One of my first posts on this blog was for Nana’s Marble Mandel Bread. I mentioned in that post that my grandmother baked all sorts of glorious treats, the family favorite of which were Apple Squares. Well, we grew up calling them Apple Squares. I have since come to learn that many people call it Apple Slab Pie. Potato, potahto!
My grandmother had her recipes scribbled in a note pad. Some of the writings seem to comprise full recipes. Others are just parts of recipes, likely because she knew the core ingredients and decided it wasn’t worth jotting those down. Her notes for her Apple Squares were, shall we say, lacking some information. I played with it for years. Then I stumbled across an apple slab pie recipe from one of my blogging idols, Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen. (Seriously, every recipe of hers I have made has been wonderful. I will give a shout out to one of her cakes because it is THAT good and everyone should be making it — her chocolate peanut butter cake has been a regular in my kitchen since 2008 when she first published that recipe. Sooooooo good!!!)
One bite into Smitten Kitchen’s apple slab pie took me back to very fond memories of sinking my teeth into my grandmother’s Apple Squares. Using my grandmother’s notes, I then worked on adapting Smitten Kitchen’s apple filling recipe to obtain the full flavor of my grandmother’s Apple Squares. The most distinctive characteristic of my grandmother’s Apple Squares was that she topped them with cinnamon sugar. The combination of cinnamon-spice apples with the cinnamon sugar topped pie crust cannot be beat!
What’s the Difference Between Apple Pie and Apple Squares?
Well, obviously, the shape is the first difference. But it’s the shape that gives us the most compelling difference: the ratio of pie crust to filling. With a pie, you get much more apple filling loaded into the pie dish. Apple Squares, however, can hold one or two layers of apples. The difference is really noticeable based on the spices in the apple filling.
By way of example, I have made the apple pie filling for these Apple Squares for an apple pie. I did not love the result. Why? Because with so many spices in the apple mixture, it was overpowering given that there was more apple filling in every bite. The spice combination for these Apple Squares works so amazingly well because there is less filling in every bite.
The bottom line is that for people who prefer more apple filling, a pie may be more appropriate. For people who prefer less apple filling, Apple Squares are the way to go. That said, everyone who has sunk their teeth into these Apple Squares dove back in for seconds, if not thirds.
How do I Make Apple Slab Pie a/k/a Apple Squares?
I do think that making Apple Slab Pie is easier than making apple pie. With pie, we tend to futz with the top crust, crimping, trying to get it as pretty as possible. With Apple Slab Pie, we don’t really care about any of that. (Don’t get me wrong, you can care about it all you want! Sometimes I crimp the edges to make it a drop extra pretty.) With the addition of cinnamon sugar spread on the top, the look of the top crust is sort of irrelevant.
Making Apple Slab Pie is not terribly time consuming. Apart from popping the dough in the refrigerator to chill it at times, the most time consuming thing is peeling, coring and cutting the apples, but that really only takes about 10 minutes. I find it quite therapeutic, to be honest.
1. Make the Dough
The dough for this Apple Slab Pie a/k/a Apple Squares is the same dough as my all butter pie dough, just increased so that there is enough dough for the jelly roll pan, which is about 10-inches by 15-inches. Making pie dough is actually very easy, and the more you do it, the easier it becomes. It takes about 5 minutes to make pie dough, so there is no reason to buy a pre-made one!
Before you get started, cut up the butter into ¼-inch squares and place it back in the refrigerator (or even the freezer) for a few minutes. In a bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and salt. Toss in the cold butter squares. Coat the butter with the flour mixture, then start pressing the butter with your fingertips to flatten them out a bit and make smaller pieces. You’re looking for an almost sandy mixture with pea-size pieces of butter. It’s quite fine if there are some bigger, walnut sized pieces of butter.
Then make a well in the center of the bowl and add a little more than half of the ice cold water into the well. Toss the flour/butter mixture from the edges of the bowl towards the center. The goal is to hydrate the flour just until the dough forms. Make another well in the center and add 1 Tablespoon more of water, tossing and coasting. Keep repeating until the dough comes together, being careful not to add too much water. If you weigh your ingredients, you will likely not use the full amount of ice water in the recipe.
Using plastic wrap, bring the dough together into two separate and almost equal portions, Try to get them into a rectangular shape. Wrap the two packages up and place them in the refrigerator for at least a half hour.
2. Make the Apple Filling
I find that 4 pounds (approximately 1.8 kilograms) of apples to be the perfect amount of apples. Let’s be clear — by 4 pounds, I mean 4 pounds of apples that are not peeled and cored. I tend to gather my apples in the grocery store and place them all on a scale in the produce department so I know that I have 4 pounds. Also, I have generally found that 8-9 apples weigh approximately 4 pounds.
