HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


*Your* secret to great apple pie?

So, what is it?

I know that apple pie -- and how to make -- is well discussed on these boards and all over the internet.

But how about sharing your secret tips and tricks to making apple pie special, unique, or just that itty-bitty bit better than the other guy's.

Do you use a combo of different apples for the filling?

Add butter to the apples? Maybe sour cream or buttermilk?


Special spice additions, e.g. star anise or cardamom for example?

Anyway, curious as to your special techniques or secrets to great apple pie.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. not much of a secret, but I like to lightly toast the the whole spices before grinding and adding to the pie. I believe the quantity of the ingredients are of the utmost importance.

    1. Butter and lemon in the apples, and I've broken with family tradition and use cornstarch instead of flour for thickening. I also brush the crust with egg white for a lovely sheen. But the best addition is David Lebowitz's fennel ice cream on top.

      1. For me it's a comination of apples that broaden the flavor and texture profiles. I macerate briefly but, more important to me, I use little sugar but what I use is more flavorful brown sugar.

        I also use a blend of spices I picked up on NIcole Weston's BakingBytes. I'm sorry I no longer have the link but it's a blend of cinnamon (Ceylonese for me), allspice, nutmeg, cardamom and vanilla powder. It's perfect for apple pies but often a wonderful variation on ordinary cinnamon in other baked goods as well.

        1. Best apple pie I ever had (and tried to recreate) cooked the apples before baking. I'd never seen that before but it had a generous squeeze of lemon juice in it and the slices were all cooked til soft then added to the crust. The result was crazy good- super flavorful pie but the apple slices melted in your mouth.

          6 Replies
          1. re: jmorri26

            My go-to apple pie recipe calls for cooking the apples before baking. It really makes the pie!

            1. re: EmmaFrances

              Maida Heatter has a recipe in which the apples are poached in orange juice first, that is really magnificent- among other things, you can get a lot more apples in. I do stuff like Tarte Tatin sometimes. but most of the time prefer pretty plain old pies, just hope I can find some Pippin apples. A lot of people like some chedar cheese, I've even heard of putting it in the crust- don't do it myself, but my brother used to and it gives a definite zing. I usually add a handfull of raisins; they absorb juice from the apples and are very nice.

            2. re: jmorri26

              Yes, this is my "secret" - I don't cook them a lot, but I do nuke my apple slices for several minutes before spicing them. It gets their juices flowing and seems to set their texture - they don't fall apart in the pie or cook to mush, but they don't stay hard either. I also use a mixture of tarter and sweeter apples (usually Grannys and Goldens or MacIntoshes) and I cut the tart ones into thinner slices since they are usually firmer and harder to get to a nice texture in the pie.

              1. re: jmorri26

                My son's girlfriend made a pie that way. He loved it but then he loves her. ...for very good reason. ;> I didn't have any of it. And I have a preference for some tooth in my filling at that.

                1. re: jmorri26

                  Cooking the apples is my "secret" too, though I tell everyone. It's amazing to me how many people think that's sacrilege, or weird, or somehow wrong. I try to get a piece of pie to as many of these people as possible, because it makes all the difference once they taste the results.

                  ETA: It's also better pie if it's made with in season apples, though there are plenty of good varieties that keep well. In season apple pie is over the top good.

                  1. re: jmorri26

                    the Betty Crocker pie cookbook has a recipe that calls for cooking the apples in brown and regular sugar. it may be called apple scotch or scotch apple pie. it's a very nice pie made it a few times. I also like to make a simple syrup melting down some red hots and add it to the liquid inside turns it a bit pink.

                  2. A recipe I found online where you precook a caramel type glaze and pour it hot over the crust and apples before cooking.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Firegoat

                      Ditto. Love this pie, desperately.

                      The trick is to use tart apples (Granny Smiths are perfect) and to make the pie with a lattice crust, pour the caramel evenly over the lattice, then sprinkle with sugar in the raw for extra sparkle.

                      I occasionally also mix red hot cinnamon candies into the caramel, which is pretty, but doesn't alter the taste much.

