The Science Behind the Perfect Apple Pie

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The Science Behind the Perfect Apple Pie
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The Science Behind the Perfect Apple Pie

Read on for the best ways to make an apple pie, according to science.

Cold Ingredients

For the flakiest and most tender crust, Serious Eats highly recommends keeping all your pie ingredients and equipment cold. Keep the butter in the fridge until you are ready to use it, chill the flour if the kitchen is warm, or even consider placing things in the freezer in between steps to keep them cool. Flaky crust layers are formed when butter chunks are pressed and flattened in between layers of gluten. If the butter gets too warm it will mix with the gluten layers, which will leave you with a greasy crust that's more like shortbread.

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All Butter Crust

Some pie recipes call for a mix of butter and shortening or leaf lard because the latter ingredients are easier to work with straight out of the refrigerator. The downside to shortening or leaf lard is that they are both nearly flavorless. Even though butter can be more difficult to work with when it's hard, the flavor of the crust will make it worthwhile. Serious Eats can show you an easy way to make a crust with butter by making a butter-flour paste, which makes the dough easier to roll out.

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Use Spatula To Mix In Water

Fold water into the mix slowly using a spatula.This jump-starts the flaky layer formation and will ultimately make a huge difference in the finished pie.

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Pie Geometry

Amy Rowat, a biophysicist and assistant professor at the University of California Los Angeles wrote in the The New York Times that using a pie tin helps to create the perfect pie geometry. She writes, "For optimal crust-browning and perfectly cooked filling, a pie with a relatively high surface-area-to-volume ratio is best."

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Color Chemistry For Browner Crust

To achieve a browner and more flavorful crust, Rowat recommends setting the oven to at least 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Right before baking the pie, brush it with a mixture of egg wash and heavy cream. This mixture will help to set the Maillard reaction in place, which is necessary for color and flavor.

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Steam Vents

When baked, the apple slices begin to lose water, most of which is converted into steam. Without pie vents, that steam would cause the pie to swell up. Make sure to cut some vents into the crust so that the pie can release steam.

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Tart Apples

Tart apples are your best bet for making a great apple pie because of their pectin levels. Pectin is what holds all plant cells together. When apples are cooked, the pectin breaks down and causes the apples to become mushier. To ensure that your apple slices are tender, but can maintain their shape, choose tart apples. Pectin doesn't break down as quickly when the apple has lower pH levels, which happens when the apple is less acidic. The tarter the apple, the more likely it will maintain its shape when baked.

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Apple Slice Structure

The biophysicist Amy Rowat suggests cutting apples flat instead of slicing them into wedges. You should also pat the apples down in the crust so that they lie flat. This is a good idea because as apples are baked, they begin to shrink, which makes them more likely to fall into crevices, creating more empty spaces between crust and filling.

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Par-Cook Apples

To ensure that the apples maintain their shape, it's a good idea to par-cook them on the stove-top or heat them in a microwave. Heating up the apples before baking them will help to activate an enzyme that converts pectin into a more heat stable medium.

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Wait to Serve!

It is essential to let the pie cool before serving. Straight out of the oven, the filling will be more runny. Letting the pie cool down will allow the pectin in the fruit filling to solidify. Waiting for the pie to cool down will also make slicing it easier since the slices will maintain their shape better.

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There's nothing like biting into a crisp apple during fall. In addition to pumpkins, apples are one of the most quintessential fall fruits. While they're delicious on their own, many people love to take advantage of fall apples by making apple pie. The classic is such a delicious treat, but to get your apple pie just right, it actually requires some basic scientific tips. Did you know that cold ingredients are one of the keys to the best apple pie? Or that your selection of apples really affects how your pie turns out?

Check out the slideshow above for the science behind the perfect apple pie!

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