Easy as Apple Pie

by Chef Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE

So, what type of apples do you like? Green or golden, pink or red? Sugary sweet or puckery sour? And how do you like to eat your apples? Piping hot, baked with raisins and walnuts? Cold and crunchy, right from the refrigerator? Or do you prefer one of America’s favorite desserts, apple pie?

Baking fruit pies from scratch is one of the easier dessert tasks. Depending on your time and your equipment, you may elect to bake apple pies strictly from scratch or indulge in a little speed scratch.


The first step to making a fresh, aromatic pie from scratch is to learn about the countless number of apple options. After all, the flavor of your apple pie will be decided by the variety of apple you select. If you’d like to stick with cooking apples, look for Rome, Granny Smith, or Pippins. Cooking varieties handle heat well, as they have more fiber and less juice. This allows them to hold their shape when being baked, sautéed, broiled, or microwaved.

Red Delicious are the good ol’ standbys of eating apples, but they can be cooked for a firm, rather than soft, pie filling. Mix the Red with the Golden for a change of pace. If you like the sweetness of Red Delicious, you’ll like Cameo (very sweet with a nice crunch), Fuji (sweet and crunchy), and Gala (a cross between a Golden Delicious and the New Zealand Orange Red). For a more rounded flavor, sweet with some overtones of tang, choose Braeburn, Pink Lady, or Jonagold. Look in farmers’ markets or specialty produce stores for heirloom or antique varieties, such as Maiden Blush, Winesap, or MacIntosh, or for fairly new varieties, such as Honeygold and its brand new cousin, Honeycrisp.


Apple pies can range from simple and traditional to modern and fusion. You can use one type of apple, a mixture of sweet and tart apples, or apple and pear combinations. Filling add-ins can include dried cherries, golden raisins, currants, dried cranberries, and finely chopped nuts. Depending on the season, you may want to branch out to fresh pear, nectarine, peach, apricot, or plum pies. You can follow the apple instructions in this article, just adjusting cooking times for the ripeness or softness of your fruit.

A rule of thumb for filling a 9-inch pie crust is eight to nine medium apples, tossed with 3/4 cup vegan sugar and 1/4 cup all-purpose or whole wheat flour. Spices—which can include ground cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, clove, cardamom, lavender, ginger, and/or dried orange zest—should total one Tablespoon all together.

Slice peeled and cored apples into even slices that are no thicker than half an inch. Thin, uniform slices help to ensure even baking. If fresh apples aren’t available, you can use frozen, thawed apple slices. When you’re ready to bake, place approximately half of the apples into an unbaked bottom crust and dust with half of the vegan sugar, flour, and spice mixture. Top with the rest of the apples, and sprinkle them with the remaining sugar mixture.


A great pie filling needs a great pie crust. If you’d like to make your crust from scratch, be certain to follow these guidelines:

  • There are four ingredients in a crust—flour, fat, liquid, and salt. Flour is necessary to form the structure and bulk of the crust, fat adds moisture and helps to keep the crust flaky, liquid keeps the dough somewhat pliable, and salt enhances the flavor and browns the crust.
  • Before making crusts, chill the fat (vegan shortening or margarine) and the liquid (soymilk or water). Chilling will prevent the fat pieces from dissolving into the flour. Stir the flour and salt together in a large bowl. Cut the shortening into the dry mixture using a pastry cutter or by pinching the fat into the mixture with your hands. The resulting mixture should have fat lumps no smaller than peas.
  • Pour in the chilled soymilk or water, a small amount at a time, mixing gently with a fork until the dough is wet enough to be packed into a ball. The dough should be handled as little as possible to prevent the blending of all of the fat lumps, as a crust without fat lumps will become dense and hard.
  • Split the dough into two equal amounts, roll them into balls, and wrap them in plastic before placing them in the refrigerator. Chilling for at least 30 minutes will prevent the flour from absorbing the fat and give the crust a lighter texture when it is baked. Well-wrapped, chilled crust can last up to three days in the refrigerator.
  • Generously dust a clean, dry surface with flour and remove one of the packages of dough from the refrigerator. Flatten the dough slightly and dust the top of the dough with flour before rolling it out with a rolling pin or wooden dowel.
  • Start rolling at the center of the dough and work outwards. Some people prefer to do this between sheets of parchment or waxed paper or plastic wrap because it makes rolling and cleaning up easier.
  • Quickly roll the dough into a circle, either 1/4-inch or 1/8-inch thick. The size of the circle should be approximately four inches wider in diameter than the pie pan. You don’t want to overwork the dough, as you’ll lose some of the flakiness. Roll the dough only as much as is needed.
  • Position the dough in the pan correctly by folding the dough in half and then in half again to make quarters. Gently pick the dough up and place so that the center point is in the center of the pie pan. Unfold the dough in the pan, and it should be perfectly centered. If the dough cracks a little during this process, press it back together with your fingers or patch the cracks with a bit of dough from the outer edges.
  • Press the crust firmly into the pan and trim any excess dough from the edge. Leave a 1/2-inch flap of dough around the edge for fluting or later sealing on the top crust.

Once the pie is filled, you’ll want to top it with a second crust. To make a standard top crust, roll the dough out and lay it carefully over the pie. Seal its edges to the lower crust by using a small amount of water as an adhesive. Use your fingers to pinch the edges together.

If you’d like a latticework pie, follow the following steps:

  • On a lightly floured surface, roll refrigerated dough out to a 1/4-inch thickness.
  • Carefully cut the dough into strips approximately 1 inch wide, keeping all the dough strips the same width.
  • Moisten the edge of the pie with a small amount of water and begin laying the strips across the pie one at a time. Press the ends of the strips firmly to the edge of the pie and remove any excess length.
  • Once the pie has been covered with strips, the top can be brushed with a cinnamon-sugar combination. Your pie is ready to bake.

Tarte Tatin

Tarte Tatin is apple pie, all grown up and back from a Continental tour. It is really an upside down apple tart. As with many culinary discoveries, the Tatin is thought to have been a delightful accident. The story goes that Stephanie Tatin, half of a sister team running the Hotel Tatin in Beuvron, France, was having a bad kitchen day back in 1889.

She started to make a traditional apple pie but left the apples cooking in butter and sugar for too long. Smelling the burning, she tried to rescue the dish by putting the pastry base on top of the pan of apples and quickly finishing the cooking by placing the whole pan in the oven. After turning out the upside down tart, she was surprised to find how much the hotel guests enjoyed the dessert.

To create your own Tatin, peel some tart apples, such as Granny Smiths, rub them with lemon juice, halve them along their equators, and core them. Place slices of nonhydrogenated vegan margarine on the bottom of a pan that can handle the stove and the oven, and sprinkle with vegan sugar. Place the apples on top of the margarine and sugar, with their stem ends up, going round the pan.

Bring to a simmer on top of the stove. Keep cooking until a fragrant, light mahogany caramel bubbles up in between the apples. Then, place the pan into the oven and bake until the apples are tender. Remove the pan, and let the apples cool. Top with either your own pie dough or puff pastry, and return to the oven for 15 more minutes. Let the tart cool, and flip out onto a serving platter. You should have tender, caramel soaked apple halves and a crispy bottom crust. Top with a dollop of vegan whipped cream, and start dishing.


If you’d like to do a bit of hands-on baking but don’t feel like rolling out the pie crust or peeling apples, purchase frozen or refrigerated vegan pie crusts and canned apple pie filling. Vegan frozen or refrigerated crusts are time savers and ensure consistent quality. Toss the canned filling with your favorite aromatic spice blend and chopped walnuts, pecans, raisins, dried cranberries, or diced dried figs. Top with a second crust, with a crust cut into lattice strips, with streusel topping, or with a combination of vegan brown sugar and nonhydrogenated vegan margarine. Prepare ahead of time and refrigerate until ready to bake.


Preheat the oven to the temperature recommended in the recipe. If a recipe calls for the pie to go in at a high temperature first and to finish baking at a lower temperature, do it! The two-temperature method helps high-fat crusts be-come flaky and tender. Remember that convection ovens, those with a fan, bake approximately 25 degrees hotter than traditional, or conduction, ovens. Adjust temperatures accordingly.

Baking a pie with a raw fruit filling will take at least 30 minutes total cooking time. Apple and pear pies usually cook for approximately 45 minutes. Softer fruit, such as nectarines or plums, will probably take less time. If a canned filling is used, the pie will normally bake at a higher temperature for a shorter period of time to thoroughly bake the crust and heat the filling up. To check if the filling is done, insert a knife into the center of the pie. If there is no resistance, the pie is done. To check if the crust is done, insert a knife into the crust. If you feel the knife puncture the crust, it’s done. If the pie is not quite done but the top or edges are becoming too dark, loosely cover the top of the pie with aluminum foil to shield it from the heat.

When you remove the pie from the oven, place it on a rack. This allows even cooling so your pie won’t sag to one side. As the pie cools, the filling will settle, and the top will even out.

