Growing up, I did not like apple pie. Hot and mushy cooked fruit did not appeal to me as a dessert, even when surrounded by flaky crust and cool ice cream. After making 9 of them at once, however, I’ve come to realize that I grew up with chunky apple pies when my preference is for thinly sliced, very soft apples (with a filling that verges on applesaucy). As long as there is NO CRUNCH (and light on the nutmeg), we are good to go.
But of course, not all of the pies we tested met my saucy standards. So here are the nine popular apple pie recipes we tested in search of the best!
- 30 total tasters
- All 9 recipes were baked fresh the day of and tasted at room temperature
- All crust dough was made the day before
- Apples for Sally’s Baking Addiction and Bravetart were macerated overnight
- All tasters ranked each pie on a scale from 0-10 for pie filling flavor/texture and pie crust flavor/texture
- All pies were baked in a 9″ glass Pyrex pie pan
- Unbleached Gold Medal all-purpose flour
- Unsalted Land O Lakes butter
- Crisco shortening
- Diamond kosher salt
- Kroger sugar
Note: I used Land O Lakes specifically in this bake off because America’s Test Kitchen ranks it highly and it is a super consistent product.
Best Apple Pie Bake Off Results: The Data
- Bon Appetit and Flour were equal people’s #1 rank
- Sister Pie ranked in top 3 for pie crust flavor, but dropped to second to last overall (likely due to divisive sage in the filling + slightly chewy crust texture)
- Many people individually ranked Sister Pie in their top 4 (i.e. it was a very divisive pie with a score that was dragged down by people who rated it poorly)
- Cook’s Illustrated ranked second for pie crust texture but fifth overall
- Sally’s was most agreed upon for being last
Pie Filling Flavor
One important lesson I learned from this pie exercise: flavor is concentrated in the apple juice! If the recipe calls for macerating apples (or even if you accidentally let the apples sit and you end up with some juice at the bottom of your bowl), don’t dump out the juice no matter how soggy you think your pie crust will end up! Fan’s of Sally’s Baking Addiction will likely be curious to know why her amazing-looking pie landed at the bottom of the chart for pie flavor and texture. Hers was the first pie I made and since her recipe didn’t specify whether to keep or toss the liquid leftover from macerating the apples overnight, I dumped out a good amount as I was worried the crust would be soggy (I didn’t do this for any of the later pies). In doing so, I probably dumped out a ton of the flavor and also prevented the apples from steaming in the liquid as much as they would have otherwise, so take her ranking with a grain of salt!
And of course, the type of apple you use plays into the filling. Gala apples in Vanilla Bean Baking Blog’s recipe resulted in a notably sweeter filling while the Granny Smiths we used in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s pie resulted in a notably tart filling. Make sure to stick to the apple variety that suits your palate! (See some links below for recommended guides on how to choose your apples.)
Pie Filling Texture
The biggest factor that plays into apple pie filling texture is the apples. I like King Arthur Flour’s guide to pie apples as well as this overview from Bon Appetit. These guides will give you a great idea of how sweet each apple is as well as how the texture will hold up after baked (i.e. McIntosh apples are notoriously on the mushier side while Granny Smith are tart and hold their shape better when baked).
Granny Smith have typically been my go-to baking apple in the past, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well the Golden Delicious apples worked in the Flour Bakery recipe–adding those into the mix is a new favorite for me.
I wondered if the pie thickener would have a noticeable impact on the filling texture, but in this particular test, there’s no visible correlation between the thickener and overall pie ranking (too many other variables). Here’s a quick and easy read on the differences in thickeners from King Arthur Flour!
Pie Crust Flavor
The best tasting crust, Flour Bakery, used egg yolks in the dough and the highest overall percentage of butter (42%) for an exceedingly crisp, flaky and rich dough. Vanilla Bean Baking Blog’s dough also used an egg yolk in conjunction with sour cream with the second highest butter ratio (40%), but ended in fourth place. Second place went to Bon Appetit, with a 36% butter ratio, while I think Sister Pie edged out Vanilla with a gouda-studded crust and a 33% butter ratio. Based on the butter trend, I would have expected Bravetart (with a 39.7% butter ratio) to have ranked near the top, but it landed closer to the middle.
Interestingly, Sally’s Baking Addiction and Cook’s Illustrated were the only recipes to incorporate shortening. Sally’s crust ranked last (with ~13% butter, 21% shortening) while Cook’s landed in the middle with nearly the opposite ratio: 23% butter and 13% shortening. Of course, everyone has their preferences when it comes to shortening, but according to overall taster preferences, my takeaway is that egg yolks greatly help improve the flavor and texture of the dough. Also, the more butter the better.
