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October 3, 2008

Brown Bagging Your Pie
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 06:54 PM * 43 comments

What delicious New England treat shall we discuss today? The famous Brown Bag Apple Pie!

You know about tin foil dinners, and dinners cooked in parchment pouches, and suchlike good things—more a steaming process than anything else.

You can do the same with apple pie. The trick is to slide the pie into a large brown-paper bag (your basic grocery-store bag), fold over the end until it’s tight (paper clips and staples are allowed), then bake it on a cookie sheet at 350-400 degrees F for a about an hour.

Herewith, a recipe:

Brown Bag Apple Pie

Take a metal pie plate (if you’re using disposable aluminum pie plates, use two). Put in a layer of your favorite pie crust. Slice up Apples Sufficient to Fill the Pie Plate. (Depending on size of apple, six to eight will probably do the trick.) Mix the apples with 1/4 cup of brown sugar, 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, a half teaspoon of nutmeg, a quarter teaspoon of ground cloves, and a teaspoon of cinnamon. If you used red apples add a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice. Mix the sugar and spices and apples and put them into the pie shell.

Make a topping from 1/2 cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup flour, and 1/4 cup butter. Blend with a pastry cutter until it’s coarse-meal textured. Put on top of the pie.

Slide the pie into a large paper bag. Fold over the end. Put the pie onto a cookie sheet, and put it on the hearth. Or put it over a charcoal grill for the same time.

Remove from heat, cool until warm (rather than Scalding Hot) and serve with ice cream and/or cheddar cheese.


Brown Bag Apple Pie from Filling is just apples, 2 Tbsp of flour, and a half-teaspoon of cinnamon. Crumb top.

Brown-Bag Apple Pie from Leite’s Culinaria. Filling is apples, flour, spices, and lemon juice. Includes an unusual and dramatic way to present the pie.

Apple Pie Baked in a Bag from the Food Network: Uses a top crust rather than a crumb topping. Includes instructions on browning the top.

Jake’s Grandmother’s Brown Bag Apple Pie from the Christmas Place Blog: Uses apples with skins and all. Apple slices are tossed with sugar-and-spice mix.

Brown Bag Apple Pie from Filling includes a quarter-cup of Half-and-Half.

[Recipe Index]

Comments on Brown Bagging Your Pie:
#1 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 07:32 PM:

I'll have to try it. Does it brown well?

#2 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 07:43 PM:

Aside from the novelty of baking a pie in a bag, how does this differ from a regular pie? Different taste? texture? easier to bake/clean up?

#3 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 07:45 PM:

While it's not quite apple pie, I have to agree that fruitcake, cheddar and scotch go very nicely together, and suspect that apple pie would be an acceptable substitute for fruitcake.

#4 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 07:54 PM:

I have a recipe for this from my mother. She was born and raised in Virginia, but I think some of her Scotch-Irish ancestors stopped off in New England on their way south, so perhaps they got the recipe there. I'd never run into anyone else who'd heard of it. You've given me a hankering for it; I may have to bake one over the weekend.

It browns nicely. I'm not sure what the paper bag does for it - maybe keeps in some moisture? I've always used a Pyrex pieplate and had it work fine; I'm not sure why metal is specified.

My mother used to close the paper bag with paper clips. Should you choose to do this, I will suggest using caution when you remove the clips after baking, because you really, really don't want to slide a hot paper clip up under your fingernail.

#5 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 08:03 PM:

One difference is that you can bake your pie over a charcoal grill or in your fireplace.

#6 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 08:58 PM:

I would use less sugar in the filling, especially since there's even more sugar in the topping. But why the bag? To keep the topping from burning? It's not the cooking time, because 60 minutes is plenty time. I wonder. I have yankee forebears, but this is not anything I've heard of.

