Early on in my culinary career, I struggled with creating a consistently good apple pie.
It can be hard to replicate a successful process if you don’t know why it was successful, and more importantly, why things go wrong and how to avoid those mistakes.
The good news is that, while making a pie is a big project, the process to doing this successfully is fairly straightforward and simple.
Let’s dive in.
What Causes an Apple Pie to be Watery?
There are three main reasons why your apple might come out watery:
1. Not par-cooking your apples (this is the most likely reason for a watery apple pie).
2. Not using a thickener in the filling, such as flour or cornstarch.
3. Not baking your pie long enough for the filling to fully set.
Apples are made up of approximately 86% water. A lot of that water is released when they're cooked, so it’s no wonder that a watery apple pie is a common issue.
But with just a few steps, you can make an amazing apple pie with confidence.
Three Steps to a Perfect Apple Pie
Par-Cook Your Apples
To do this, peel and slice your apples, then sauté them in a large skillet with some butter until they’re crisp-tender and a good amount of the liquid has released into the pan.
You can add your sugar and pie spices towards the end of the cooking process if you’d like.
Some of the liquid the apples release will evaporate while cooking, depending on how high your heat is.
If there's a lot of liquid left, remove the apples with a slotted spoon and then simmer the liquid until it’s reduced and syrupy.
Splash in a bit of brandy for an extra kick during this step, then add the syrup back into the apple mixture.
Allow the apples to cool completely before making the pie. I recommend doing this step a day or two in advance to make the process simpler.
Add a Thickener
Once you’ve cooked and cooled your apples, add 1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour or cornstarch, and mix it in.
Flour and cornstarch thicken when they reach a boiling temperature, so as the pie cooks and the apples release even more juice, the liquid will begin to bubble and the cornstarch and flour will thicken the spiced apple juice into a delicious, caramel-esque sauce.
A Cold Pie and a Long Bake = Success
For best results, make sure your pie is very cold before baking. If possible, freeze your pie crust before you add the chilled apple filling.
Once the filling and top crust or crumble have been added, freeze the pie again for 30-40 minutes, until the top crust is firm when tapped.
A cold pie crust will help hold in all the pie's juices and will result in a more flaky, finished product.
Make sure you bake your pie long enough. The filling should have barely any jiggle to it and any bubbling liquid should be thick.
If the filling is still fairly liquidy, you need to bake the pie longer to allow more water content to cook out.
If the pie is getting too brown on top and the filling isn't done, tent the top with foil and keep baking. A fruit pie will typically bake for 45-60 minutes.
Pie Crust Tips
Keep it cold
If using a store-bought crust, keep it in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to use it.
If making your own pie crust, make sure you’re using very cold water and butter.
Chill the pie dough while it rests. Once you’ve rolled out the pie dough and shaped it in your pie tin, freeze it again until firm, at least 30 minutes.
Blind Bake if Needed
Blind baking is the process of par-cooking your bottom crust to ensure it gets cooked through. Because fruit pies bake for so long, you typically don’t need to blind-bake your crust for a fruit pie, especially if you keep your pie crust nice and cold.
However, if you constantly struggle with a soggy bottom pie crust and you’re already employing the three methods above, you might try blind baking. Here’s how to do it:
1. Preheat your oven to 375°F. Place your pie crust in the tin and shape it as desired. Freeze the crust if possible for at least 30 minutes.
2. Place parchment over the entire pie crust, there should be excess all the way around the edges. Add pie weights, or make your own. Acceptable pie weights include: dried beans, rice, or lentils. You can use loose change in a pinch. Some people recommend using sugar as a pie weight, but that can get tricky.
3. The pie weights should come half-way up the pie crust. Trim excess parchment so the corners don’t burn, but leave enough so that you can lift the pie weights out later.
4. Bake the pie dough for 10-20 minutes, depending on your oven. It’s done when the edges of the crust begin to brown.
5. Remove the pie weights and allow the crust to cool. Wrap foil around the edges of the crust (unless you’re using a top crust) to keep them from burning while the pie bakes.