Pie Crust Technique
Across all 9 recipes, 3 main techniques were used to incorporate butter into the dough:
food processor, stand mixer and by hand.
When you look at the pie crust texture rankings, pie crusts made by hand (Sally’s Baking Addiction, Sister Pie and Bravetart) had pretty much the lowest overall rankings. The number #1 rated crust was made with a stand mixer, though I think this was due to ingredients (egg yolks) rather than technique. My guess is that a food processor will give you pretty similar results to a stand mixer. My takeaway: also you can use your hands if that’s what you’re used to, a machine of your choosing will help get the most consistent, best-textured pie dough.
Analysis of the Best Apple Pie Recipe
Sally’s Baking Addiction: high apple-to-crust ratio with a shortening/butter crust
Why I chose this recipe: one of the only contenders that used both shortening and butter in the crust.
My thoughts: As a deep dish pie, this recipe calls for 6-7 large apples (about 3.5 lbs), which was on the higher end of the scale (Sally recommends a mix and I used a mix of Granny Smith and Honeycrisp). Because the recipe doesn’t specify whether to include the juices, I poured some of them out after macerating the apples overnight, which likely diminished the flavor and led to slightly crispier apples (not my personal preference). The flavor was sharper than others (maybe due to lemon) and the shortening/butter crust was thick and flaky but the overall flavor was quite bland.
Taster reactions: Noted that the filling was on the crunchier side, which some people liked and some didn’t like. Several noticed a floral flavor (which I think was probably the slightly higher amount of cloves, nutmeg and allspice in the filling). Many commented that this was also too lemony (2 tablespoons was higher than average). All in all, next time I would definitely reserve the juice if you try this pie, and I would tweak the spices to your personal preference.
Sister Pie: a unique pie featuring sage-studded apples and a gouda crust for those looking for something new and different
Why I chose this recipe: a highly unique combination of sage-flecked apples and cheese-infused crust.
My thoughts: With just 1 oz of aged gouda in the crust, the cheese flavor was subtle but imparted a subtle savory flavor. While I loved the flavor, the texture was the tiniest bit chewy, which could be attributed to my texture (this pie crust gets processed by hand), but more likely it’s due to the tiny shreds of cheese melting in the crust. For me, the sage was a bit strong (next time, I would reduce the sage by half or use a pinch of dried sage instead), but I loved the soft and saucy texture of the apples.
Taster reactions: As noted above, Sister Pie was one of the most divisive. Some people loved the slightly savory flavor that the sage imparted on the filling while others hated it. Many likened the texture of the filling to corn syrup–some liked it, while others found it “slimy.” Most liked the crust (some agreed it was a little chewy), but the filling is really what pulled this towards the bottom of the ranking due to that fresh sage.
Rose Levy Beranbaum: a tart filling with a cream cheese-based crust and a high crust-to-filling ratio. Perfect for crust-lovers!
Why I chose this recipe: a unique crust that incorporates cream cheese.
My thoughts: I used the recommended pastry flour for the crust and dutifully followed the directions to first macerate the apples, then reduce the leftover juice. With 2.5 lbs of apple, Rose’s was one of the least apple-y, which is perfect for those who prefer more crust. Rose doesn’t specify which type of apple to use (just “baking apples”), so I used all Granny Smith, which led to a delightfully tart apple filling. Texturally, the apples broke down into very saucy texture, which I loved. Interestingly, this was the only recipe that didn’t call for an egg wash/sugar sprinkle, though the naked top didn’t stand out as much as I expected. While the crust was on the doughier side, it was still flaky, but had an aftertaste I didn’t love.
Taster reactions: My tasters, on the hand, generally thought this pie was too tart (feel free to balance with your ideal mix of apples to get some sweetness). A couple again noted a “floral” flavor but I’m pretty sure they were picking up on the nutmeg. The main complaint was “too mushy” and soft, but most agreed that that the crust was flaky and tasty–it’s a perfect pie for soft-apple-filling lovers.
Bravetart: a gorgeously picturesque, classic pie with a slightly tart, cinnamon-spiced saucy filling
Why I chose this recipe: because Bravetart. (Stella is amazing!) Also this had an optional overnight maceration technique.