My dad did some amazing cooking on backpacking trips, including making apple pie on a kerosene backpacking stove. The filling was dehydrated apples, soaked to plump them up. The crust was from a box. The pie was made in a bundt pan with a flame spreader below to direct the heat to the pan, and a lid on top to keep the heat in. It was quite a production. Usually the bundt pan was for baking cornbread, gingerbread, or pound cake; all easy mixes. Also, it's not that hard to make a cheesecake if you have access to a snowbank where it can set. It's just a cream cheese pudding mix that goes in a graham cracker crust. He made one for my sister's birthday at 9,000 feet. They were so tired they could eat only half of it. In the morning they woke up and the pan was licked clean, with bear tracks around it. Fortunately the bear did not step on anyone in the party.

#7 ::: Larry Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 08:58 PM:

1/2 tsp of nutmeg seems like a lot if it's freshly grated - is this recipe calibrated for fresh, or pre-ground? One thing I like to do with apple pie, especialy if sweeter apples are used, is to toss in a splash (about 1/4 tsp) of vanilla extract.

#8 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 09:04 PM:

Larry Brennan: My secret apple pie ingredient is a tablespoon of Marsala. It's not as concentrated as vanilla or almond extract, and it adds a nice nutty flavor.

#9 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2008, 02:02 AM:

The moisture will vary from apples to apples, and you can end up with a soggy crust and slices that collapse into soup. You also get that top crust that's puffed up over a hollow space where the shrinking apples used to be. The trick I've learned is to pre-cook the apples.
Get your apples sliced, drizzling with lemon juice as you go. Melt an ounce of butter, add the apples and saute until warm, then add about 1/2 cup of sugar (you can adjust based on the sweetness of the apples). Cook until the apples are the firmness you want. Between the heat and the sugar, they'll release a lot of moisture. Mix an ounce of cornstarch in about 3 ounces of water (depends on how moist your apples are looking), and some vanilla. Add the cornstarch-water mixture to the apples, and stir while heating to a boil. When the cornstarch has thickened, remove from heat and add cinnamon, a pinch of salt -- raisins if you'd like. Cool in the fridge.
When the crust is in the pie plate, spoon in the apple mixture, top with another crust or a crumb topping, and bake for more than half an hour. I like a pyrex pie plate, and put it on the bottom rack of the oven as the bottom crust is what cooks the slowest. I'll peek at the bottom of the crust to make sure it's done. Brush the top crust with milk and sprinkle it liberally with sugar -- gets nice and brown and shiny.
And, of course, the crust must be made with butter because pie crust made from shortening tastes like cardboard, right? ;^)

#10 ::: Deb Geisler ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2008, 02:36 AM:

I'm very troubled. It is 2:35 in the morning, everyone else in the house is asleep, and I was actually considering making this pie *right now* 'cuz it sounded so good.

#11 ::: VictorS ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2008, 03:21 AM:

Deb -- that would lead perfectly into another New England tradition: fruit pie for breakfast. Go for it.

#12 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2008, 05:03 AM:

#2 and #5 : um, if you bake your pie in a brown bag over a charcoal grill or in a fireplace, doesn't the bag catch fire?

Is there an essential brownbagness to the pie, such that it'd be different if you baked it in a container (a casserole, say) or in tinfoil?

Did Our Ancestors have brown bags?

#13 ::: Jean ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2008, 06:09 AM:

...serve with ice cream and/or cheddar cheese.


#14 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2008, 06:28 AM:


Also, Pepper, Adam, and Brian.

Although Adam is the one to watch...

Even if Aziraphale and Crowley don't know it yet...

#15 ::: Lindra ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2008, 08:39 AM:

@ 13/14 -- This makes me wonder if there is such a thing as moon(child) pie made with apples.

#16 ::: Lindra ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2008, 04:27 AM:

Damn, I killed the thread.

To echo John Stanning at @12 -- what is the purpose of the bag? Does it make it taste better/different? Or something that falls under 'this is the way we do it around here'?

The concept of brown-bagging apple pie feels vaguely heretical, actually. It's pie.

#17 ::: joel hanes ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2008, 02:27 PM:

A brown-bag pie is kinda pointless in an oven,
but briliant over a fire or on a camping stove,
where the bag acts as an oven.

