The bakers at the Apple Works have a formula for making the state’s best pie.
A mix of four varieties of sweet and tart apples, chopped into bite-sized pieces make up the base. Cinnamon and sugar help round out the filling.
And a closely guarded secret recipe crust ties it all together.
Among the all-American apple pies, Johnson County can claim one of the best. The Apple Works’ version was voted the top pie in the state by Hoosiers and visitors at the Indiana Office of Tourism Development website.
The Trafalgar-area orchard and farm market normally sells 200 to 250 apple pies a week during the fall, so its staff had known that the dessert was popular. But to have it confirmed statewide allows the Apple Works to claim it as official.
“You feel like you’ve been rewarded for all of the hard work that you’ve put into it,” said Janis Cooper, one of the head bakers at the Apple Works. “We’ve put in many hours perfecting this, and many more since they announced that we won.”
In the Apple Works kitchen, Cooper and fellow baker Carol Brooks worked with a precision forged over thousands of pies. An automated roller flattened balls of floured dough into thin shells, which Cooper placed in empty pie pans.
Brooks added scoopfuls of the sugary apple filling, forming a mound of Jonathan, Jonagold and Cortland apples that threatened to overflow the pan.
The recipe calls for a mix of sweet and sour fruit, and the time of year depends on what varieties they use.
After a top layer of dough was added, Brooks adorned the pie with braids, cut-out apples and leaves. She gave it a hefty dusting of cinnamon, and then it was ready to go in the oven.
“They love the flavor, and they get their money’s worth. It’s a very full pie,” Cooper said. “There’s an eye appeal that draws people in.”
The Apple Works’ recipe has come together over dozens of years baking at the orchard, which Sarah and Rick Brown founded in 1989.
Fresh apples are obviously key to the popularity of the dessert. But the light and flaky pie crust is what the pie is most known for, Cooper said.
The shell is so popular that the bakers at Apple Works make empty pie crusts for people to fill themselves.
The business sells about 25 empty crusts each week, Brooks said.
“That’s the one thing we’ll never reveal. Our pie crust makes the pie,” she said. “We’ve had several people try to get the recipe, but it’s not going anywhere.”
The pie contest was part of the Indiana Office of Tourism Development’s fall campaign. Thirty-three pies from around the state were nominated, from the sugar cream pie from Madison’s Clifty Inn Restaurant to the pumpkin pie at Amish Acres in Nappanee.
A top 10 list was voted by people visiting the tourism website. The Apple Works entry was the overall winner.
The point of the promotion was to recognize the top desserts in the state, said Mark Newman, director of the Indiana Office of Tourism Development.
Owner Sarah Brown was informed of the contest early in the fall, which coincides with the Apple Works’ busiest time of year. She asked her baking staff if they wanted her to accept the nomination, knowing it would likely mean more work for them.
They enthusiastically accepted.
“It was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever had happen,” Cooper said.