My thoughts: This was perhaps the most gorgeous pie to come out of the oven with a gorgeously glossy crust and a picturesque domed lid (though unfortunately the apples sunk down a bit below the lid after resting). Stella uses a straightforward, all-butter crust recipe that was easy to prepare and had gorgeous layers during the roll out. Apples must be macerated either at room temp for 3 hours, or overnight for up to 8 hours. Even though she calls for a relatively thicker sliced apple (1/2″ vs. 1/4″ on some other pies), in the end even the bigger chunks of apples were soft and everything had melted into a perfectly saucy, applesauce-y consistency that I thought was a tiny bit tart but well-spiced. For me, the texture and texture of the crust didn’t really stand out, but it’s still a good candidate for a “make ahead” pie.
Taster reactions: “Middle of the road, for middle America,” declared on taster. Tasters loved the flaky crust (“al dente sour croissant” said one), and many noted the tartness of the filling–a few said it was a little too tart and they would have preferred it sweeter. Many liked the cinnamon flavor, and a good number commented that the filling was too mushy.
Cook‘s Illustrated: a bright and straightforward apple filling with a flaky crust. One of the easiest pies to make!
Why I chose this recipe: the vodka pie crust!
My thoughts: After Flour, this was my second favorite crust. I used the Cook’s Illustrated vodka pie crust recipe and it turned out beautifully flaky on top, and nicely doughy under the apple juices. Though I was alarmed at the overall amount of juice produced by the apples (we let them macerate for about an hour before assembling the pie), it resulted in a nicely saucy, not watery, texture. Overall, there was a bright apple flavor (helped along by lemon), with slightly crisp apples in spots (I couldn’t find McIntosh apples, so I used Golden Delicious instead).
This recipe uses an alarmingly small amount of spices (I was skeptical at the 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon), but if you are an apple purist, this is a great pie for you! Surprisingly, I really liked the simple, straightforward flavor of the filling. Technique-wise, this was actually one of the easiest to make as it didn’t call for any reductions and required resting times, though I did have to refrigerate the pie for a few minutes to get the dough firm enough to crimp the edges.
Taster reactions: Tasters praised the crust (“fave crust texture so far”) but were divided on the filling. Some loved the bright, simple acidity of the apples and balanced, mild flavor of the filling. Most liked the balance of citrus in this pie but a couple thought it was too much. Others compared it to a McDonald’s apple pie or frozen supermarket pie.
The Artful Baker: a complex, technique-driven pie with a puff pastry-like crust and a beautifully textured apple filling
Why I chose this recipe: calls for a unique thickener (salep, or glutinous rice flour as a backup), and also a boiling of the cores/peels of the apples to make a juice that gets combined with macerated apple juice into a reduction.
My thoughts: This pie is definitely a labor of love. It calls for macerating apples for 30 minutes, boiling the peels and cores down for 10-15 minutes (mine took more like 45 min), reducing the combination of macerated juice and apple stock into an apple butter, chilling the crust, freezing the pie, etc. etc. I mentioned this in my insta stories, but spreading the apple butter in layers over the filling was quite difficult (akin to spreading frosting in a layered Milk Bar cake) and if I were to make this again, I would try just tossing the apples in the apple butter mixture with my hands.
Texturally, the crust was fantastic (thick, crunchy and flaky), but tragically, I found the flavor bland except for the sugar (the filling was notably sweet) and the apples were also a bit crunchy for my taste. With 4.5 lbs of apples, this was the most apple-laden pie in the mix. It’s a very labor-intensive pie and while it was stunning and I will definitely utilize the “apple stock” process in the future, not sure the flavor quite paid off for me.
Taster reactions: Tasters remarked on the texture of the apples (loved the size of the apple slices) and crust. “What is this, apple sauce in a puff pastry?” asked one taster. Tasters almost unanimously loved the crust texture, though some agreed and found it rather bland. “Tastes like Costco apple pie,” said one. Others commented on the “good sweet/tart ratio” and “interesting spices.”
Vanilla Bean Baking Blog (Sarah Kieffer): a sweeter, cinnamon-heavy apple filling paired with a very flaky and sugar-studded crust
Why I chose this recipe: Sarah won my cinnamon roll bake off, so I had to try her pie as well! Her cookbook recipe also features an interesting crust recipe with an egg yolk and sour cream.
My thoughts: Sarah has a creme fraiche apple pie on her blog and a slightly different recipe listed in her book–I was originally planning to try the creme fraiche pie, but when I reached out to ask, she recommended I use her book version. The book version basically differs in that it uses an egg yolk and a tablespoon of sour cream in the crust (which are optional but recommended). This yield a super flaky crust that managed to be simultaneously crunchy and light on the edges yet substantially doughy when nestled against the apples. Though I found the crust flavor a little bland, the texture was among the best we tried. The filling was on the sweeter side (for me, missing some of the bright tang from others) and the nutmeg came on a bit strong, but the apples were perfectly soft.