                      1. re: Firegoat

                        O.M.G. I love this pie too! One of the first apple pies I ever made, and I remember being so happy with the result. I had kind of forgotten about it... Thanks for reminding me :) Definitely going to do that this year.

                        Also, as nerdy as it is, I do remember taking pictures of it because I was so excited. I'll have to find those now too haha!

                      2. The only apple pie I make has a sour cream filling and a streusel topping. It is heaven warm with vanilla ice cream and heaven x2 in the morning cold out of the fridge.
                        My mother only made it this way, and my 3 sisters make it as well.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: jmcarthur8

                          Replace the water in the crust with apple juice. It really adds to the "apple" experience.

                          1. re: Usha

                            That's a great idea. ...tho I have been replacing part of it with vodka to get a more tender crust.

                            1. re: Usha


                              Doesn't the sugar in the pie crust dough create a rubbery texture?

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                A lot of sugar will turn it to ceramic, but a little won't do much. The acidity of the apple juice should make it a bit more tender- vinegar and lemon juice are often used for that reason.. Interested in the vodka thing- why would that make it more tender?: Possibly the evaporation of the alcohol would leave it with less moisture, about the only thing I can think of.

                                1. re: oldunc

                                  Can't remember the exact explanation but it was targeted at cutting down on gluten formation.

                                  Wish I could supply more info but my results have been better since I've started doing it.

                                  Also, with respect to sugar in crusts, I add sugar as an ingredient to mine. Not a lot and granular rather than a liquid sugar in the form of juice. It hasn't interfered with the texture at all.

                          2. One of the amazing things about apple pie is how many ways you can tweak it -- you never have to make the same pie twice. I hated apple pie before I started making my own, but now I look back and think there are way too many awful pies and things that don't qualify as crusts surrounding them.

                            Hands down, my most beloved pie is not even pie shaped. It doesn't even have a bottom crust (I despise bottom crust)! Is it still pie? Tart apples, quality cinnamon, tapioca, sugar, macerating in a rectangular ceramic baking dish while I make the crust. The crust is an old Jim Dodge recipe that is simple as... pie: flour and chunks of butter rolled together with a big rolling pin, creating large flakes, mix w/cold water + vinegar + salt, and ends up somewhere between pie crust and puff pastry. I just lay the crust over the top and let the oven do the rest. Oh and a little sprinkle of raw sugar on a milk brushed crust is quite nice.

                            I think I love the simplicity, especially if they are particularly good apples. Am I alone in thinking the best part of apple pie is the syrupy juices that bubble into and through the top crust? I could eat just that and leave the apples....

                            1. The best apple pie I ever made used a variety of different organic, heirloom apples from the farmers market, left unpeeled. I got the tip to use a variety of apples and to keep them unpeeled from one of the acknowledged food experts in our area (taught Alaska fishermen how to handle fish for the best quality, for example) and his wife teaches pie making classes. You can only do this with heirloom organic apples; otherwise the peels won't dissolve while baking.

                              1. #1 Use the best-tasting apples you can find, and definitely not sweet, bland eating ones like Golden Delicious or Gala.

                                #2 Use less sugar than the recipe calls for. Yeah, this is my personal taste, but to me an apple pie is ruined by overly sugary sticky sweetness, to the point where you can't taste the apples.

                                #3 Use tapioca to thicken.

                                #4 Taste the filling after you sugar & spice it and before you put in the thickener. Then adjust it if necessary. Each batch of apples is different and you can't just use the same recipe and expect it to come out right each time. You've gotta taste it.

                                #5 Bake with love.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: visciole

                                  Ditto on the sugary sticky sweetness, ick. Might as well just get a Mrs. Smith's pie in that case, or plop the filling out of a can. I think that's the downfall of most apple pie's I've had -- sticky sweet, plus overly salty crust.

                                  1. re: mlou72

                                    Huh, interesting, I agree about the overly salty crust, too! I usually cut the salt by about half, even though I love me some salty food and am by no means a sodio-phobe.

                                    1. re: visciole

                                      Ha! I think it is key to have a slightly salty crust! It plays off the the sweetness of the pie.

                                      1. re: wekick

                                        I prefer a really tart pie, and use a lot less sugar than called for, so maybe that makes a difference, since generally I'm all for salt.

                                  2. re: visciole

                                    Ditto on tapioca. I use just a bit, hardly enough to even identify afterwards. Also like par-cooking the apples first, and I add a good splash of apple cider to intensify the flavors. Also--since I'm obsessed with saffron--have been known to add just a touch for incredible flavor and aroma.

                                    1. re: visciole

                                      applyoca pie is great!
                                      One last trick: cardamom.

                                    2. Combo of several different apples: Pippins, Jonagolds, Pink Ladies if I can find them - but always, always fresh lemon juice and butter, flour and a tad of cinnamon, ginger and clove (tiny; not enough to powder Barbie's nose even) and DON'T FORGET TO ADD A PINCH OF SALT! It's what brings out all the tart juicy sweetness and makes it not-too cloying. I generally make a classic NY times crust, but sometimes I get all weird and inventive and do something like instead of using the top-crust proper, I'll use it as a crumb topping and I'll toss toasted pecans into it.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: mamachef

                                        You reminded me--forgot to add to above post--also add a bare touch of cardamom.

                                      2. Here is a link to the Baking Bytes spice mixes for apple pie and pumpking pie.


                                        1. like others, i use brown sugar.

                                          i also cook my apples first and use Tuaca and vanilla, along with a little lemon juice, butter, and spices

                                          also, sometimes both a thin lattice crust, brushed with egg then topped with streusel... overkill i know.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Emme

                                            Now, that's interesting! Lattice and streusel? Do tell, do you cover the lattice heavily with streusel or does the apple filling still show? This sounds inspired...but I'm wacky about streusel.

                                            1. re: amyzan

                                              i just throw heaps on. i'm in the "always streusel and mostly lots of it" camp.

                                          2. I make an apple pie that is edible, to say the least :-) and my secret is to place little pieces of butter all over the top of the apple mixture just before placing the top crust. That, a little salt, and plenty of cinnamon. People tend to skimp on the cinnamon. I usually use a blend of mostly granny smith and a few gravenstein apples. And I use raw cane sugar. Oh, and I saw a tip recently on some food network show that I would like to try sometime: to coat the bottom crust with a thin layer of butter and prebake for a few minutes so that it won't get soggy.....Is it Thanksgiving yet? :-)

                                            1. Top 3 Secrets to good apple pie:
                                              1. Vietnamese Cinnamon.. my favorite type of cinnamon.
                                              2. Use a combination of apples--but definitely some green apples (no red delicious, those have no taste)
                                              3. Give the peels to the dog--(it spreads the love).

                                              The obvious: use a crumble topping. Although one time, when I was younger, I was making the pie and decided I would sample some crumble.. ate the whole batch of crumble (which is essentially all flour and butter). I was a bit scared I would have a heart-attack or something. Moral of the story: don't eat the crumble--don't even start.
                                              (Oh! In your OP, you mentioned star anise--that would be so excellent!)

                                              18 Replies
                                              1. re: GraceW

                                                (Oh! In your OP, you mentioned star anise--that would be so excellent!)

                                                That's my secret. Shhh!

                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                  Ipsedixit, you're the best (I think essentially every post I have ever written, you have been somewhere in the thread.. and whenever people get nasty, you are always respectful and usually the peace-maker. Cheers!)

                                                  I am the only one I know that likes star anise... so I probably won't be adding it to their pies (I don't like pie). But if you like it, you might try drinking Licorice tea with your anise-apple pie!

                                                  1. re: GraceW

                                                    I prefer Taiwanese sour plum juice with my pies!

                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                      That sounds so good. I will have to try HMart for it

                                                    2. re: GraceW

                                                      Don't like pie? Don't like PIE? What else is there to live for- tarts are but a paliative.

                                                      1. re: oldunc

                                                        Yes I do not like pie (or burgers or doughnuts)... basically anything "A"merican. I do like all other sugary desserts though.. so I never have a hard time finding an alternative.

                                                        1. re: lilgi

                                                          Sorries, I did not mean to be overly enthusiastic.

