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Magical Apple Pie

A can't-fail method for making a great apple pie

Apple Pie Apple Pie Cross Section

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Why is this a "magical" apple pie? Because it's made entirely from scratch…but it's guaranteed to produce a great apple pie. While apple pie isn't a difficult dish to make, there are some results do upset people. The apples shrink as the pie bakes, and that can produce huge empty gaps or air pockets underneath the crust. The apples may be undercooked and still crunchy…and while crunchy aples taste good, that's not what we expect with an apple pie. And, of course, because the pie has to be thoroughly cooked both inside and outside, there's the possibility the crust could be burned in the oven while the pie bakes. All of these possible problems are dealt with in this recipe. And that's why you will end up with a magical apple pie.

I made my first apple pie from scratch on Saturday, July 28th, 2012. I was afraid it would be a disaster, because the crust appeared to be too soft…but it was far more successful than I'd hoped for. I based much of it on Alton Brown's "Super Apple Pie" recipe from Good Eats. The pie was wonderful…but…I was re-reading the text of my pie baking pictures and thinking about the leftovers I'd had from the pie fixings – apple butter, a bottle of applejack brandy, caraway seeds (which I'd actually had on hand because they were used when I made Irish soda bread on St. Patrick's Day), and the remaining apples. I started to wonder if there was a way to simplify this process. Alton Brown's statement on Good Eats was that the most popular apple pie method we use, with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and apples, produces an apple pie that tastes like a pumpkin pie and is usually very runny. His suggestion of draining the excess liquid from the apples was a good one: after all, that was my very first apple pie, and as a beginning cook I was very pleased with the way my apple pie filling turned out. But the exotic ingredients he used in the pie – apple jelly, applejack brandy, grains of paradise (or even caraway seeds), a pie bird – are not the everyday items most people keep in their pantries. Getting these ingredients especially for the pie did make this a special event; but it also meant that this apple pie is not something you can just throw together whenever you feel like it, in the manner of the common "everyday" pie that we usually make.

After doing Web research and looking for more common everyday ingredients, I settled on the following recipe. The photos here show the results:

Apple Pie

(an exercise in cooking magic)

Pans needed: One 9-inch or 10-inch cast iron skillet, large bowl to drain apples. Using cast iron instead of a glass baking dish (or an aluminum pie plate) helps to properly bake the crust, as the cast iron retains heat and cooks the crust more thoroughly than glass or aluminum. Optional but recommended: parchment paper to place into the cast iron pan before adding the pie dough. This will allow you to lift the pie out of the pan and onto a serving platter.

Preparing the Apples

Place a colander into a large bowl. Peel and slice apples, and add the apple slices to the colander as you slice the apples. After adding the slices from each apple to the colander, sprinkle 1 tablespoon of sugar over the apple pieces before continuing and preparing the next apple. This will help the apples to macerate and release their liquid. Let the liquid drain from the apple slices for 90 minutes.

(One time, as a sugar-free alternative I used Splenda instead of sugar in the pie, and I discovered that Splenda does not react with apple slices the way sugar does. The apple slices did not drain. If you use Spenda, one tablespoon per apple will suffice, rather than one tablespoon of Splenda.)

Preparing the Crust

While the apples are draining, prepare your crust. This pie uses two pie crusts, one for the bottom and one for the top. Use the following:

The second crust will require two sheets of wax paper.
(No lard and no shortening, and no food processor. Use a mixer or even a hand-held pastry blender.)

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, sugar and salt.

Cut butter into pieces and add to the bowl. Use the mixer or pastry blender to work the butter into the mix. Blend until there are still chunks of butter left in the mix.


Stir in liquor until thoroughly mixed. Work at the mixture until a dough forms. If you're using a mixer, be patient and wait: after about three or four minutes, the mixture will thicken into a good, thick pie dough. Separate the mound of dough into two halves, one for the top and one for the bottom. Press both halves of the dough into flat discs (you don't need a rolling pin at this time). Place one of these discs in the refrigerator; this will be for the top crust.