Don’t even attempt to cut hot pies. Your pies should cool to room temperature before your serve them. And never reheat pie in a microwave. Microwave ovens will make the crust soggy. If you want to reheat pie, use a broiler or a very hot (425 degrees), preheated oven.

Accessorize Your Pie

Apple pie can stand well on its own, but a little bit of company will enhance it even more.

  • À La Mode — Top hot or warm pie with a generous scoop of spicy cinnamon-flavored vegan ice cream or lemon and ginger sorbet.
  • With a Dollop — Top warm or cold pie with whipped silken tofu flavored with vanilla, rum, orange, almond, ginger, or lavender extracts.
  • Cheese, Please — Serve pie in a pool of vegan cheese sauce, topped with melty shredded vegan cheese, or accompanied by a petite wedge.

Recipe Index

Maple Apple Pie

(Serves 8)

  • Two thawed frozen 9-inch vegan pie shells, one for the bottom crust and one for the top crust
  • 7-8 large green apples, peeled, cored, and diced to make approximately 5 cups (to give the pie height)
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon molasses
  • 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon lemon zest
  • ¼ cup all-purpose or whole wheat flour
  • 1 Tablespoon water or apple juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place one pie shell in a 9-inch pie pan and crimp or fold edges. Bake for 3 minutes. Allow shell to cool.

Place apples in a large bowl. Mix in the remaining ingredients (except for the other pie shell) and toss to combine. Fill the baked pie shell and cover with the top crust. Place on a baking sheet and center in the middle of an oven rack. Allow to bake for approximately 40 minutes or until filling is bubbly and crust is just golden.

Total calories per serving: 296 Fat: 11 grams
Carbohydrates: 51 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 210 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Apple Cream Pie

(Serves 8)

  • 2 pounds peeled, cored, and thinly sliced green apples
  • ¾ cup sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • 2 Tablespoons all-purpose or whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • Two unbaked 9-inch vegan pie shells, one for the bottom crust and one for the top crust
  • 3 Tablespoons nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 1-½ cups mashed silken tofu

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss apples with sugar, flour, and spices and arrange in the bottom of one pie shell. Combine margarine and tofu in a small pan. Simmer, stirring, until margarine is melted and well incorporated with the tofu. Pour over apple mixture. Cover with top crust. Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until filling is bubbly and crust is just golden.

Total calories per serving: 365 Fat: 16 grams
Carbohydrates: 54 grams Protein: 4 grams
Sodium: 217 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Apple Pie, Hold the Sugar

(Serves 8)

  • 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon mace
  • 1 cup unsweetened frozen apple juice concentrate, divided
  • 2 pounds peeled, cored, and thinly sliced baking apples
  • Two unbaked 9-inch vegan pie shells, one for the bottom crust and one for the top crust

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, and 1/4 cup of apple juice concentrate.

Place the remaining apple juice in a small pot, add apples, and simmer until tender, approximately 10 minutes. Add the cornstarch mixture, stirring, and allow to simmer until thickened.

Place one pie shell into a 9-inch pie pan. Pour apples over the shell and cover the apples with the other pie crust. Bake for 30 minutes or until top crust is golden brown.

Total calories per serving: 286 Fat: 11 grams
Carbohydrates: 48 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 215 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Pie-Eyed Apple Pie (Apple Pie with Whiskey)

(Serves 8)

  • ¾ cup sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • 2 Tablespoons all-purpose or whole wheat flour
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1-½ pounds peeled, cored, and sliced green apples
  • Two unbaked 9-inch vegan pie shells, one for the bottom crust and one for the top crust
  • 2 Tablespoons nonhydrogenated vegan margarine, cut into small chunks
  • 2 Tablespoons whiskey (optional)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a small bowl, mix together sugar, flour, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Place apples in a large bowl and sprinkle with sugar mixture. Toss until apples are thoroughly coated.

Place one pie shell into a 9-inch pie pan. Place apples in pie shell. Dot apples with margarine, then sprinkle with whiskey. Cover with top crust. Seal edges and cut steam vents in top.

Bake for 10 minutes. Lower temperature to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Serve warm.

Total calories per serving: 266 Fat: 13 grams
Carbohydrates: 36 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 248 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Ginger Snap Crust

(Makes one 9-inch crust)

  • 1-½ cups vegan ginger snap cookies
  • 5 Tablespoons nonhydrogenated margarine, softened

Smash ginger snaps to form small crumbs. Mix the crumbs and the margarine well in a 9-inch microwaveable pie pan. Press mixture firmly and evenly into the pan. Microwave on HIGH for 2 minutes. Cool before filling.

