Taste Test: Frozen Apple Pies
The Winners!Best Lattice Topping Pie: Marie Callenders
Best Double Crust Pie: Vermont Mystic
As we said in our pumpkin pie taste-test, we're not big on endorsing frozen pies. The insta-pie just typically taste wrong and sad, but we realize how crazy the holidays get so we ventured into the freezer section to see if any decent frozen apple pies existed. Could they taste homemade? At all? Or more like a McDonald's apple pie pocket, which, for the record, we all need sometimes.
For those of you who missed this tasting from last year, here's a summary of the results. We tried six brands: three of the classics (Marie Callenders, Sara Lee, and Mrs. Smith's) and three less processed, more "all natural" pies (Vermont Mystic, Amy's, and Wholly Wholesome). Many scoops of vanilla ice cream later, we found two winners.
- Filling: Discernible apple chunks, not just a uniform apple jelly-goo. Sweet but tart and fresh-tasting, balanced with cinnamon and other spices.
- Crust: Tender and flaky, not tough and cardboardy. It should have the rich, slightly sweet aroma of real butter with a hint of salt; not artificial-tasting.
Why the Losers Lost
Gummy and doughy crusts, or dry whole-wheat crusts that tasted like no fat product was used. Fillings should not be ooey-gooey-glooptastic. Many of them, unfortunately, were. We try to offer a runner-up in all of our taste tests, but in this one, just couldn't. These were the only two brands we could confidently recommend.
Lattice Topping Winner: Marie Callenders
If you're on the west coast, you can pick up a Marie Callenders pie fresh from one of her chain restaurant locations, but for the rest of the country, Marie has made an oven-ready frozen version. We tried the Marie Callenders Lattice Apple Pie ($6.79)*. Though a little sweeter than we like our pies to be, man, it sure was good. We're almost even willing to say it tasted homemade, though the slight jelly-goo filling, a common frozen pie offense, gave it away. Well-spiced with a nicely browned, crumbly crust, this was everyone's favorite of the six. And those cinnamon specks on the box's photo? Those were no joke. You could still taste the apples underneath, but cinnamon haters might not appreciate the cinna-burst.
* We also tried Marie's pumpkin pie for our pumpkin pie tasting, but weren't very impressed.
Double Crust Winner: Vermont Mystic
You already have a good feeling about Vermont Mystic ($11.99) judging by the box's lovely illustrations of barnyards and apple trees. Some of Vermont's best pastry chefs perfected the recipe for this (which we purchased at Whole Foods) using King Arthur flour, Cabot Creamery butter, and other ingredients you can actually pronounce.
They get points for figuring out how to make a frozen pie without the gloopy texture. The apple chunks were crispy, tart, spritzed with lemon juice, and actually tasted like apples. That came from trees! The box says they're a blend of Empire, Cortland, and Northern Spy apples (how often do you actually know what kind of apples are in your frozen pie?). The crust was flaky, buttery, and held its shape when sliced.