my submission for Pi day: the apple Pi.

I think it’s safe to say this may be the geekiest baking project I’ve done to date. And that’s saying something, as I am prone to geeking out in the kitchen a wee little bit. I mean, it’s a pie made entirely of apple numbers. And then topped with more numbers, this time of the crust variety. Oh, and not only numbers, you see, but the numbers of that beloved symbol of Nerdland (and I mean that in a good way), Pi. That’s right people: I am entering the Pi Pie Day Competition 2012, and this work of utter nonsense art is my humble submission. You get first peep.

What a major motion picture production this thing was, although I should say I really expected it to take longer than it actually did. I’ve never even been that great at peeling and coring, much less cutting out shapes from apple slices, so I prepared for the worst. I bought about 6 million apples, just in case. I had lemons and 7Up on standby (my mom’s secret for keeping apples from going brown) and I had the sugar/spice filling mixed. Because apples can be so supremely fussy (and I know this from making a strudel a while ago) that once you start peeling, you can’t stop until the pie is like, in the oven.

So: If you would like to be amazingly nerdy and attempt this pie, I’m going to dispense with the storytelling and skip right to the tips and suggestions. If you want to make a normal apple pie, this is a great recipe. It’s a sturdy, straightforward, classic pie with a simple filling. Super-delicious.

Pi Pie: Tips + Suggestions.

1. The assembly line method is the way to go. I feel strongly that doing tasks this way makes things go faster because it allows you to get in a little zone with whatever it is you’re doing. Don’t try to peel a few apples, then stop and do coring, or take a little break to cut a few out. Do all the peeling, then all the coring, etc. You may start off slow, but you’ll be processing those apples faster than a Martha Stewart intern in no time.

2. Just say no to brown apples. I already gave you the first tip, really, but make sure you’re prepared to house your number cutouts in a shallow baking dish and in a pool of lemon lime soda and some lemon juice. The soda keeps it from getting to lemony, and the juice does the heavy lifting. Don’t douse them…think rain puddle. I sprayed mine with the occasional spritz of lemon juice so I didn’t have to jostle them.

3. Use cheap plastic cookie cutters. Do you know where these numbers came from? Some big box of assorted plastic cutters I purchased from target maybe a year ago. One of my most valuable cheap purchases to date; anytime I need a random shape or thing, it’s magically in there. And they worked great for cutting through the apples. If you have metal ones, that probably works well too.

4. Don’t toss those numbers. Seriously, unless you want to undo the hard work you’ve done, you won’t just shovel them around in the brown sugar/cinnamon filling with a spoon. As they were already laying in my baking dish, I carefully drained out the excess soda/lemon liquid and poured in my filling mix. Then, working slowly, I used my hands to basically massage the filling into and on top of the numbers. You just want to evenly distribute the filling throughout.

5. Store-bought pie crusts are your best friends. Before you even think to ask, no: that is absolutely not even close to being a scratch pie crust. Thank you for thinking I’m that patient and could take the time to fool with a scratch pie crust while cutting apple numbers, but let’s get real. That is a perfectly lovely, no-roll, no-mess, no-floury surface, store-bought pie crust. If I were making a normal pie, I would have tried the scratch crust. This is not that pie. Besides, I used two whole crusts for the top and bottom of the pie, plus one additional crust for the cutout numbers on top. Buy two boxes and you’ll be left with one extra you can use later.

6. Butter spreaders are fantastic all-purpose tools. See that there? That’s one of my many butter spreaders. This one, in particular, is a raisin toast variety. You do not need to use a raisin toast spreader, but you should buy these things when you see them; they come in handy for everything from picking the little apple bits that get stuck in your cutters to loosening the crust numbers off your cutting surface.

7. Work slowly and gently. When you’re ready to fill the pie, gently slide the numbers from the baking dish into the pie. Cover the pie, do your cutout crust numbers, and gently place them on the top. When it’s time for the egg wash, take your fingers and gently press down on the numbers you’re washing to hold them in place while you brush over them. Just don’t rush it. by now, you’ve put in far too much work to ruin it by speeding along. Your oven will wait.

8. Make pie hats. As you can see, mine got a little dark around a part of the edge there. I think my pie hat was off-kilter a bit. But the rest of my pie emerged unburned and nicely golden, which is a direct result of the pie hat I fashioned from aluminium foil. To make, just take a few short pieces of foil and shape them so it makes a circle big enough to cover the edges. After about 20 minutes in there, you’ll want to watch your pie, adding the pie hat when necessary. I had an additional flat piece of foil handy in case the top started to get too brown before the insides were bubbly.

