There's nothing like homemade apple pie. At least not in the stores, apparently.
Two weeks ago we tasted eight commercial apple pies, including two best-selling frozen brands and pies from six bakery chains. The scores, on a scale of 1 to 10, ranged from 2.5 only up as far as 5.8.
Even the best of them inspired the comments "too sweet" and "almost acceptable but shortening flavor overwhelms everything." The pies at the bottom of the heap called forth the words soggy , slimy , chemical taste and death by cinnamon.
As easy as apple pie, we say. On the contrary, American-style apple pie is a serious challenge for a commercial baker. The traditional crust doesn't have much "shelf life"--it goes soggy and flavorless in a matter of hours, and sogginess was the most common problem with these crusts.
Apples are unforgiving too. Compared with berries, for instance, cooked apples have a delicate taste that doesn't automatically mask off-flavors; pie makers lean heavily on sugar and cinnamon to cover problems that may develop. Having the apples turn out soft but not mushy at the exact time that the crust is done isn't exactly as easy as falling off a log, either.
All this is true, but the mediocrity of commercial apple pie is still a scandal. This is, after all, supposedly our national dessert.
APPLE PIES RATED
Brand Crust Filling Comments Marie Callender's All-over rating: 5.8 5.6 5.7 Highest-rated crust, but too heavy on the shortening. Most over- sweetened filling Polly's Pies All-over rating: 5.1 5.1 4.2 "Crust actually seems flaky at first." "Not too sweet." "Soapy taste." Coco's All-over rating: 5.2 3.7 5.7 Particularly soggy, doughy bottom crust. Filling had best apple texture. Baker's Square All-over rating: 4.4 4.0 4.6 "Powdery crust, strange taste-- from some stabilizer?" "Too much cinnamon." "Non-apple." Sarah Lee (frozen) All-over rating: 4.2 3.4 4.0 "Flaky crust." "Firm apples." "Slight pear flavor." "Gummy." Mrs. Smith (frozen) All-over rating: 3.4 3.0 2.6 "Salty, salty crust." Harsh words for the filling: "runny," "formaldehyde," "ham flavor." House of Pies All-over rating: 2.8 2.4 3.4 Soggiest crust. Filling was found heavy, overspiced and over- sweetened. Four'n 20 All-over rating: 2.6 2.4 2.9 "Very unpleasant crust." "Tough." "Gluey, chemical taste." "Tastes old."