OK — the million dollar question: What variety of apples are best? I’m going to answer this question without answering it. Apple taste is very subjective. Some people like tart apples. Some like sweet apples. For me, whenever I make any apple anything, I tend to use a mixture of all kinds of apples. In addition to tart versus sweet, some apples break down faster than others when baked. So, my advice is to use any combination of apples that your heart desires. For the Apple Slab Pie pictured in this post and in the video, I used 4 Honeycrisp, 2 Golden Delicious, 1 Granny Smith and 2 Pink Lady. This combination was a drop on the sweeter side, but, for me, it was perfection.
In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, cornstarch, salt and spices. Peel your apples. Slice them each in half. I recommend working with 4 apples at a time, covering the others with plastic wrap or in an airtight container to prevent them from oxidizing (turning brown). Some people use lemon juice to prevent oxidization. I generally do not use lemon juice because I find that it changes the flavor of the apples, and, frankly, it’s just another fruit to cut and juice! Using a melon baller, core out the apples, and carefully use a paring knife to cut off the ends where there is still peel. (All this is shown in the video on this post.)
Cut the apples into ¼-inch squares (or so). Having smaller pieces of apple will allow you to pack the apples into the bottom crust and for them to fully bake through. More importantly, smaller pieces are more enjoyable to eat in these Apple Squares! Place the apples in a large mixing bowl as you cut them. Pour the sugar mixture over the apples and toss until all the apple pieces are coated.
3. Roll and Fill the Bottom Dough
Remove the larger package of dough from the refrigerator. Lightly flour your work surface, and roll the dough out. Keep moving the dough around to make sure it is not sticking to your work surface. If it is, dust some more flour on the work surface. For the bottom crust, aim for a rectangle that measures approximately 18-inches by 13-inches. That will ensure you have enough dough to go up the sides of the jelly roll pan and have a little overhang. Use your rolling pin to roll the dough a bit around it and lift the dough up. Place it into the jelly roll pan. Press the dough into the pan, especially along the edges. Check out the video to see how to fill in any gaps.
Dump the apple mixture into the prepared jelly roll pan, spreading it evenly. Place the entire pan in the refrigerator.
4. Roll out the Top Dough
Just as you rolled out the bottom dough, roll out the top one. For this one, aim for approximately 16-inches by 11-inches. (The top takes up less surface area than the bottom dough.) You can place it directly on top and join the top dough to the bottom, crimping or just using a fork to press them together.
If I get disrupted or if the top dough has gotten too warm, I place it on a piece of parchment paper and allow it to chill in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes before placing it on top of the pie. If doing this, it is really easy! Just lay the dough on top of the pie with the parchment side on top, so you just peel the parchment off after the dough is in place.
Use a paring knife to cut a bunch of slats into the dough so that steam can vent out as it bakes.
5. Chill the Apple Slab Pie
The colder the dough is when it enters the oven, the better. I like to freeze the entire pie for 15 minutes before baking. Alternatively, refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. Cold pie dough will more likely hold its shape and not shrink as much as room temperature pie dough.
6. Bake and Enjoy
Once chilled, beat 1 egg. Use a pastry brush to egg wash the entire top of the pie. Generously sprinkle the top all over with cinnamon sugar. Bake for 45-50 minutes. The edges should be nicely browned. Allow to cool a bit before cutting it. Allowing it to cool completely to room temperature will make for cleaner slices. Some enjoy Apple Slab Pie warm. I prefer it at room temperature — or even directly from the refrigerator.
As for servings, cut them as big or small as you wish. I tend to cut them from the pan as needed, deciding how big each serving is depending on my mood.
Frequently Asked Questions About Making Apple Slab Pie
What type of apples should I use in Apple Slab Pie?
This is subjective question and depends on whether you like sweet or tart apple filling. I prefer to use a mix of mostly sweet apples with some tart apples thrown in. For example, I used 9 apples in the pictures and video posted here: 4 Honeycrisp, 2 Golden Delicious, 1 Granny Smith and 2 Pink Lady. This combination was a drop on the sweeter side, but, for me, it was perfection.
How much ice water should I use to make the pie dough?
I give a guesstimate of ¾ cup of ice cold water. Depending on the heat and humidity in your kitchen, you may need less than that. Resist the temptation to dump in all of the water at once. Work the water in slowly so you avoid over-hydrating the dough.
Can Apple Slab Pie be made dairy Free?
Yes. The only dairy in this recipe is butter in the dough. You can substitute it with any non-dairy margarine or vegan butter. I find that Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks as well as Miyoko’s Vegan Butter work well.
Can Apple Slab Pie be made vegan?
Yes. Use a vegan butter in the dough. Replace the egg wash with a non-dairy milk. Oat milk or almond milk would be ideal.