Grease your cast iron skillet with a thin layer of shortening, including the bottom and sides of the pan. Tear a piece of parchment paper, large enough to fit inside the pan. Wipe a thin coating of shortening on the top side of the parchment paper. Press the parchment paper into the greased cast-iron pan, with the ungreased side on the bottom. Take the other dough disc and press it into your pan, on the greased top side of the parchment paper. Press the dough all the way to the edge of the pan.


Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

When the apples have finished draining, reserve (keep) the drained apple juice. Return the apples to the big mixing bowl. Place the reserved apple juice aside, for use in the top crust.

Stir Fry the Pie Filling!

Stir Frying Apples

Now, on to the filling! Here's where we do something different than your traditional baked apple pie. I've had a lot of success making an apple pie in two parts. Normally you just put your apples into the pie shell and bake it all together. The last few times, I've stir fried the apples in a cast-iron pan, added the spices, and cooked it down until it all becomes a thick, viscous, gooey pie filling. This has given a really good pie filling that doesn't have any big empty spaces under the crust, or a lot of liquid. Then, all you do is add your cooked pie filling to the pie shell, cover it, and bake it until the pie shell is done. It’s a can't fail method for a perfect apple pie, and I definitely recommend giving this a try.

Place a large cast iron pan onto your stovetop. A 12 inch cast iron skillet works well, but you may want to consider using a cast iron dutch oven or even a cast iron wok. Heat the pan until the surface temperature reaches at least 400 degrees. Add about a tablespoon of cooking oil to the pan, and wait a minute or so until the oil is hot, and maybe giving off a little smoke. Add your sliced apples to the pan, and start stir frying. After about three minutes, mix the following ingredients in with the apples:

Stir fry your seasoned apples for a total of ten to fifteen minutes. At first it looks as though the apples are boiling in all of this liquid. However, after some time – especially after the corn starch is added – the apples will shrink and soften, while the liquid congeals and becomes a thick, viscous ooze of apple pie filling!

When the pie filling is ready, you don't have to wait for it to cool off. While it's still hot, scoop the pie filling out of the pan and add the mixed apples to the cast iron skillet.


Take out the second pie crust from the refrigerator. Place the crust dough between two sheets of wax paper. Use a rolling pin over the wax paper to roll out the dough, into a sheet large enough to fit over the pie plate.

Remove the top sheet of wax paper. Lift the bottom sheet with the dough, turn it over and place the dough over the top of the apples, so that it settles over the top of your pie. Carefully peel off the sheet of wax paper, leaving the top of the pie covered with dough. Use your fingers to tuck in any dough that overlaps the edge of the pan. Open up the crust to allow steam to escape, by either cutting slits in the crust or poking at it with a fork to leave a design in the crust.

(In addition to contributing to the flavor of the pie filling, the vinegar will react with the baking powder in the crust mix, causing it to expand and thicken.)


Optional Egg Wash (not mandatory, but you can make one if you want):

If you want to give the finished pie a glaze, prepare an egg wash with the reserved apple juice (from when the apple slices were drained) and an egg. Mix them together in a small bowl, and brush the egg wash over the top of the pie. Finally, sprinkle the pie with granulated sugar…or crystal baker's sugar.

Note: This method of pre-cooking the pie filling will also work if you take the time to do a lattice pie crust! In a typical apple pie, the apples need to be steamed in order for them to soften as they bake, and a lattice pie needs to be covered at first. This is not necessary when you cook the pie crust in advance.

Place the pie in the oven, and bake it at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes. The cast iron helps bake the crust, and the inside of the pie is already cooked, so 45 minutes will be all you need.

Apple Pie

Remove the pie from the oven. At this point the torture begins! It is absolutely necessary to let the pie sit and settle for three hours before cutting it open! You'll find the underside of the cast iron skillet remains very warm to the touch for a long time, far longer than it would be with a glass or aluminum pie plate.

After waiting so long, you will see why this is called a "magical" apple pie. Where is the magic? See the faces and bask in the satisfaction and delight of the people – especially the children – who will enjoy your pie. There is the magic.

Apple Pie Cross Section

Apple Pie Served Apple Pie Served 02

A YouTube video on the making of this apple pie recipe: Magical Apple Pie

Credit for inspiration and baking suggestions used in this recipe goes to: