I get a lot of questions about freezing fruit pies but, truth be told, I just don’t freeze fruit pies very often. When I have extra, I simply give it away while it’s still nice and fresh. This makes for happy neighbors and saves room in the freezer for essentials like ice cream, coffee, and bacon, which I’ll be needing even more room for since they just announced last week that bacon gives you cancer. A really big sale can’t be far off.
Besides, the freezer is the black hole of my kitchen universe. I put things in there and never see them again. I’ll send out a search party, and they never return. Spooky, like socks that disappear in the dryer.
As for the occasional slice of baked pie I do freeze and try to reheat, the result is seldom more than a flabby shadow of its original self.
But Thanksgiving is on the horizon and once again I’m hearing from folks who tell me they want to make an apple pie for turkey day and freeze it ahead. Apparently there are those in this world who don’t like to stay up 48 straight hours, slaving away in the kitchen, before company arrives. What’s wrong with these people?
FREEZE FIRST, THEN BAKE
Given my aversion to baked-then-frozen fruit pie, I decided to experiment with assembling an apple pie ahead, freezing it, then baking. Sounds simple, but is it really?
What pan should you use? How full should the pie be? How long will it keep in the freezer? How should I wrap it up? Do I have to thaw it first before I bake it? Or can I go right from freezer to oven? Let’s unpack this predicament and consider our options.
USE A METAL PAN, NOT GLASS OR CERAMIC
Presentation is important on Thanksgiving, so your first inclination is to reach for your most fetching ceramic pie plate. Forget it.
For one, you probably don’t want to tie up your favorite pie pan for a month or more. For another, freezer-to-oven baking is always going to be safer in a metal pan. Point of fact, I’ve never had a Pyrex pan or ceramic pan crack or explode on me going from freezer to oven, but it only takes one to ruin an otherwise pleasant afternoon of football watching.
So metal it is. For the pie here, I used a disposable aluminum pan, which is about as basic as it gets. Worked beautifully. Besides, you can always drop your entire pie, if you like, into a pretty ceramic pan before bringing it to the table. A little cheesy, for sure, but viewed from the right angle and in flattering light (above, and below) it doesn’t look half bad. I can relate.
DON’T MAKE THE FILLING TOO DEEP
This is not the time to make one of those show off, mile high apple pies because it simply won’t bake evenly: the center will still be frozen while the rest of the pie is almost done. So keep the amount of apple filling modest. Think pitcher’s mound, not Mount Everest.
With a standard 9-inch pan, you’ll need about 6 1/2- to 7-cups of thinly sliced apples and fine apple dice. I like to cut at least one of the apples into very small pieces because it helps keep the mound nice and compact. The tighter the apples fit into the pie shell, the fewer ice crystals will form, and the less chance you’ll end up with excess moisture in your pie.
As a hedge against some likely ice crystal-juiciness, I’ll add about 25% more cornstarch than I typically would for a fresh baked apple pie. That seems to work out well.
Other than that, this is a pretty traditional apple pie, modeled on several you can find in my book Apple Pie, which you should put on your holiday wish list if you’re not already a proud owner.
If you can’t be convinced, here’s the blueprint: 6 1/2 to 7 (scant) cups peeled and very thinly sliced Golden Delicious or Braeburn apples; 1/3 cup sugar; 3 tablespoons light brown sugar; 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch; 1 teaspoon cinnamon or apple pie spice; 1 tablespoon lemon juice; a little lemon zest and a pinch of salt. Mix well and transfer to pie shell. Dot the filling with 1 1/2 tablespoons butter. Pie crust recipe follows.
BAG IT, THEN FREEZE IT
Once you attach your top pastry, and either flute the edge or crimp it with a fork, make a few steam vents with a large fork. You can see my fork holes in the photos below.
I made that other hole, the one close to the edge, with a paring knife. That’s my little checkpoint, for late in the baking, where I want to see thick, volcanic juices bubbling up through. Especially when you’re starting with a frozen pie and you can’t rely on your usual instincts about timing, this little window into your pie’s soul will come in quite handy.
Pie assembled, slip it into a plastic freezer bag or another heavy duty plastic bag and seal. Don’t try to push out all the air just yet or you might mangle the pastry. Find some prime, spacious real estate in your freezer and let your pie sit there undisturbed for 24 hours. After 24 hours you can push excess air out of the bag. Now you can move the pie around without coddling it and make room for other provisions as the big day approaches. How long can you freeze it without compromising quality? I don’t know, exactly. At least a couple of months. Maybe six months. A while, for sure.
BAKING DAY STRATEGIES
Given that oven space is always at a premium on Thanksgiving, you’ll need to plan your pie baking strategy ahead. Count on about 90 minutes of oven time for the pie at 375°.
Especially if you’re doing the turkey, too, my suggestion is to bake the pie early in the day, before the turkey goes in. That will give the pie juice ample time to thicken even more and reabsorb into the fruit. If you want, you can always rewarm the pie right in the pan for about 20 minutes before you serve it.
You will probably want to glaze the top crust because an unglazed crust can be pretty drab. There are many options, from plain water, to milk, and shiny egg glazes too, but I like a heavy cream and sugar glaze best. The various egg-based glazes are liable to over-brown during the extended baking, but the heavy cream glaze will keep things golden brown. You’ll wind up with a bit of a sheen and lovely sugary grit on top. Just right. Brush the top evenly with the cream but don’t go crazy; it shouldn’t puddle. Then sprinkle on the sugar.
While we’re on the subject, don’t worry too much about the outer edge of the pie: no matter what you do, it’s going to get good and brown. Don’t sweat it. That rim only accounts for a tiny bit of your pie’s overall real estate. A crispy edge gives your pie street cred. It lets your guests know this is serious homemade pie, not something you picked up on the fly.
If you are worried about the edge over-browning and you want to minimize it, watch this video (the all-time most viewed Pie Academy video, by the way.)
So preheat your oven to 400°. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. (The baking sheet will concentrate the heat on your bottom crust and provide a sturdy base for your pie, while eliminating worries about juice spilling into the oven.) You can also use parchment, like I do, but don’t put it on the sheet until you put the pie in the oven. Adjust the oven rack so it is closer to the bottom of the oven than it is to the middle. When the oven has preheated, put the pie on the sheet and reduce the heat to 375°.
Set your timer for 1 hour and don’t open the oven before the hour is up.
After an hour, turn the sheet 180° to help balance out the baking. If the top of the pie seems under-browned after the first hour, move the rack and pie up to the middle of the oven. Bake an additional 30 minutes.
At some point during this last 30 minutes you’ll see thin juice coming out the little side porthole, which – if all goes according to plan – will turn into thick bubbling juice before the pie is done. You’ll notice the telltale sign of those thick juices in the photo below.
If you’re in doubt whether your pie is done, give it an extra 10 minutes in the oven.
Transfer your pie to a cooling rack and cool thoroughly while you enjoy the lingering aroma of apple pie mingling with roast turkey, herbaceous stuffing, and bacon-braised brussels sprouts.
I’d wait a minimum of two hours before slicing your pie. Four to six hours would be ideal. The photo of the slice here and the one above was taken after about 5 hours.
And that’s all there is to it. Upon reflection, I think this is a viable option for someone who wants a homemade apple pie for Thanksgiving, but without the last minute assembly. My first choice would always be freshly made, but if that’s not possible, you could do much worse than this great freeze-and-bake alternative.
PASTRY NOTES: Use any favorite double-crust pie dough recipe for this pie. If you don’t have one, the basic pie dough below will do nicely.