The cookie sheet is essential; it keeps the
bag from catching fire, and does the first bit
of heat spreading, The metal pie-pan does the
second bit of heat-spreading -- also, pyrex
pie-pans are contraindicated for camping because
of weight and fragility.

#18 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2008, 02:52 PM:

Since my mother was fond of baking the holiday turkey in a brown bag, I'm sure she'd have been game to try brown-bag apple pie. But she always made hers with Gravensteins, and even by the time she passed away (1992), that variety had for years been almost impossible to find in L.A. stores.

Which, come to think of it, may explain why she gave up making apple pies long before she stopped bothering with pie-making in general.

#19 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2008, 04:45 PM:

Lindra at #16: Thank you. I was worried that it had been me who killed the thread.

joel at #17: That makes me want to try it. There are light camping ovens but a paper bag is lighter and less bulky. Also, when you are done with it, it can be disposed of in the fire. Carrying a cookie sheet is not a big deal; they are a versatile alternative to a frying pan. I used to go on a lot of hikes with an old guy whose kitchen gear was a cookie sheet, a small cooling rack, and one pot. He always said he was trying to amortize his camping equipment expenses down to ten cents a night. What with inflation I don't think that was feasible, but he spent a lot of nights in the mountains and he might have gotten it down around a quarter. He also said that a day spent in the mountains does not count against one's allotted span. Seems to have been true in his case.

Syd at #18: Gravensteins are available in Northern California, but only for a short time each year. They really are wonderful for pie, and apple sauce too. Cooking brings out rich flavors that make other apples seem one-dimensional. It seems like most recipes these days recommend Granny Smiths, I guess because they are tart and widely available. They are a good standard choice, but there's a renaissance in apple varieties, and it's fun to try different ones and see how they cook up. Any pie made with fresh apples is going to be good.

#20 ::: Matt Jarpe ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2008, 09:08 PM:

I made this pie tonight with fresh picked Cortlands. Not bad, but I felt compelled to pull it out of the bag for the last ten minutes to get it browned. And it ended up a little runny, but I imagine that's a side effect of the wet summer we had. The apples are great for eating but maybe janetl's trick is what's wanted.

#21 ::: Don Fitch ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2008, 11:29 PM:

The mention of doing this on a charcoal grill leads me to want to try it in a Dutch Oven on the stove-top (my stove's oven died several years ago), although a cobbler would be easier and more certain (it's been at least a half-century since my last pie-crust making). Or Apple Stew with Dumplings (the same sweetened Bisquik mix that's the only proper foundation for strawberry shortcake).

Your timing was excellent -- that post arrived on our first Winter day in this part of Southern California (chilly, with rain), though I settled for making-do with ingredients at hand and cooked a kettle of my Special Chili (which some people have been known to call "lightly-flavored beans").

#22 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2008, 11:47 PM:

Oh, man. The latest issue of Cook's Illustrated has a recipe for pumpkin pie that also does the "precook the filling trick". Like all CI recipes, it sounds fabulous, and my past experience is that they are highly reliable. However...
Note to self #1: You're a failure at the cosmetics of pie crusts. Just hold the thought "but their buttery flavor is great" and try to see past the horror.
Note to self #2: When a recipe reads "put the yams and pumpkin puree in a saucepan and heat to a sputtery boil, and then stir continuously until reduced, about 7 minutes" those minutes are going to involve being sputtered upon. It didn't actually burn as it hit, but it was pretty darn unpleasant. And when the recipe then calls for straining the cooked mixture through a fine mesh "pushing with a spoon" it ain't going to just drip through, you're going to be standing there (dripping yam puree) mooshing. For awhile.
Note to self #3: Judging by the taste of the extra filling, this pie is going to taste incredible. The eaters will (probably) ignore the appalling pie crust edge, and snarf it down. And beg you to make it again. DO NOT.
Perhaps I should take a picture of the yam-spattered kitchen and staple it to the recipe? On the bright side, I'm wearing my dark brown Obama t-shirt, so the orangish-brown puree spattered all of it probably won't stain.