Taster reactions: “Definitely a sweeter pie,” said one taster. Tasters agreed this filling was more cinnamon-heavy and sweeter than others–some liked it spice-heavy, others wanted more lemon to balance. A few complained the crust was a bit chewy while others loved the crunchy sugar over the top. It hit a “solid”/middle of the road comments from several tasters, and really stood out as the best pie to some.
Bon Appetit: a mammoth pie with plenty of flaky crust encompassing buttery, well-spiced apples pooled in sauce
Why I chose this recipe: uses an apple cider reduction in the filling.
My thoughts: Even after a good 4-5 hours of resting, a ton of juice pooled at the bottom of the pan when I first cut into this pie. But as it was exposed to air, the juices quickly absorbed into the pie, transforming into a saucy texture. I loved the thinness of the apple slices, though I still detected a surprising bit of crunch. We used all Pink Lady apples, tossed in a mix of white and brown sugar, lemon juice, and a reduction of apple cider (I couldn’t find apple cider in October, so opted for unfiltered apple juice from Whole Foods) infused with vanilla bean. Using a whopping 3 sticks of butter, it’s no wonder that this pie results in plenty of thick and flaky crust, though my main (and common) complaint is that didn’t have as much flavor as my favorite pie crust.
Taster reactions: Still, some tasters found the pie crust memorable–one called it the “best flavored pie crust so far.” Most loved the contrast of flaky pie crust with the flavorful filling that had a great balance of spices and lemon. The effort of the cider reduction along with a heavy dose of cinnamon and cardamom clearly paid off as tasters rallied around the flavors in the filling, praising it with descriptors like “caramel apples,” “mulled wine,” and “Vanilla Christmas” with a “buttery, smooth mouthfeel.” A few complained that the crust was a bit soggy, but that might be due to those who were late to the tasting.
Flour Bakery: a tart, not-too-sweet filling perfectly complements a buttery, flavorful, delicate crust for a winning combination!
Why I chose this recipe: Flour Bakery won my pumpkin pie bake off, so it seemed necessary to test their apple pie recipe as well. Plus, the crust recipe was very unique, using 2 egg yolks and milk.
My thoughts: The moment I took a bite, Flour’s pie instantly stood out as my favorite crust. Flour’s crust recipe calls for 2 egg yolks and milk instead of the typical ice water to hydrate the pie dough, and it led to an incredibly buttery, crisp and flavorful (finally!) crust. Although this pie calls for blind baking the crust (a bit of a pain), the recipe allows you to prep the apples at the same time so it’s actually an efficient set up. The filling is tart and not too sweet, making for a delightful overall combination. Note: we weren’t able to procure McIntosh apples, so we used a combination of Golden Delicious and Honeycrisp.
The only complaint? We just wished there was more pie! The crust recipe yields a relatively small amount of dough that, rolled fairly thin, just barely stretched to fill my 9″ pie pan. With about 3 lbs of apples in the filling, the whole pie is on the more modest size (compared to behemoths like Bravetart or Bon Appetit). Next time, I might 1.5x or double the pie dough recipe for a more generous crimp and slightly thicker crust.
Taster reactions: Tasters enjoyed both the flavor (“sweeter and more balanced apple choice”) and texture (“bigger chunks of apple, just the right firmness”) of the pie. Even though I personally prefer thinly sliced apples, I agree that these apple walked the perfect line of thick yet tender. Overall, the effect was a very classic, balanced pie with a stunning crust.
Best Apple Pie Recipes
As often is the case, my personal preference happens to align with the data. My favorite overall pie was Flour Bakery. However, if I’m short on time and don’t feel like dealing with egg yolks or blind baking a crust in the future, I would probably make Bon Appetit (if baking for a big crowd) or Cook’s Illustrated (if in a time crunch) next, or Sister Pie if I was trying to impress with some unique flavors.
Some other notables:
Best flavor to effort ratio:
Cook’s Illustrated (purely based on the fact that you don’t have to macerate the apples and the cook time is only about an hour.
Best makeahead pie:
Best pie for crust lovers:
Rose Levy Beranbaum, Bon Appetit
Best pie for apple lovers:
Artful Baker, Bravetart, Sally’s Baking Addiction
Best unusual pie:
Best pie for a crowd (based on subjective overall volume):
Bon Appetit, Bravetart
Happy pie baking! As always, tag #pancakeprincessbakeoff on Instagram if you try any of these recipes–would love to hear your thoughts!
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