                                                          1. re: GraceW

                                                            awww, no apologies, he's "the man".

                                                      2. re: ipsedixit

                                                        Don't laugh, but I love star anise in juice or smoothies in the morning. It's really great in grape juice or with fresh figs and goat cheese, too. I've not shared that with anyone yet, btw. I thought I was perhaps the only person who liked it outside a bowl of pho, which is silly, I realize now.

                                                        1. re: amyzan

                                                          I use star anise in lots of things. Judiciously, of course.

                                                          Aside from fruit pies, I use it in chocolate chip cookies, biscotti, gravy, banana bread, zucchini bread, marinara sauce, and of course various ice cream flavors.

                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                            wow! interesting. I used star anise in a batch of spiced cranberry jam I made last thanksgiving but I mustn't have used it judiciously because I found it totally overpowering.

                                                            1. re: mollyomormon

                                                              Just a pinch usually does the trick.

                                                              Sort of like saffron. A bit goes a long long way. A bit more, and you'll feel like you're eating Chanel No. 5.

                                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                I tried star anise in "Chicken Adobo" and we didn't care for the flavor, but love it in sweets, will definitely try this. This thread reminds me that I've been wanting to try Christine Tosi's "Fried Apple Pie", must make this soon.

                                                                1. re: lilgi

                                                                  Penzey's makes a blended baking spice that has anise flavor in it. I desperately wish they'd leave it out. I don't like the flavor and it overwhelms everything else.

                                                                  PS The baking spice is great when I'm on a diet. When I get a craving for something sweet, I just coat a finger with it, breathe it in and then taste it. It helps me get past the craving.

                                                                  1. re: rainey

                                                                    Great tip, keeping that in mind ;)

                                                            2. re: ipsedixit

                                                              It's really good if you make your own bbq sauce too...

                                                      3. I like to use real maple syrup and large crystal "raw" sugar to sweeten the apples, plus a little turbinado to press into the crust to make a nice sweet crunch. I've always loved "crusty" pies, so I tend to make my apple pies on the short side for a higher crust to apple ratio.

                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: Popkin

                                                          Turbinado pressed into the crust? That I'm going to have to try! Do you press it in lightly or use the rolling pin?

                                                          1. re: mlou72

                                                            I just press it on the outer crust by hand. Sprinkle and lightly pat in :) I just press it enough to adhere.

                                                        2. I tend to use 'cooking' apples - ie, ones that have a slightly softer texture. Dice the apples, toss with a little bit of lemon juice and water, and drain. Then the apples are mixed with a bit of flour, white sugar, and spices, and spread in the pie shell (home-made, of course). I then dab on some butter, drizzle over a bit of cream, and top with a second layer of dough. Bake until bubbly.

                                                          This makes a flavourful pie which is almost custard like inside, and is great cold for breakfast as well.

                                                          1. Mixture of granny smith and something a little sweeter - macintosh or fuji.

                                                            Add a few pats of butter and a squeeze of lemon juice to the apples (I think a lot of people do this). Sometimes I add a splash of brandy or peach schnapps.

                                                            The big one - instead of normal apple pie seasonings, I season only with powdered ginger and cardamom. I'm careful not to make either spice overwhelming. Completely changes the effect, makes the pie taste more 'apple-y.'

                                                            Of coarse, there are a lot of tricks for getting a perfect crust, but that's for another thread.

                                                            1. 1. Macerate the apples with the sugar/spices in a large ziploc. Strain out the resulting liquid, boil it down to a thick caramel syrup, then add back.
                                                              2. Use about 2/3rds typical amount of sugar
                                                              3. Dot to filling with butter
                                                              4. After lining the pie plate with the bottom crust, coat it with a very thin coat of melted white chocolate mixed with a bit of butter. This seals the bottom crust. It gets very crisp in the oven, and stays crisp for at least several days. No more white gummy stuff on the bottom.
                                                              4. Tapioca for thickener.

                                                              1. I use either Jonagolds or Lodi apples, which are popular at farmers' markets (on the East coast, at least). They offer a perfect tart flavor combined with the ability to retain their shapes when baking (I don't like my apples to turn into an applesauce mush).