#23 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 01:45 AM:

I've reserved a cabin at Tolovana Hot Springs again, so I always like recipes that I can cook on or in a wood stove. Last winter I wrapped apples halves in foil with raisins and spices and baked them in the coals of the stove. Yummm. Thanks for provoking the grey matter into thinking about these things ahead of time.

#24 ::: cgeye ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 02:44 AM:

Roasting bags: Squid and nectarine parcel recipe
This easy to make meal-in-one combines tender baby squid tubes and nectarine halves smothered in lemon grass butter - a messless and tasty meal.

you're welcome.

#25 ::: celuran ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 05:46 AM:

janetl, 22: It doesn't help with the other problems, but can you throw the mix in the food processor rather than squishing it through a sieve?
Wait, I probably shouldn't be trying to help. Don't make it again. It's not that tasty.

#26 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 11:18 AM:

celuran at #25: I don't know about you, but when I put semi-liquids into the food processor, they overflow where the motor shaft comes in, and get all over the motor unit and the counter. Or at least they did once. I'm hesitant to repeat the experiment.

#27 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 02:51 PM:

TomB: Put less liquid in the machine.

#28 ::: Sarah S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 03:08 PM:

#22 janet

Try a bigger pan. Less sputter.

We picked apples this weekend with the kids. I've made one batch of crockpot apple butter, am currently cooking a batch of pumpking butter, and will probably (if the breakfast eaters this morning have their say) will be making another batch of apple butter tomorrow.

And we sliced, spiced, and froze 5 pies worth of apples last night.

And I still have apples enough for much applesauce and eating out of hand...or out of hand eating.

#29 ::: Sarah S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 03:15 PM:


There's also the immersion blender option...aka "blender on a stick."

#30 ::: Shem ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 06:02 PM:

Just essayed it. Unfortunately, the result was black and soupy and quite inedible. Perhaps because I used a glass pie pan, or perhaps my oven runs a bit hot.

#31 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 08:41 PM:

Terry Karney at #27: Well, I know that now. The food processor container is 4.25" deep, but the critical part is the hole in the center, which is raised only 1.5". That's the overflow point.

I don't think I have the patience for doing 4 batches instead of 1. I'd rather use a blender, or throw it in a big bowl and go at it with a whisk and wear my wrist out. Or better yet, learn to enjoy chunky food. Why turn perfectly good yams into soup when what you want is a pie?

Sarah S. at #29: Oh no! More kitchen gadgets. If I keep going on like this, I will turn into my father. Actually, I have an ordinary blender, but the key to using the right tool for the job is first understanding not to use the wrong one.

#32 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 09:53 PM:

janetl: My family had a ricer; we used it mostly for making applesauce (assorted trees on our country acres tending to drop fruit as soon as it was edible), but I would think it would work better than trying to force through a sieve. \Somebody/ should still be selling ricers....

#33 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 10:30 PM:

CHip at #32: A ricer! Of course! I even have one on very high shelf that I always forget about.

Sarah S at #28: Good suggestion on the larger pan, but it was already about as big as it could be while allowing me to stir continuously. Judging by the splashes that I wiped off of cupboards above my head, mere height wouldn't be enough.

And, dammit, the resulting pie was delicious. Velvety smooth pumpkin custard with a hint of maple syrup in the sweetness, and the clear zing of fresh ginger. One person at work said it reminded him of creme brule. And it sliced beautifully -- no oozing, and no soggy bottom crust. Cook's Illustrated's recipes really are reliable.
This production was a "test bake" to see if I'd volunteer to provide pies at Thanksgiving. I think I'll come up with something easier!

#34 ::: Betsey Langan ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2008, 02:21 AM:

Janetl: Do you think it would still cook OK if you put a spatter guard over the mouth of the saucepan? Spatter guard: looks like a tennis racket strung with a screen door. Ah, Here's an example. And yeah, I'd suggest either a ricer, a food mill, or a blender-onna-stick (aka a Boat Motor) rather than trying the food processor again. Or just live with the lumps :)

#35 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2008, 01:13 PM:

pyrex pie-pans are contraindicated for camping because of weight and fragility.