And there you have it; The Pi Pie Instruction Manual. Is it ridiculous? Yes. Is it a little fun? Yes. Would I do it again? Perhaps; I like the idea of cutting apples into shapes, and it’s not hard, so I would consider doing maybe a lattice pie so you could see the filling. Or a crumble. Maybe even use letters, or different cutters small enough to fit the apple slices. We’ll see.

So let’s all cross our fingers and maybe I’ll be a finalist. Maybe I’ll even win. Honestly, even if I don’t get either, I had a great time. And, hey, I’ve got a pie sitting in my kitchen for no reason.

Adapted from Williams Sonoma’s Essentials of Baking: Recipes and Techniques for Successful Home Baking.

Apple Pi Pie (or just Apple Pie.)

for the base/top:

  • 2 ready-made pie crusts (or 3, if you’re doing the number thing/want any sort of decorations

for the insides (please see note below):

  • 6 apples (about 2 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

for the top of the crust:

  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Note: If you are making the pi pie shown above, I want you to double everything listed under the “for the insides” section. You need twice the apples because the cutout apples don’t yield as much as a regular slice-and-dice would. You need twice the filling because you have to be gentle, and gentle involves you making double the amount of filling and then pouring it on in sections, as needed, until it is mixed. You’ll have some left over, and that’s ok.

Remember: if you’re doing the Pi pie, please look at my tips above, because the recipe gets too confusing if i go back and forth about the tips for regular versus pi version. Or if you have a specific question i didn’t answer above, please don’t hesitate to post your question and i’ll be happy to answer it.

it’s time for pie:

to make the filling, peel, halve, and core the apples, then slice the apples 1/4 inch thick. In a large bowl, combine the apples, lemon juice, melted butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Using a large spoon, stir until blended. Set the filling aside.

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven, and preheat to 400˚F.

Roll out the 2 crusts (and by “roll,” I mean unroll them from their packages) and line a 9-inch pie pan with the bottom crust, pressing firmly so crust is smooth against your pan. Stir the apple mixture again to get the juices incorporated, spoon it gently into the crust, and smooth the apples into an even layer. Position the top crust over the filling and trim and flute the edges. I did a simple edge; you do it how you wish.

Mix your beaten egg with your heavy cream and whip together until incorporated. Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the pie with the egg mixture, being careful not to brush the edges. You won’t need nearly all of the egg mixture, so don’t feel bad if you have some left over. Mix together the cinnamon and sugar and sprinkle over the top. Cut 3-4 steam vents in the top of the crust.

Bake the pie for 15 minutes (did you position your rack to the lower third of the oven? Hope so. If you didn’t, do it before the pie gets in there). When your 15 minutes has passed, reduce the temperature of your oven to 350˚F and bake until the top crust is lightly browned, the apple filling is bubbling, and the apples ar tender when tested through the slit in the crust with a toothpick, about 40-45 minutes.

Note: about 20 or so minutes into baking, remember your pie hat for the edges. You are most likely going to need to cover your edges to prevent them from burning, and anytime after around 20 minutes is when it will begin to happen. be ready with aluminium foil to cover those edges.

Remove from over and transfer to a wire rack to cool for about 20 minutes. Serve warm, or let cool completely and serve at room temperature. Store at room temperature for up to 2 days. That is what the book says. I see nothing wrong with covering it and sticking it in the fridge to prolong its life.

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  • Reply Danna March 5, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    I am really and truly impressed. (I am a little afraid to make the next observation, but if I were you I would want someone to point it out to me) Pi = 3.14159, not 3.1414159. Does not detract a bit from its awesomeness. Enjoy eating it.

    I’m off to make a cranberry cheesecake…

    • Reply shannon March 5, 2012 at 4:34 pm

      oh no! somehow i need to fix this…thank you for pointing it out! i suppose it’s a good testament to how probably delirious i was in the midst of making it. I know exactly why this happened, now that i look at my number source.
      and cranberry cheesecake! yum…two of my favorite things.

  • Reply movita beaucoup March 6, 2012 at 8:38 am

    This is probably the most awesome thing I have ever seen on the interweb. EVER.

    • Reply shannon March 6, 2012 at 1:46 pm

      huge. compliment. whoa. i am super-flattered.
      after my almost-meltdown last night over my critical error and subsequent re-making of the pi pie, i’m happy to say i still am glad i did it. those numbers were too much fun. i feel like you just a bit, too…i’m in it for the glory, but also for an iPad 2. 🙂 iThings…you can’t help but want them, right?

  • Reply leaf (the indolent cook) March 6, 2012 at 8:48 am

    This is ridiculously fabulous and adorably geeky. Good luck with the competition!!

