I entered my first Los Angeles pie contest in 2013. There were hundreds of bakers with hundreds of pies in tow—it was truly a sight to behold.
The fun thing about this particular contest (KCRW’s Good Food Pie Contest) is one pie goes to the judges while bakers serve a second pie to the public in a festive outdoor event, complete with music and food trucks. In a game of random chance, I was lucky enough to be stationed next to the eventual best-in-show winner, Sharon Graves.
Thanks to my proximity, I tasted Sharon’s apple pie. It was, in fact, a perfect apple pie. I asked about her recipe, and soon after her name was called not once, but three times (for best fruit pie, best crust, and best in show). I’ve used her award-winning apple pie tips ever since.
Beyond making your own crust and using great apples, one of Sharon’s tips stuck out to me: put a little sour cream in the apple pie filling. It makes a noticeable difference, adding delightful flavor and texture to the finished pie.
Why You Should Add Sour Cream to Your Apple Pie Filling
Don’t confuse this with a true sour cream apple pie, a Pennsylvania Dutch classic that combines a sour cream-based custard with apples and a crumble top. That’s a delicious dessert, but a totally different pie.
We’re talking classic apple pie, specifically the double-crust kind. Most apple pie fillings are simply composed of fruit, spices, sugar, and flour or cornstarch. Maybe a little butter. While it’s true that good apples don’t need much help, something special happens when you add sour cream.
A few dollops of full-fat sour cream adds an extra bit of tartness while lending the filling a tiny bit of creaminess that only dairy can provide. No one will know there’s sour cream in there, but it helps the apple flavor sing.
How To Add Sour Cream to Apple Pie
Add about 1/3 cup sour cream to the apple pie filling along with the sugar and spices. Toss well to combine and coat the apple slices. If you are cooking your pie filling on the stove before baking, I recommend letting the filling cool to room temperature before stirring in the sour cream.
This is a rough guide, and you can play around with the amount of sour cream to suit your tastes. Don’t add too much—it will throw off the ratio of thickener in your filling.
More Tips for a Superior Apple Pie
- Make your own crust! A homemade buttery crust beats a store-bought one any day. Lean into the sour cream theme and make our sour cream pie crust—it’s easier to mix up and roll out than typical crusts, while still being super flaky and buttery.
- Choose your apples wisely. Sturdy apples with good flavor and a bit of tartness are the best. Sharon used local golden delicious apples—always a good choice for pie.
- Bake it until it’s done. I think one of the most common mistakes with fruit pies is underbaking. Apple pies take a long time to cook. The crust should be golden brown on the top and bottom, the filling should be bubbling, and the apples should be knife-tender.
By the way, I did win the blue ribbon for my pie category that day (I made a nectarine and berry pie based on the Matisse ceramic “La Gerbe”), and I’ve been chasing that high ever since.