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*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?

Macerate?

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

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

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  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.
                    http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/apple-pi...

                    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!