    • Reply shannon March 6, 2012 at 1:43 pm

      thank you! “ridiculously fabulous and adorably geeky” is exactly what I was going for with this funny little pie. I had a blast doing it.

  • Reply regan March 6, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Oh wow. Pure awe.

    • Reply shannon March 6, 2012 at 1:38 pm

      thank you so much!

  • Reply Brianne March 6, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    Oh heavens, this is insanely creative! A whole pi(e) filled with numbers?!? I dig it. You better win….I don’t know how anyone could do better than this!

    • Reply shannon March 6, 2012 at 10:05 pm

      aw, thank you!! It is, indeed, an entire pie filled with numbers, Brianne. It was a crazy idea and an even crazier execution. After the original making, then remaking of the top part at least to correct my number error, it feels like i made it weeks ago. I was that zeroed in when i was making it (which is, i suppose, a big tribute to my own geekiness). I’m afraid you all are going to have me so overconfident about winning i may walk in there, throw my iphone at someone, and just demand my prize. 🙂 you’re so sweet.

  • Reply Jen @ Juanita's Cocina March 6, 2012 at 5:16 pm


    Geek out with your freak out, girl!

    This is beautiful! GORGEOUS!

    Happy Pi(e) day, doll. If you don’t win, let me know. I’m going to call the President (of something) and complain.

    Love, Jen

    • Reply shannon March 6, 2012 at 9:59 pm

      Yeah, Jen! I would have replied earlier, but i couldn’t get past the first line of this without dissolving into a fit of giggles; i’ve just now recovered.
      thank you, thank you! I’ll make sure to do a little mini-post update on my status in the competition. there’s like, acceptance, then finalists are chosen by esteemed people, then there’s some sort of voting, and so on. I will let you know if you need to unleash your fury.

  • Reply natalie March 7, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    I am in absolute awe of this pie…. I’m exhausted just looking at it!
    I only wish I had the patience to make something that would even compare…
    Truly amazing. Love it.

    • Reply shannon March 7, 2012 at 2:52 pm

      hi natalie! you know, there’s a part of me that would like to say how totally exhausting it was, but it was less tiring than i thought it would be. it definitely took some patience and a few “test apples,” but i was surprised at how fast it went once i got going. am i happy it’s over? a little. thanks for liking it! and it’s good to finally talk to you after looking at your blog again and again. 🙂

      • Reply natalie March 7, 2012 at 3:49 pm

        ditto – but I must say, after exploring, that your blog kicks my blog’s butt …. 🙂
        I can’t wait to see if (when) your pie wins!!! I had a hard time leaving the page because I just kept staring at it lol!

  • Reply Emma March 8, 2012 at 10:30 am

    I found you through Brianne, and I’m glad I decided to check you out. How relatively un-nerd of you to remake the top, rather than using geeky software to alter the composition of the photos to show what you want us to see !

    I used to work in a math office doing projects with kids, and we would always celebrate Pi day. One year we ordered mini pies and had Pi Pie tattoos made – I should have saved mine:)

    • Reply shannon March 8, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      Ha! Emma, if i had the talent to alter the photo and have it be believable, I would have considered it. But i don’t, and it was an honest mistake that deserved some honest correcting.
      how much fun must that have been for the kids! that’s so great to get them involved in things like that. I don’t know about you, but those are always the things i remember from school – making something fun is such a great way to learn.

  • Reply sara March 8, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Oh my goodness, this is amazing! What a unique idea…so cool!

    • Reply shannon March 8, 2012 at 3:54 pm

      thank you, sara! honestly i didn’t know if it would work or turn to mush, but i was lucky.

  • Reply natalie March 8, 2012 at 4:24 pm

    Woot! Feature pic of SE Sweets!!!

    • Reply shannon March 9, 2012 at 3:05 pm

      ha! woot woot! i wooted a bit when i saw that too, natalie. that has to bode well for the actual competition, right?

  • Reply scott March 8, 2012 at 5:24 pm

    delirious. you are delirious. you’ve inspired me to make a “joe pie” with all j’s, o’s and e’s for my partner’s birthday. if you don’t win, i’m going to cut a whole lot of apple letters and throw them at the judges.

    • Reply shannon March 9, 2012 at 3:09 pm

      that. sounds. spectacular! what a great idea! i wish you luck and patience, and i’ll be with you in spirit cheering you on.
      ha! and so many threats for the judges; all of you are soooo nice, and it’s so encouraging. maybe when i make my official submission i’ll direct them to the comments section of this post so they know what happens if i don’t win. 🙂

  • Reply amy March 11, 2012 at 10:58 am

    i’m seriously speechless. bravo

    • Reply shannon March 11, 2012 at 2:54 pm

      thank you, amy!

