This vegan apple pie with streusel topping is packed with thinly sliced apples and covered in a cinnamon-spiced layer of big, buttery crumbs. It’s the perfect rustic fruit pie, and it’s surprisingly easy to make.
Yet I often find myself thinking, “I don’t have time to make a pie.”
Is this true? Or have I just created a story in my head about pie being difficult and time-consuming?
In reality, there are actually very few recipes that are so labor-intensive and so difficult that I ought to avoid making them.
Even recipes that require a little more work, like lasagna or Shepherd’s Pie, can be quite manageable with a little planning. Break the process into steps, then execute those steps over the course of a few days.
Boom. An involved recipe becomes a simple one.
Pies and tarts are really no different. Prepare the crust a day or two in advance of making the filling, and you’re already ahead of the game.
Fortunately, this vegan apple pie with streusel topping is especially doable, since you don’t need to make two layers of pastry. A crumbly streusel topping is delightful on top.
My baking obsession this fall has been perfecting vegan streusel.
I wrote about my experimentation and iteration process in the post where I shared my 5-minute vegan streusel topping.
To sum it up, achieving nice, big crumbs in a streusel topping can be tricky, because vegan butter has a different butterfat percentage and melting point than dairy butter.
A few adjustments can help to correct for this. One is finding a good ratio of flour, sugar, and butter. It took me a while, but I found one that resulted in big, crumbly (but not crunchy), crumbs.
Another is using melted butter, rather than solid butter, in the streusel.
I know that most streusel recipes call for solid butter. However, I find that melted butter much more reliably creates distinctive crumbs.
With solid butter, there’s a risk of the butter melting for the first time in the oven and creating a buttery, sugary glaze, rather than actual streusel.
After a lot of tinkering, I made streusel that I love.
I love it so much, in fact, that when I thought about making and sharing an apple pie recipe before the holidays, I knew that I wanted the pie topping to be streusel, rather than a layer of pie crust.
I’m calling this apple pie with streusel topping, but I could very well call it apple crumb pie.
Crumb pie is a pie—usually a fruit pie—that uses crumb or streusel topping, rather than pastry, as a top layer.
You may hear apple crumb pie called Dutch apple pie instead. They mean the same thing: an apple pie with crumbs on top.
It’s also a somewhat lower-intensity pie-making experience than classic pie, with either a lattice or a covered top.
I don’t mind making pie crust, and a top crust certainly doesn’t have to be ornate. But I still find it to be a bit fussier than crumb topping, which is as simple as mixing in a bowl and scattering on top.
If you are someone who finds pie-making a bit scary, then rest assured that it can actually be a lot of fun.
I’ve learned a few things through trial and error. Here are my tips for success with homemade vegan pies:
Time and time again, I’ve found that the amounts called for in pie crust recipes yield too little.
I don’t mean that they aren’t theoretically a perfect amount of crust. They are.
But in reality, I always end up losing some of my crust in the rolling, positioning, and trimming process. If I have some overhang, then I can trim and adjust my crust without worrying about losing a little. I don’t have to busy myself re-rolling scraps.
For a single pie shell, I recommend a crust that uses 1 1/2 cups of flour. It’s a bit more than the standard 1 cup or 1 1/4 cups, but the wiggle room in yield is a relief.
Before you fill your pie with whatever fillings you’ve got, use a fork to prick the surface of your bottom crust.
This is technically known as “docking” the pie crust.
When pie crust bakes, the butter in the crust melts and releases steam. If that steam has no place to go, then it’ll get trapped within the crust and cause the crust to puff up.
When pie crust gets puffy like that, it runs the risk of tearing or splitting. And torn pie crust will result in leaks.
If you prick the pie crust, you give that steam a place to escape through, which in turn helps to keep the pie crust even and intake during baking. It’s especially useful to dock the crust if you’re par-baking.
Ironically, this vegan apple pie recipe does not call for par-baked crust.
However, I want to highlight par-baking as an important and often useful step in making a stellar pie.