Tips for Rolling Out Your Pie Crust
To really send the message home, keep the pie crust cold, cold, cold for best results.
Roll your pie crust quickly to avoid it warming up too much. If your pie crust becomes warm or melty while you’re working, stop and return the crust to the freezer for 5-10 minutes, then begin working again.
To begin rolling out your pie crust, have a small cup of flour handy and lightly flour your work surface and rolling pin.
Place your rolling pin in the center of your pie dough and roll away from yourself while pushing downward firmly. Take care not to add too much pressure at the edge of the crust.
Pick the pie crust up and rotate it 90 degrees, adding a bit of flour if it sticks. Place the rolling pin in the middle and roll away from yourself again.
Repeat this process, dusting with flour as needed, until the pie dough is ¼-⅛ of an inch thick. Lightly flour the pie crust, then loosely roll it up onto the rolling pin, and transfer to the pie plate.
Tips for Fluting Your Pie Crust
Leave 1 inch of overlapping dough on the edges of the pie tin. Trim away the rest.
Fold the pie dough under itself all the way around, then use your index finger to push in one section and make a flute. Move to the side and repeat all the way around.
Freeze a fluted pie dough before baking to maintain the finish.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do all Fruit Fillings Need to be Par-Cooked?
No, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, and plumbs can be baked as they are. But they will release some liquid, so don’t skip the step of adding the thickener.
How Do I Know When to Blind Bake My Pie Crust?
The general rule of thumb is that fruit pies don’t need to be blind baked. While most other types of sweet pies will benefit from blind baking.
Every oven and pie dough recipe will yield slightly different results. If you constantly struggle with a doughy or liquidy bottom pie crust, try blind baking.
How Do I Know When My Pie Is Done Baking?
The filling should be bubbly and thick. The pie filling should not appear loose or runny. The top should be golden brown, especially if you put an egg wash on your crust.
Should I Use an Egg Wash On My Pie?
If you have a top crust in any design, your pie will benefit from an egg wash.
To do this, beat one egg or one egg yolk with a bit of milk or cream. Use a pastry brush to apply a thin coat to the entire top crust of your pie. Sprinkle with raw sugar if desired for extra sparkle.
Note: It’s not a big deal if some egg wash gets on the filling, but try to get it mostly on the pie crust.
Can I Freeze My Pie?
You can freeze most pies, baked or unbaked. The exception to this is custard, or curd pies. Those do not freeze very well at all.
An unbaked fruit or pumpkin pie will freeze for up to three months when well-wrapped.
A baked pie can be frozen for up to six months when well-wrapped.
Most pies can be baked directly from the freezer. If this is a pie you made yourself, you might have to experiment to figure out what the right time and temperature is to get it done without burning it.
A good starting point is to bake at 375°F. Assume the pie is going to need at least an hour, possibly two. If you have a digital thermometer handy, this will be very helpful in figuring out where your pie is at.
Take the temperature of your pie after 45 minutes and note how brown the crust is getting. You may need to cover the pie and adjust the temperature higher or lower depending on the results.
A finished pie should read at least 140°F in the center, and can go as high as 165°F.
Most pies are best baked from frozen, rather than risk thawing them and have the crust get soggy.
How Long are Pies Good For?
Pies will last for up to a week. All pies, with the exception of dairy or egg-based pies, can be stored on the counter.
Baking your pie several days in advance of a big event is a good idea. The pie will not taste old or stale, and it will take away some of the pressure, and give you extra time if things don’t go as planned.
Soggy, or watery apple pie is usually from not par-cooking your apples. It can also be from not adding a thickener, such as flour or cornstarch, or not cooking the pie long enough.
To make a good apple pie, par-cook your apples, add a thickener, and ensure your pie is very cold before baking and that you bake it long enough.
Keep your pie crust cold and rotate it regularly while rolling it out for best results.
Try blind-baking your pie crust if you’re still struggling with a soggy pie.
Most pies that are not dairy, or egg-based, freeze beautifully.
Most pies can be baked right out of the freezer, though it can take 1-2 hours to get them baked completely.