  • Reply MissMOE March 14, 2012 at 8:56 am

    Holy Bat Man! This is some Pi Pie! I would love for you to link up at my Pi Day Celebration Linky!

    • Reply shannon March 14, 2012 at 2:42 pm

      thanks! and i just did…happy pi day to you too!

  • Reply Annied83 March 14, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Oooo, I could see a Guinness beef pie with some of Ulysses spelled out on the crust for Bloomsday!

    • Reply shannon March 14, 2012 at 2:43 pm

      now thatTHAT is thinking! i love it!

  • Reply Teri Pretlow March 14, 2012 at 4:57 pm

    Shannon, I’m so proud of you :-)) I had no idea you were a geek!! Food, I understand though, it’s what our family does best! The pi pie is gorgeous, adorable, and ridiculously creative. Congratulations on an obsessively perfect pie. Good luck on the entry, and too bad for all of the other submissions. You. Will. Win!

    • Reply shannon March 14, 2012 at 8:55 pm

      thanks, aunt teri! i hide it well (sometimes). 🙂 it was fun to do, and it seems like lots of people are getting a kick out of it, and that’s always great.

  • Reply Nick March 14, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    Hi Shannon,

    I’d like your permission to use your photo of your amazing pi (with attribution of course) over at my blog. [I’ve actually gone ahead and used it already, because I wanted to put the post up before pi day was over, but will remove it or modify how I use or attribute it if you’d like.] Please let me know – thanks!


    • Reply shannon March 15, 2012 at 7:10 am

      hi nick,

      Sure! you can you my photo on your blog…plenty of others used it already prior to asking me, and i don’t mind at all, as long as you credit me/the website. i appreciate you asking! -shannon

      • Reply Nick March 15, 2012 at 4:37 pm

        terrific – thanks!

  • Reply Maree March 18, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    This. Is. Amazing.

    • Reply shannon March 19, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      You. Are. SO nice to say that! Thank you very much; it was a blast to do, and i’m happy people are getting a kick out of it. 🙂

  • Reply Peggy Tschetter April 9, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    So, you won, right? I thought of you tonight and was checking back to see the results. Congratulations on a beautiful blog!

    • Reply shannon April 10, 2012 at 6:09 am

      hi, aunt peggy! i did win, yes. i was one of the two first place winners and i’m excitedly waiting for my iPad, cookbook, and other stuff. 🙂 thank you!

      • Reply Peggy Tschetter April 10, 2012 at 8:01 pm

        Fabulous! Congratulations! I love having found your blog. Your photography is beautiful.

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  • Reply Julien chan March 13, 2014 at 3:14 am

    Inside, there’s 841971693993751058209749445923078164062862089986280348253421170679!
    (It must be 101 digits)

  • Reply Mollie March 13, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    This is so incredible!! How long did it take to make ?

    • Reply shannon March 13, 2014 at 2:15 pm

      Hi, Mollie! Not as long as you’d think it would take: the only thing that extends the time is cutting the apples (which i just did with cookie cutters i had), which doubles your apple-slicing time from how long you’d normally take. Mixing it together gently takes a bit longer too, because you want to make sure you don’t break up the numbers as you mix. It was a fun project, and not as time-consuming as i originally thought it would be. Happy you liked it! happy pi day to you!

      • Reply Mollie March 13, 2014 at 2:35 pm

        Thank you so much! I’m making it for school tomorrow

        • Reply shannon March 13, 2014 at 3:19 pm

          good luck with it! remember, with the apple slices, thicker is better (b/c it holds the apple shapes best) and don’t bake it too long; you know how apples get gushy when they get overdone. if anything, give it a few less minutes to be safe. 🙂

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  • Reply David March 13, 2015 at 10:21 am

    I have never used a cookie cutter on an apple before. I assume there is a lot of waste, but you think 12 apples should be enough + waste? Is there a trick to cutting the apples in preparation for using the cookie cutters?

    Thanks, and so awesomely amazing.

    • Reply shannon March 13, 2015 at 11:05 am

      Hi David! I used 6 medium-sized Granny Smith apples for this project, so there’s not as much waste as I expected. I sliced them 1/4-inch thick and then cut the number shapes from there. Your cutters may vary from mine, so my best advice is to strategize ahead of time to make the most out of your apples (and buy a few extra just in case, if you want – that way you can practice).

      Thank you! It’s been three years now since I created this, and it always seems to make the rounds on the internet this time of year. A fun project, for sure.

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