If you’ve ever watched an episode of The Great British Bakeoff, then you’ve likely caught on to the fact that a “soggy bottom” is one of the most dreaded scenarios in pie-making.
Soggy bottoms can happen if pie-crust dough is too wet—i.e., too much butter, water, or both—before baking.
It can also happen when juicy fruit fillings soak the bottom crust as its baking. Rather than becoming crisp, the bottom crust remains pale and soft.
Par-baking, which is the process of baking the pie crust for 10-15 minutes before filling it, usually with pie weights, can help to dry out the crust a bit. In some cases, this makes it more sturdy and resistant to becoming soggy as the pie bakes.
I find that par-baking is excellent sometimes and unnecessary at other times. When I tested this vegan apple pie, I tried par-baking it a couple times.
It actually didn’t make a big difference whether I par-baked or not. But par-baking did increase the risk of my crust burning over the course of a long baking time, which is a hazard in the recipe to begin with.
So, I don’t think you have to par-bake for this particular pie; it’s just a helpful technique to be aware of for other recipes, like my classic vegan pumpkin pie.
I’m not saying you should mince your fruit for pie. Biting into a nice, juicy piece of fruit is part of the joy of any fruit dessert, especially a pie.
But if your pieces of fruit are too chunky, then they may not cook down to the point where they’re really juicy and soft.
This is especially true of apple. Leaving apple in pieces that are too big will result in pale, undercooked fruit in your pie.
For my vegan apple pie, I prefer thin slices to chunks. I core and peel my apple, cut it into quarters, then slice those quarters.
I have a stainless steel food slicer that I swear by for this task and many others, but a good paring knife will do the trick.
Thinly sliced apples can be piled into pie crust neatly. They slice through easily when it’s time to cut your pie, and in general, I think they’re just more pleasant to eat than apple chunks.
If you really prefer chopped apples to sliced, then that’s OK. Pie is a rustic dessert, which can be made in many different ways. Everything I’m saying is a suggestion, rather than a rule.
This is also a suggestion, not a rule, but…consider peeling your apples.
Oof. I know. Peeling apples, especially when a dessert calls for a lot of apples, is a serious business.
In fact, peeling the apples may be the most time-consuming step in this recipe.
And, much as I know that the apple skins have lots of fiber and some nutrients, I don’t like their texture in pie.
With those tips stated, here’s how to make the vegan apple pie that I’ve been loving this season.
I use my food processor to make pie crust, but I’ve included instructions for both food processors and hand mixing the crust.
Be sure to use ice-cold water. I like to add a touch of distilled vinegar to the cold water for pie; it helps to create a flakier crust!
Pie crust needs some time to chill before you roll and use it. I recommend wrapping it after making it and chilling it for at least 2 hours in the fridge.
You can keep it in the fridge for up to 2 days, or you can freeze it for up to 4 weeks.
Be sure to roll your pie crust out on a lightly floured, cold, un-sticky work surface.
I aim to roll pie crust that’s about 1/4 inch / 6mm thick and about 12 inches / 30cm in diameter. Once you’ve created this, gently transfer the circle of dough to a pie dish.
Trim and crimp the edges of the crust, then dock the bottom with a fork.
Now, it’s time to chill the crust again. Transfer it back to the fridge and chill it for at least 1 hour before making the pie.
You can also wrap the crust up tightly at this stage and freeze it for up to four weeks—meal prep enthusiasts rejoice!
Once your pie crust is ready to go, then it’s time to preheat your oven, prepare the streusel topping and filling, and assemble your pie.
The streusel is really easy to make. You don’t need to use cold butter, so no need for a pastry cutter or a food processor. I use melted butter and two forks for mixing.
Once the streusel is ready, you can pop it into the fridge while you make the apple filling.
For this apple pie filling, I toss the thinly sliced apples with a bit of cane sugar, cinnamon, flour, and vanilla.
I also like to use lemon juice and zest in my fruit pie fillings, and this recipe is no exception.
I think that lemon is especially important for brightness and acidity in the case of sweeter fillings, like the filling for my cherry pie.
