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Apple Pie: Cutting up the apple, preferences?

I just made my first of many apple pies for the season. One thing I always hesitate on is how to cut my apples. I usually cut them into quarter inch slices and then do a cup or so of small cubes of apple to sort of fill in the gaps. This makes for a saucey dense apple pie.

But I think how you slice it is probably as diverse as what kind of apples to use (Northern Spy are my favorite and Cortlands are my supermarket go-to)

How do other home bakers do it?

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  1. I don't really like pies with big chunks of apple in them. I don't like having a piece of pie with an apple piece that is cooked on the the outside and crispy on the inside. I cut my apples in 4 or 6 wedges and then slice the wedges across. End up with pieces about an inch wide and 1/4 inch thick.

    I agree on the kind of apple. Northern Spy if possible, Cortlands as back up.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Sooeygun

      I agree. I certainly don't want a crunchy apple in the pie. Ideally I'd like the chunk to hold the shape it had before it was cooked but upon biting into it reveal a soft and sauce-y interior. But I feel like my fear of crunchy apple makes me err on the smaller side when chopping.

    2. Can you tell me why Northern Spy and Cortlands are your favorites? I'm guessing it's a texture issue. I'm not real knowledgeable on the subject of baking, and I've been using Golden Delicious for the apple tart that I do this time of year. Do your preferred apples stay firmer or break down more?

      3 Replies
      1. re: Deenso

        Northern Spy apples have a great texture when baked. They hold their shape and cook soft but are never mealy or mushy. I think they are about the ugliest apple I have seen. They always look the least appealing at the farmer's market but always make a great pie.

        In my experience is that Cortlands have a similar but inferior texture but what makes me really like them is their balance of sweet and tart.

        Golden Delicious is a fine baking apple but doesn't always have the tartness I am looking for and tends to make a softer pie filling.

        Granny Smith are almost too firm and too tart. I can never get it right with granny smith.

        Sometimes in the peak of the season I like to go to the farmer's market and get one of everything and then mix them all in a pie. That's an easy way to strike a balance.

        1. re: heypielady

          Golden Delicious are pretty bland, if you ask me. Julia Child used to recommend them for tarts, but that was when there were very few choices in the supermarkets, and she had to use a variety that is widely available year-round. Macintoshes are too soft and Red Delicious often bitter and mealy, but she said Golden Delicious were generally reliable (as opposed to delicious - don't get me started on truth in advertising!). Grannies need to be mixed with a softer apple - Cooks Illustrated recommends Grannies with Macintosh as a pie mix; these two balance each other out in texture and tartness. Several years ago I bought 3 each of a couple of dozen varieties of apple at an orchard which has heirlooms plus the usual suspects. With each variety, I ate one, baked one, and made a tartlet with one, and took notes. Northern Spy, Macoun, and Empire were my favorite pie apples, with Empire just edging out the other 2. Since then, Honeycrisps have come on the market and I like a mix of Mac/Honeycrisp, too, for pie.

          1. re: greygarious

            I've never used Empire but you've piqued my curiosity. Next time I see them I will give them a try.

            I've also always thought of the Honeycrisp as a snacking apple. But many of you have hailed it as a decent baking apple so I will give that a try too.

            I've always dreamed of having an apple pie taste test similar to yours greygarious, but making maybe three or four pies each of a different type of apple. I'm sure my family and office would have no complaints about that many pies lying around.

      2. Depends entirely on the kind of apple. My mother always used only Macintosh - taste is great but you wind up with applesauce pie. She cut 12 wedges but placed them in 2-3 layers of concentric circles piled very high. They cooked down by well over half.

        Northern Spies are great. Also: Macoun/Granny Smith mix (soft/firm). Empires solo.
        Macintosh/Honeycrisp (soft/firm).

        I think your technique is fine. You might like one of the hand-crank apple peeler/corer/slicer gadgets - they cut into spiral slices. If you make a lot of pies, they make fast work of firm apples, as long as they are symmetrical. If the core isn't well-centered, it's a hatchet-job. The spirals break up (or you can cut down the middle) into flat crescents, which neatly fill the pan with virtually no gaps.

        1 Reply
        1. re: greygarious

          If I get to buy apples from a orchard I always buy a mix of Johnathan,Macintosh, Jonagold, Granny Smith and Winsaps if they have them. I also like Northern spy, but they are as rare as Winesaps in Ohio.