Ah. This wouldn't have mattered to my mother, who always used the pyrex pie plate, because she would never have chosen to go camping (though she did a few heroic weekends as a Girl Scout leader).

#36 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2008, 02:23 PM:


Sam's rule of sieves:

In ascending order:
Push through a sieve with a spoon
Put through a chinese hat
Put through a food mill/ricer
Put through a Victorio strainer

At each step, the equipment is larger and takes longer to clean, but the throughput goes up.

I love my Victorio strainer; you can process a gallon of puree (applesauce from uncored, unpeeled apples; tomato sauce; pumpkin puree) in about 10 minutes. Setup/cleanup takes 15 minutes or so.

#37 ::: Strata Rose Chalup ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2008, 12:00 PM:

@9 (and others) wrt soupy or liquidy pies. Firstly, do you vent your pies? Generous venting really helps apple pies, I've found, as they do steam a lot. The usual tiny slits don't really work well with some of the juicier apples. I cut some small crescents, or, if feeling inspired, use my teensy leaf-n-acorn cookie cutters to cut vents.

Secondly, lattice top may be yr friend.

In downtown MV last night, unexpectedly found a crowd in the bookstore listening to one of the America's Chefs/Cooks Illustrated folks doing a reading. Can't get to the new SF, piffle!

Browsing one of the cookbooks near the door, I found some info on lattice-top pies. Apparently a lattice-top on a pie exists to solve just that problem, by letting the juices evaporate and reduce within the pie. Especially helpful for stone-fruit pies like apricot, peach, and cherry. I always just thought they were decorative.

Now I'm inspired to try making a lattice-top pie. Hmm, using my bigger leaf-n-acorn cookie cutters to make a pseudo leafy lattice could work, and be less work than the painstaking weavy stuff. More forgiving of flaws, um, I mean, "handcrafted artisan pie" marks.

While we were on our sabbatical in the RV, I made deep-dish apple pies in the toaster oven in a meatloaf pan. This one was delicious, even tho the crust got slightly burnt (not inedibly so); of course I'll include the recipe.

Link followers may comment on the blasphemy of store-bought premade pie crust. In this land of Minimal CounterSpace, it is a heresy we practice so that We May Haz Pie. I did grow up doing it right, with the chopping up of little pea-size bits of butter and hand rubbing flour to the beach sand texture and all that. Which may be part of why I use the shortcuts now. ;-)

#38 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2008, 01:07 PM:

Even Cooks Illustrated admits that the storebought piecrusts (the ones you unroll to put in the pan) are Good Enough for most pies.

#39 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2008, 04:55 PM:

PJ Evans #38:

I presume, however, that they do save their ire for the storebought sort already arrayed in a cheap little alumin(i)um crimped pan? (I'm about to give up on them entirely; my quiches have been falling apart.)

#40 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: October 18, 2008, 05:57 PM:

You want to let off steam? Behold; the Pie Vent! (aka pie funnel or pie chimney) Still available at your local supplier, in ceramic, glass or metal — these days maybe silicone or heatproof plastics.

#41 ::: Matt Jarpe ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 01:56 PM:

I made three of these pies this weekend with the cub scouts. Left them on the charcoal for one hour, still raw. Moved them to the gas stove in the face of a full on pie riot (I brought s'mores, go eat the s'mores and let me cook) and let them go another hour. Result: burned on the bottom, raw on the top. Oh yeah, we're camping now!

Actually, I thought they were not bad, but I like burnt sugar. I'm sorry, carmelized, which is fancy-burnt.

#42 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: November 10, 2008, 03:33 PM:

Epacris @40 - I actually won a pie vent from a blogger's contest last summer. The blogger, and the pie vent, are both Australian. I can't bear to actually use it in a pie, though; it sits next to another item decorated with cockatoos.

#43 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2011, 10:51 PM:

It is now July, and June apples are in season. They make the very best apple pies, and we had one on Sunday, and it was worth waiting all year for.

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