America's Test Kitchen's Thanksgiving treat: Pennsylvania Dutch apple pie

Nov 10, 2017

Not everyone loves pumpkin pie for dessert at Thanksgiving. So our friends at America's Test Kitchen came to the rescue with an amazing recipe for Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Pie. Managing Producer Sally Swift talked with Tucker Shaw, editor-in-chief for Cook's Country, about the ingredients used to make this seasonal treat: apples, steusel topping, and -- most importantly -- melted vanilla ice cream. Yes, you heard that right - melted ice cream!

Sally Swift: I recently found out that you guys made a visit to one of my favorite bakeries in the country, Magpie Bakery in Philadelphia. You were on a research trip?

Tucker Shaw: That's right. Our food editor, Bryan Roof, spent a few days in Philadelphia, and one of the best days that he spent there was at Magpie, which is a pie bakery in south Philly.

SS: Holly Ricciardi, who owns Magpie, is from the Pennsylvania Dutch countryside. She was raised there, was she not?

TS: She grew up west of Philadelphia, and had a successful career as a designer. But, partway through her career she decided to take a detour and go into baking, which was her first love.

SS: She does interesting takes on classics, one of which is Dutch apple pie.

TS: That's right, and we thought that this Dutch apple pie was a fantastic addition to the Thanksgiving menu.

Tucker Shaw
(Photo: America's Test Kitchen)

SS: Explain to me what Dutch apple is.

TS: Dutch apple pie is simple. First of all, it's probably not Dutch. As you know, Pennsylvania Dutch really comes from the word Deutsch, which signifies German. This is from German immigrants who lived in that part of the country. It's a single-crust pie – just a crust on the bottom – filled and stacked with slices of apple, then covered with a crumbled streusel topping. We just love crumbles at Cook's Country, so we knew we were going to be bananas for this pie.

The beautiful thing about this pie is you don't have to pre-bake the crust and you don't have to pre-cook the apples. It comes together very quickly and straightforward. You start with a simple pie crust that has sour cream in it, so you get a little bit of that tang. You bring that together with your food processor. Give it a chill, roll it out, and slide it into the pie shell to receive the apples.

SS: What kind of apples do you guys prefer?

TS: You can get crazy with apples, right? There are a million varieties of apples out there. We love this pie with Golden Delicious, Fuji, Braeburn, and Granny Smith. Personally, Golden Delicious were my favorite because they have a subtle sharpness, not a really strong tart flavor; they also take sugar and create a nuanced sweetness that I find lovely.

Pennsylvania Dutch Apple Pie
from America's Test Kitchen

SS: That surprises me. I have not heard anyone stick up for Golden Delicious in a long time, so you are a cheerleader for the underdog once again.

TS: Why not? They're available everywhere, and they deserve some love. This pie is such a forgiving and lovely thing; why not use a simple supermarket ingredient and elevate it a little bit? You slice Golden Delicious apples into quarter-inch slices, then toss them with granulated sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, and our secret ingredient – melted vanilla ice cream.

SS: What? That is crazy!

TS: I know. It's a little bit crazy, but here's the thing, Dutch apple pie traditionally comes with a bit of heavy cream. We started going nuts in the test kitchen looking for new kinds of ingredients and different flavors that we could introduce into this pie. Melted vanilla ice cream gives you the creaminess that you need, plus a bit of vanilla flavor that serves as a subtle backdrop to the apples.

One little trick: make sure that you melt the ice cream before you measure it. Depending on what brand you have, it may or may not have a great deal of air whipped into it. Your measure will change once the ice cream has melted.

SS: That's great advice.

TS:  Toss this all together with the apples, and you let them sit for about an hour. This takes the place of pre-cooking the apples. This will soften them and make them easy to layer into the pie. Take your crust – which has been chilling in the fridge – and take the apples that you've macerated, and lay them into the pie. You want to fill it tightly; don't leave a lot of holes in there. Many recipes call for raisins, which can be controversial. If you like raisins, toss in a few raisins.

Once you've piled in the apples, you want to smooth it out and make sure that they're not mounded in the center. You want a flat pie. Then you stir together a simple streusel topping: flour, brown sugar, and melted butter. Cover the pie with this topping, slide it in the oven. About an hour and five or ten minutes later, you pull it out, and you have a gorgeous pie.

And then, Sally, this is the hardest part, you have to let it sit there. You've got to let it sit there for at least four hours, but we prefer overnight. Part of the reason we do recommend that you let it sit overnight is a tip that we learned from Holly herself. She says that she never sells pies made on the same day, because when you're selling slices of pie, a day-old pie slices and holds its shape much better than a pie that's still warm from the oven.

SS: You don't find many bakeries who refuse to sell the pie they've baked that day.

TS: I think it came from experience. She learned the right way, that that's exactly the perfect amount of time to wait until you slice your pie. You don’t see any denigration in the flavor or the texture letting it sit overnight in the fridge.

SS: It all marries together.

TS: Here’s the nice thing, too. On Thanksgiving, you're kind of forced to make this ahead. You don't have a choice about doing a last-minute pie here. If you're going to do this pie, you must do it a day ahead. That eases things up on Thanksgiving Day.