Apple Slab Pie a/k/a Apple Squares
- jelly roll pan, 15 inches by 10 inches
- 37 grams sugar (3 Tablepoons)
- 450 grams all purpose flour (3¾ cups)
- 1½ teaspoon fine sea salt (or table salt)
- 340 grams refrigerator cold unsalted butter, cut into ¼ inch pieces* (24 Tablespoons or 1½ cups; Note: If mixing in a food processor, place your cut up butter in the freezer for at least 15 minutes before using)
- ¾ cup ice water** (approximately; will likely be a little less)
- 4 Pounds apples, any variety of baking apples (1.8 kilograms)
- 150 grams sugar (¾ cup)
- 3 Tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon table salt
- 100 grams sugar (½ cup)
- 4 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1 large egg*** (refrigerator cold)
- Dough by hand. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Add all the butter. Using your hands, coat each piece of butter with the flour mixture. Pinch the pieces of butter to flatten them a bit. Keep working the mixture for a couple of minutes until the mixture resembles coarse sand with most of the clumps of butter the size of peas. Make a well in the middle. Add half of the ice cold water. Using your hands, scoop the flour from the sides and the bottoms to hydrate the flour with the water. Repeat, making a well in the middle and adding 1 Tablespoon of ice cold water at a time. You know you are done when the dough is slightly clumpy and becomes smooth when flattened in the palm of your hand. Divide the mixture in two, with one part slightly more than the other. Pour each half onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Push down on the plastic wrap to flatten the dough together into a rectangle. Repeat with the remaining portion of dough. Place the wrapped doughs in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours. Continue with Step 4, below.
- Dough by Food Processor. Combine the flour, sugar and salt and pulse several times. Add all of the frozen butter. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand with most of the clumps of butter the size of peas. Add half of the ice cold water and pulse a few times to combine. If the mixture is too dry, add more of the ice cold water 1 Tablespoon. at a time. You know you are done when the dough is slightly clumpy and when flattened in your palm it is smooth. Divide the mixture in two, with one part slightly more than the other. Pour each onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Push down on the plastic wrap to flatten into a rectangle. Repeat with the remaining portion of dough. Place the wrapped doughs in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours. Continue with Step 4, below.
- Dough by Mixer. In the mixing bowl of an electric mixer, mix the flour, sugar and salt on low with the paddle attachment until fully combined. Add the refrigerator cold butter and mix until the mixture resembles coarse sand with most of the clumps of butter the size of peas. With the mixer on low, slowly add half of the ice cold water. If the mixture is too dry, add 1 Tablespoon of ice cold water at a time. You know you are done when the dough is slightly clumpy and when flattened in your palm it is smooth. Divide the mixture in two, with one part slightly, more than the other. Pour each onto a sheet of plastic wrap. Push down on the plastic wrap to flatten the dough into a rectangle. Repeat with the remaining portion of dough. Place the wrapped doughs in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours. Continue with Step 4, below.
- Remove the larger piece of dough from the refrigerator and lightly flour the countertop and your rolling pin. Place the dough on the lightly floured countertop and lightly flour the top of the dough.
- Roll the dough out so that it is a rectangle, approximately 18 inches by 13 inches. (If the dough cracks when you first start rolling, let it sit on the counter for a couple minutes. It just means the dough is too cold.) Line the jelly roll pan with the dough, pressing the dough into the edges. Place pan in refrigerator or freezer to chill.
- Remove the remaining pie dough from the refrigerator and roll it out into a rectangle, approximately 16 inches by 11 inches. Place on parchment paper and onto a baking sheet. Refrigerate until ready to use. (Alternatively, you can wait to roll out the top dough, keeping it refrigerated, until after the bottom dough is filled with the apples.)
- In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.
- Peel, half and core the apples. Cut them into ¼-inch squares and place them into a large mixing bowl.
- Pour the sugar mixture over the apples. Toss the apples to evenly coat them.
- Preheat oven to 375° F.
- Remove the jelly roll pan with the bottom crust from the freezer or refrigerator. Spread the apple mixture evenly into the prepared pan. If you have not already rolled out the top dough, roll it out now and place on top of slab pie. If you have the top dough rolled out, remove it from the refrigerator and flip it over so the parchment paper is on top. Peel the parchment off. Join the top and bottom dough layers together by pressing them into each other with your fingertips. Crimp or use a fork to press down on the edges. Use a paring knife to cut slits into the top dough to allow steam to escape as the pie bakes. Use a paring knife to trim any excess dough from the edges. Freeze the entire slab pie for 15 minutes, or refrigerate for 30 minutes.
- In a small bowl, mix the sugar with the cinnamon. Set aside.
- Beat the cold egg. With a pastry brush, brush the top of the apple slab pie with the beaten egg. Generously sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top.
- Bake for 45-50 minutes. The edges should be golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack before slicing. (To prevent any juices from falling onto the bottom of your oven, take a large piece of heavy duty foil and fold the edges up. Place the foil on the rack under the slab pie. The foil will catch any juices.)