REIMAGINE PIE IN A SKILLET TO SIMPLIFY THE PROCESS
Can something be “all-American” if few Americans have the skills to make it well? As great as apple pie is, it’s not a dish we make very often. Preparing a perfect filling, let alone a top and bottom crust, requires a few too many steps for everyday occasions. And the results are far from assured. Even experienced bakers know, firsthand, the possible pitfalls—a soggy bottom crust, overly dry or overly saucy apples, a top crust that gapes far above a shrunken filling.
But what if you could create something that eats like apple pie—that is, with juicy, tender, lightly spiced apples and a flaky crust—but isn’t made like apple pie? In the spirit of American ingenuity that’s exactly what we have done. And the solution has its roots in colonial America. Let us explain.
Among the panoply of old-fashioned American fruit desserts—which includes crisps, cobblers, buckles, grunts, slumps, and such—the pandowdy is surprisingly close to modern apple pie. Popular in colonial New England but now forgotten, a pandowdy is essentially an apple pie filling baked with a top crust. Traditionally, the filling was prepared in a cast-iron pan and then topped with a round of pastry. During or after baking, the baker would break the pastry and push it into the filling, a technique known as “dowdying” (and a reference, perhaps, to the dessert’s resulting “dowdy” appearance).
Rustic looks aside, we love the simplicity of this no-frills recipe. With no fussy crimping, no filling that must be finessed to make it sliceable, and no bottom crust that could get soggy, this recipe is utterly reliable. We added some updates, as well as a new name, to create an apple pie every American can successfully make.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
Caramelize the Apples
Simplifying apple pie starts with the apples. Use a mix of apples—sweet and tart for complex flavor. Slice the apples ½ inch thick, rather than the typical ¼ inch thick so that the apples don’t disintegrate during the two-stage cooking process. Caramelize the apples first before adding the crust—it will intensify the apple flavor in the finished pie.
Enrich the Filling
Apples aren’t as juicy as berries or stone fruits and benefit from extra moisture for a saucy filling. Adding cider to the apples does the job and delivers resonant apple flavor. Maple syrup instead of plain old sugar strikes the perfect balance on the sweetener front. Maple complements the natural sweetness of the apples without being cloying and it makes the filling even juicier. To give the juices body, add a little cornstarch.
The Upper Crust
The dough for the top crust is simple to prepare in a food processor. Butter adds flavor and shortening ensures a flaky outcome. Roll the dough into a round and simply drape it over the cooked apples in the skillet—no fluting necessary. Scoring the dough encourages a multitude of crisp edges that contrast nicely with the tender fruit and recalls (in a less dowdy way) the broken-up crusts of a traditional pandowdy. Brushing the dough with egg white and sprinkling it with sugar before baking gives it a golden brown sheen and sweet crunch.
The precooked apples need less time in the oven to become perfectly tender, so bake the skillet pie in a hot oven for just 20 minutes—less than half the time of a traditional apple pie. The top crust will be perfectly browned and flaky.
Cider keeps the sautéed apples moist while scoring the crust creates many crisp edges.
Skillet Apple Pie
SERVES 6 TO 8
- 10 minutes to make pie dough
- 1 hour to chill pie dough (prepare and cool apple filling at this point)
- 10 minutes to roll out dough and assemble pie
- 35 minutes to bake and cool pie
- Food processor for making dough
- 12-inch ovensafe skillet (If your skillet is not ovensafe, transfer the cooked apples and cider mixture to a 13 by 9-inch baking dish, roll the dough a to 13 by 9-inch rectangle, then cut the crust and bake as instructed.)
- Rolling pin
- Pastry brush for applying egg wash
Substitutions & Variations
- If you do not have apple cider, reduced apple juice may be used as a substitute; simmer 1 cup apple juice in a small saucepan over medium heat until reduced to ½ cup, about 10 minutes.
- We like the simplicity of this filling, but other classic apple pie add-ins, such as chopped crystallized ginger or a handful of dried fruit, can be added along with the cider mixture.
Use a combination of sweet, crisp apples such as Golden Delicious and firm, tart apples such as Cortland or Empire. Serve warm or at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.
- 1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening, chilled
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch pieces and chilled
- 3–4 tablespoons ice water
- ½ cup apple cider
- ⅓ cup maple syrup
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2½ pounds apples, peeled, cored, and cut into ½-inch-thick wedges
- 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- For the Crust : Pulse flour, sugar, and salt in food processor until combined, about 4 pulses. Add shortening and pulse until mixture resembles coarse sand, about 10 pulses. Sprinkle butter pieces over top and pulse until mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse crumbs, with butter bits no larger than small peas, about 10 pulses. Transfer mixture to medium bowl.
- Sprinkle 3 tablespoons ice water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together, adding up to 1 tablespoon more ice water if dough does not come together. Flatten dough into 4-inch disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days. Let sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before rolling.
- For the Filling: Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 500 degrees. Whisk cider, maple syrup, lemon juice, cornstarch, and cinnamon, if using, together in bowl until smooth. Melt butter in 12-inch ovensafe skillet over medium-high heat. Add apples and cook, stirring 2 or 3 times, until apples begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. (Do not fully cook apples.) Off heat, add cider mixture and gently stir until apples are well coated. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Roll dough out on lightly floured counter to 11-inch round. Roll dough loosely around rolling pin and unroll over apple filling. Brush dough with egg white and sprinkle with sugar. With sharp knife, gently cut dough into 6 pieces by making 1 vertical cut followed by 2 evenly spaced horizontal cuts (perpendicular to first cut). Bake until apples are tender and crust is deep golden brown, about 20 minutes, rotating skillet halfway through baking. Let cool about 15 minutes; serve warm.
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