Pie is a classic any time of year—but that doesn’t mean classics can’t be improved, including Grandma’s apple pie. With a few upgrades to the crust and filling, the dessert can become a low(er)-sugar vehicle for fiber, protein, and vitamins and taste even better than the original recipes.
Store-bought crusts are convenient and all, but they’re typically riddled with hard-to-pronounce ingredients that you’re more likely to find in a chem lab than in your pantry. Pie crust should be simple: Flour, fat, salt, sugar, and water. Spend a little time to bake up a homemade crust you can be proud of.
2. Sub in Sour Cream or Yogurt
Sour cream may pair best with a baked potato, but adding a dollop of low-fat sour cream or Greek yogurt to pie crust in place of some of the butter or lard can help amp up those nutrition facts and keep your pie holder nice and flaky. Cream it in with the butter, then add the dry ingredients as usual.
3. Fill With Fiber
Graduate from white flour and sub in a little whole-wheat. Some recipes use only whole-wheat, while others go half-and-half with all-purpose flour, or try whole-wheat pastry flour for a finer crumb. For pies that call for a graham cracker crust, pulse high-fiber cereal in the food processor and using the cereal crumbs instead.
4. Go Nuts
Replace some (or all) of the flour with nuts. Try using almond flour, or grind your own pecans (be careful not to overgrind the nuts into pecan butter). Since the nuts have healthy fats, there’s no need for tons of butter or lard, plus adding them means adding fiber, protein, and vitamins (like vitamin E, which is important for metabolic processes and plays a role in immunity, and is found in almonds and hazelnuts).
5. Find New Flours
Experiment with different flours (crust doesn’t always have to use wheat!), like quinoa. The nutty grain is a health superstar because it’s easy to digest, and it’s got a ton of protein.
6. Chill Out
Keep cold ingredients—that means water, butter, sour cream, yogurt—cold for a flaky crust. To make the dough easier to work with, chill it in the fridge before rolling.
7. Roll with It
Though it’s fun to play with dough, try your best not to overwork it. You’ll get a tough crust (and that’s no fun). Place the chilled dough between two pieces of parchment paper before rolling so it doesn’t stick to the pin. A light dusting of flour will help keep it from sticking to the work surface too.
8. Spread Lightly
Instead of going crazy with a stick of butter to the pie pan to grease it, melt a teaspoon and then dab it on the pan with a paper towel, or use a light mist of cooking spray. The paper towel method works for coconut oil or olive oil too. (And we won’t tell Paula Deen if you won’t!)
9. Sweeten Smart
Most pies are meant as a sweet treat after a meal… but they can still taste good without mountains of sugar. An easy way to cut added sugar is to choose fruits that are naturally sweet, like golden delicious apples. For extra flavor, spice pies up with nutmeg (which pairs well with berries), cinnamon (perfect for apple pie), or ginger (with peaches). Throw a little lemon zest or orange zest into the mix for even more taste without all the added sweetener.
10. Pack in the Protein
Yogurt works well to lower the fat content in crust, and using it for a no-bake center makes for a slice of protein pie. Try it in the peanut butter yogurt pie (below), or this frozen blueberry coconut yogurt pie. Post-workout dessert, anyone?
11. Toss in Tofu
Tofu may not sound so appealing, especially when we’re used to seeing it in a flavorless block. But silken tofu can be used as a creamy filling base that adapts to whatever it’s flavored with, like chocolate in the pumpkin chocolate mousse cake below.
12. Use More Nuts
So we’ve already spoken of nut crusts, but why not use some more in the pie itself? Normally pecan pie resembles a sugared stick of butter more than a healthy treat, but the vegan version below is revamped and dotted with whole pecans on top.
13. Cut It Out
Skip the top crust altogether, or make a lattice so the healthier fruity filling can shine through. If you’d rather not go completely bare, before placing the top crust on, cut out shapes with a cookie cutter for a hole-y topper, or arrange the cutouts atop the filling.
14. Think Outside the Crust
We’re not fooling anyone by saying pie usually comes with a shell of some sort. But why not whip up a pie-flavored smoothie or bowl of oats? If it’s the filling that entices you, fill a hollowed apple with apple pie filling and place a latticed crust on top (below).
These five recipes (OK, one’s for crust) are some of our favorites and sure to become repeats on your dessert menu.
This pie has only two ingredients for its center: vanilla Greek yogurt and creamy peanut butter. Chill it overnight for a thick, luscious slice of peanutty deliciousness. Plus each slice has 14 grams of protein.
Use this gluten-free pie crust, made from quinoa, for the base of a sweet or savory treat.
Chocolate and pumpkin?! Now we’re talkin’. This rich and creamy pie uses tofu as a main ingredient for the filling. It looks like a lot of ingredients, but the only work is mixing, blending, and spreading.
This pie uses brown rice flour instead of traditional wheat as the base of it’s crust. And though there’s not a drop of butter or one egg, the filling is still all the sweet, gooey satisfaction you expect from pecan pie.
We know this isn’t exactly the apple pie you’re used to, but it’s got the same spicy apple flavor profile. And it’s way cuter, come on.
Originally published January 2013, updated November 2014.