                                                                I had been making pies for years with considerable success, but when I discovered Carol Walter's classic apple pie recipe, that became my standard and it consistently turns out absolutely superb pies. You can easily find her recipe by googling it, but I'll tell a few of her pointers here that make the difference between a merely good pie and an excellent pie:

                                                                1. Do not blend the apples with the sugar/spice mix until just before you are ready to fill the pie shell. Sugar will start extracting the juice from the apples, so if you add the sugar to the peeled and sliced apples and set it aside for ten or so minutes while rolling out the pie crust, a fair amount of liquid will draw out of the apples and result in a watery pie.

                                                                2. After the pie shell is lined with the bottom crust, apply a liberal wash of egg white. This helps to seal the crust and prevents it from becoming too soggy during the baking.

                                                                I now mostly use Carol Walter's food processor pie crust recipe. All butter and it takes only five minutes to prepare and process, which reduces the risks of overdeveloping the gluten in the dough and resulting in a tough pie crust.

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: Roland Parker

                                                                  The liquid drawn out of the apples is the chief glory for many of us; I haven't seen the recipe, but most apple pie recipes call for some flour or tapioca to stabilize the liquid. I also like to add some white raisins, which soak up quite a bit of juice and make for good highlights in the filling. I've certainly never had a watery pie.

                                                                  1. re: Roland Parker

                                                                    That is a good suggestion. I did not know that about the sugar. Thanks. I don't care for a pie that is overly juicy, nor obviously filled with floury fillers.
                                                                    I also also add some cranberries for tartness, and dried fruit and a bit of tapioca to soak up some of the juice.
                                                                    I don't bother separating the egg for the shell; just beat it and brush on the whole thing.

                                                                  2. For me, it's the combination of apples (up to 6 varieties, but ALWAYS including Stayman or Turley Winesap and Granny Smith in the mix) and only the slightest hint of spices (if any at all...I love cinnamon but don''t like it overpowering my apple pie)... I want the APPLES to shine through more than anything.
                                                                    I also favor an egg crust, but that's just a personal preference because that's what my Hungarian grandmother used to make for her pies. Whatever the crust, the filling should scream "apples!" more than anything else. With a healthy dose of tart varieties and minimal added sugar.

                                                                    1. I add a little vanilla extract... and use brown sugar, not white.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: PamelaD

                                                                        Oh, and a pinch of cardamom (as well as cinnamon and nutmeg, of course).

                                                                      2. buttermilk and lard in the crust.

                                                                        1. I looked up apple pies recipes on chowhound because I just watched "the best thing I ever ate" and Bobby Flay spoke of this terrific apple pie from somewhere in Brooklyn.

                                                                          I was hoping on this thread to see that recipe or one like it.

                                                                          You asked for 'our' tips: mine......
                                                                          1. heavy cream mixed with sugar brushed on top of crust before baking
                                                                          2. simple syrup of fresh squeezed lemon juice/water/sugar cook until thick then drizzle over the apples along with the flour, spices, butter and tiny bit sea salt

                                                                          1. First, definitely saute the apples with a bit of apple jack. Also once the apples are placed in the crust, put the crumble topping over it and THEN put the lattice on. The pie is beautiful and YUMMY.

                                                                            1. I keep it simple. Jonathan apples ONLY. Sugar, flour, dots of butter on top. NO spices. Let the apples speak for themselves. You may glaze the top crust if you like. Be sure to thoroughly brown the pie when you bake it - none of this pasty white underbaked stuff. This is a secret that makes French baked goods so good - thorough browning.

                                                                              1. 1--Make your own pastry, butter only.
                                                                                2--Layer of Corn Flakes (or Frosted Flakes) on the bottom between apples & crust. Don't know where they go, but they keep the bottom from sogging out and you will not know they are there.
                                                                                3--More than one variety of apple, two, three, four even depending on what you have available.
                                                                                4--Never mind round pies. Double the pastry, then use a 12 X 18 baking sheet and make a HUGE pan of apple pie squares. (note: for the pastry-patient cook only.)