated sugar and light brown sugar for proper consistency).

6. Skip the thickener
Adding a few tablespoons of thickener is absolutely necessary to keeping your apple pie filling from turning into apple soup. Flour is most commonly used, although it does leave a slight cloud over the filling. Alternatives include cornstarch, quick-cooking tapioca, and apple jelly.

7. Cut your pie too soon
We understand—it is so hard to resist cutting into that golden brown dome of soul-soothing pie right when you pull it out the oven. But if you don’t let it cool completely, all the painstaking steps you took to create the perfect apple pie will be foiled. So, let it come to room temperature and then dig in.