Note:  Graham crackers can be substituted for the ginger snaps. Most filled pie shells can be cut into approximately 8 servings.

Total calories per serving: 114 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 9 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 80 milligrams Fiber: <1 gram

Fruit Pie Fillings

(Fills one 9-inch shell)

  • 4 cups peeled, cored, and sliced baking apples
  • ⅔ cup sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • One baked Ginger Snap Crust or Graham Cracker Crust

Place all ingredients into a bowl and mix to combine. Pour into the crust. Set the pie on a piece of waxed paper and microwave on HIGH for 12-14 minutes or until fruit is tender. Allow pie to cool for 10 minutes before slicing.


  • This recipe is also good with sliced and peeled fresh pears, peaches, or apricots instead of apples.

  • Fresh or frozen berries can be used in place of apples. If berries are very juicy, use three cups rather than four cups.

Total calories per serving: 212 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 35 grams Protein: 1 gram
Sodium: 87 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Pie Shell

(Makes one 9-inch pie shell)

  • 1-⅔ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • 3 Tablespoons ice water
  • ¼ cup soymilk
  • Additional flour to lightly coat rolling surface

In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Add margarine, cutting it into the flour with a fork, and mix until crumbly. Add ice water and soymilk in small amounts at a time, stirring constantly until combined. Transfer onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to 1½-inch thickness. Fold in quarters, wrap in waxed paper, and refrigerate until needed.

If you would like to prebake, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a piece of folded pie dough, cut to fit the radius of the pie pan, in the center of the pan. Unfold so dough is draped over the pie pan. Press to fit pan, and crimp edges with a fork. Bake pie shell for 10 minutes or until crust is golden.

Note:  If you find that your bottom pie crust bubbles and becomes uneven when you bake it, place a second, empty pie pan on top of the baking crust. This will allow it to bake evenly.

Total calories per serving: 186 Fat: 11 grams
Carbohydrates: 18 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 147 milligrams Fiber: 1 gram

Easy Blueberry Pie

(Serves 8)

Use the Pie Shell recipe above as the basis for this tasty treat!

  • 3-½ cups blueberries, divided
  • 1-½ cups water
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • ¼ cup cold water
  • One baked Pie Shell

Cook 2 cups of blueberries in 1-1/2 cups water over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add sugar and orange juice and cook for another 5 minutes. Combine cornstarch and cold water and add to cooked blueberries. Stir until thickened. Allow to cool. Pour into the Pie Shell and cover with remaining blueberries. Refrigerate.

Total calories per serving: 245 Fat: 12 grams
Carbohydrates: 32 grams Protein: 3 grams
Sodium: 154 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Delicious Cherry Pie

(Serves 8)

  • Bottom pie crust:
  • 1-¼ cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ⅓ cup nonhydrogenated vegan margarine, softened
  • Vegan sugar to taste (optional)
  • ¼ cup water
  • Pie Filling:
  • 4 cups stemmed and pitted cherries or thawed unsweetened frozen pie cherries
  • 1-¼ cups sugar (Use your favorite vegan variety.)
  • ⅓ cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • Sprinkle of nutmeg, cinnamon, or ginger (optional)
  • 2 Tablespoons nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • Optional crumble top crust:
  • ¼ cup melted nonhydrogenated vegan margarine
  • ⅓ cup flour
  • ½ cup brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

For the bottom pie crust, mix flour, salt, and softened margarine right in the pie pan. Add some sugar if you’d like a sweet crust. Mix well until crumbly. Add the water in small amounts, approximately 1 Tablespoon at a time. Roll out the dough between two sheets of waxed paper, rolling to a 1-1/2-inch thickness. Chill while mixing the filling. If you want to prebake this crust, bake at 375 degrees for approximately 10 minutes or until golden.

For the filling, mix the cherries with sugar in a large bowl. Add flour and salt and toss lightly. Add lemon juice, almond extract, and, if desired, spice. Cut in the margarine. Spoon filling into pie shell.

For a top pie crust, you can either double the recipe for the bottom crust and split it into two crusts or use the following instructions for a crumble crust.

If using a solid top crust, pierce top crust in five or six places to allow steam to escape. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until crust is golden and filling is bubbly.

If using a crumble top crust, mix the melted margarine into the flour and brown sugar. Mix until well coated and crumbly. Sprinkle on top of cherries. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until crust is golden and filling is bubbly.

Total calories per serving: 208 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 45 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 49 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

With Crumble Top Crust:
Total calories per serving: 327 Fat: 9 grams
Carbohydrates: 62 grams Protein: 2 grams
Sodium: 54 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE, is VRG’s Food Service Advisor.