          I typically slice my pie apples, but I will make a pie w/ cubed apples to test the theory.

        2. Granny Smith. Cubed, about 1/4 inch.

          1. I've always sliced my apples into 1/4" slices and packed the pie high, so that gaps closed as the filling cooked down. But I'm going to strongly second grey's suggestion of the apple peeler. They're selling them all over now (signs of a homecooking resurrgance?) for $20, but you can get them cheaper. Anyway, they peel, core, and slice apples (and pears) into thin twisty strips that I find perfect for pies. I was skeptical, but wow - it works great. (Also great for making an easy chunky applesauce, because it quickly peels and cores, so you don't need to push it through a foodmill.)

            1. I use a mandolin and slice my apples very thinly. I find that if they are sliced really thinly, they tend to pack into the pie shell really well leaving very few gaps so that when the pie is cooked you don't get that pocket between the top of the apples and the crust.

              3 Replies
              1. re: roxlet

                I do the same. Very thin on the mandolin / deli slicer and stack / layer them in the shell. I really like the presentation too. Something about seeing the layers with the gooey cinnamon / sugar mix just makes me smile.

                1. re: gatorfoodie

                  roxlet and gatorfoodie, does that make your pie really mushy? I know some people like it that way. I've been tempted to use my mandolin but I was afraid I'd end up with apple sauce.

                  1. re: heypielady

                    No, it doesn't get mushy at all, but that depends on the apples you use, I would think. I usually use a mixture of mostly granny smith apples with a couple of Macs thrown in to make it a little saucy. I also use tapioca flour (from King Arthur web site) to thicken the juices a bit. For a few times I did what Rose suggesed in her Pie and Pasty Bible (i.e. let the apples give up their juices and then boil that down until it reduces and becomes gooey), but I found that a bit more trouble than it was worth...

              2. Mushy -- that's an apple type issue. Use the apple that cooks down the way you like it. I like granny smiths, galas, and the apples that are going bad and attracting fruit flies in my fruit bowl ;-)

                Slicing? Depends on my mood and how many I have to do. If it's just one pie, I peel, then quarter, then core, then slice 1/4 inch slices into the bowl. All with one paring knife and in more or less a continuous process. More than that ... I peel and halve. Then use melon baller to scoop out core ... sometimes take out the stemmy and endy stuff too, but using the baller. Then I take all the halves and use nice santoku to slice up into 1/4 to 1/8 inch slices. Of course, all these halves are going into acidulated water (lemon juice) before I start the slicing.

                I tend to be much faster with the one-knife, one-pie method, so skip the acidulated water for hose.

                1 Reply
                1. re: k_d

                  I recently had to cut up 20 lbs of apples for apple crisp for 100, and I found a way to peel and core that worked really well and quickly. First, I used a serrated vegetable peeler (it must be serrated, the regular kind just doesn't work as well) and went around the apple in a continuous motion. Then, like k_d, I used a melon baller to remove the stem end and the blossom end. After cutting the apple in half, I used the melon baller again to scoop out the core, half at a time. I was surprised at how quickly it got done. I used to use the paring knife method, but this was so much faster and easier!

                2. As I have posted on an Apple Pie thread of yore... If your apples are hard and you want to make sure they cook and don't remain raw — after you slice them, you can microwave them for a short time. It will par-cook them and they won't be too firm.

                  I do this especially if I am using Granny Smiths. My preferred apple for pie is Cortland. But I will make it with any good apple I can find, even Macintosh. (No Delicious, red or yellow.)

                  I have never seen Northern Spy apples around here (Connecticut). I am gonna keep a lookout for them... You all have made me very very curious about them.

                  1. IMO you definitely want thinly sloced apples in your pie. If you use the right Apples (Spies are my favorite too, along with Jonathans which are hard to find here in NY) you wont have any problem with the apples turning to mush.

                    I have a little stand slicer that will give me the thin slices that I prefer - blanking on the brand name but its cheap and good for apples and potatoes.

                    My favorite apple pie recipe is from Ray Sokolov's Fading Feast, and involves adding a few spoons of flour, some heavy cream and plenty of cinnamon to the apples. A delicious pie if you start with good, flavorful apple-y apples like the above.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: jen kalb

                      ps the slicer is a feemster - the old blue steel blade

                      1. re: jen kalb

                        Yes, I misspoke when I said I use the mandolin to slice the apples thinly! The mandolin is actually a pain to set up, and I, too, just use my Feemster!