Depending on the apples you use, your filling for this vegan apple pie may be only moderately sweet. Still, lemon will give the filling just a hint of tartness, and I think it’s a great addition.
Note: this pie contains a lot of apples! When you first pile the apples into the crust, it may seem that you have too much fruit.
Trust that there’s actually the right amount of fruit here. The apples will soften and reduce in volume as they cook, so by the time the pie emerges from the oven, everything will be proportionate.
This is the fun part. Use a big spoon to cover those apples evenly with your buttery, sugary streusel topping. Be sure to use all of the crumbs!
The pie will start by baking in a 400°F / 200°C oven for 30 minutes.
During this period, I recommend using a pie crust shield, if you have one. It will prevent the edges of the pie from darkening too quickly.
If you don’t have a pie crust shield, you can always create one using foil.
After 30 minutes of baking, you’ll reduce the oven temperature to 375°F / 190°C. Remove the pie shield and return the pie to the oven for another 20-25 minutes.
When the pie is ready to come out of the oven, the apples will be bubbly and cooked down. The edges of the pie will be a deep golden brown, as will the crumb topping.
As tough as it is to wait, pie needs some resting time before it’s ready to be cut and served. I recommend giving this pie at least 1 hour to cool before slicing. A few hours is ideal.
I use vegan butter in both my streusel and my crust for authenticity of flavor and good results.
Over the years, I’ve experimented with many vegan butter varieties in baking. For this recipe, I’ve had success with pretty much every vegan butter that I’ve tried.
These are my favorites to work with:
In short, use the vegan butter that you can find, and which you prefer.
If you need a substitute, you can use equal amounts of solid coconut oil in the crust and melted coconut oil or avocado oil in the streusel topping.
Granny Smith apples are often said to be the best ones for making pie. I like their texture, but honestly, I sometimes find them to be aggressively tart; at other times, I don’t really think they have much flavor.
Instead, I really like Braeburn, Jonagold, Pink Lady, and Honeycrisp apples. Golden Delicious apples can be nice in baking, too.
While there are scientific reasons why some apples work better for pie than others, this is to some extent a question of preference. You can use the apples that you have and love.
You’ll see both cane and light brown sugars in this recipe. Cane sugar is for the filling, light brown sugar for the streusel.
They have some slight differences—brown sugar has more moisture than cane. But you can one or the other for all components in this recipe, depending on what you have.
If you like a less refined sugar, coconut sugar will work in the vegan apple pie recipe, too.
For best results, I recommend using unbleached, all-purpose flour for the pie crust, filling, and streusel.
Whole grain flour can be a little too grainy and dry for delicate and precise results with baking. If using a whole grain flour is your preference, then I recommend whole wheat pastry flour.
And, if you need to make the vegan apple pie gluten-free, then you can use a reliable, all-purpose gluten-free flour blend. My go-to is the Measure for Measure flour from the King Arthur Baking Company.
Embrace the joy of eating homemade food every day with the hearty and wholesome recipes in The Vegan Week.
For the fellow meal prep enthusiasts who are reading, this pie is very easy to make in stages.
The streusel can also be stored for up to three days in an airtight container in the fridge or frozen for up to six weeks.
The pie crust can be wrapped before or after rolling and shaping and stored in the fridge or frozen.
The only thing that really needs to be done right before baking is mixing the apple filling.
So, if you’re preparing big meals for holiday celebrations, then it will be easy to fit this vegan apple pie into your overall workflow. I always make mine over the course of a few days.
I’m very traditional when it comes to apple pie, and most pie. A scoop of vegan vanilla ice cream is almost always my accompaniment of choice.
I love them both. Both would be delicious with a slice of this juicy, sweet, buttery, classic vegan apple pie.
Here’s the thing about pie: for every bit of loving effort it takes to make a pie, there will be double or triple the amount of comfort and happiness in eating it.
Pie is one of those rare holiday desserts that’s cozy and comforting while also feeling festive and elegant. I hope you’ll love this vegan apple crumb pie, too!