Choosing the right apple variety for your recipe can seem overwhelming. But every choice can be made by looking at just a few simple characteristics:
- Does the flesh easily break down when cooked or hold it's shape?
- How sweet or tart is the apple?
- Does is brown quickly or slowly when cut?
Apple pie & other baked goods
When baking with apples, the general rule is you want a firm apple that holds its shape when baked. Tart apples work well in sweetened desserts, whereas sweet-tart apples work best in baked goods that don't have added sweetener.
As for pies, the best apple pies usually have several different types of apples in them. Just like you might make a triple berry pie, or triple chocolate cookie, try making a triple-apple pie. Mixing varieties lets you combine their different characteristics and add complexity to the flavor. Start with choosing one tart and one sweet variety.
Suggested types of apples
For more detailed tasting notes and to read about the pie baking test results, check out "The best (and worst) apples for pie."
Opinions from other professionals
Serious Eats did an in-depth test of apples for pie and declared Braeburn and Golden Delicious as the winners. After you read part one, here is part 2 in the series, you know... for those of us who take our apple pie seriously. Very seriously!
But that's not the only opinion. The fine folks at King Arthur Flour did a test of their own with other varieties that you might find locally at a market. PJ Hamel from King Arthur Flour shares her advice, "At the end of the day, choosing the best pie apples is a personal decision. My best apple pie would include a combination of these three: Cortland, for flavor; Russet, for texture; and Granny Smith, for its combination of the two. "
Best apples for chips
Almost any apple can be used to make chips. If the apple has a good flavor when eaten raw, it will taste excellent as a chip since the flavor gets even more concentrated. No added sugar or spices necessary.
Bland apples will get a slight flavor boost from the dehydrating process, but not always enough to make up for their lack of flavor. You might want to add spices to bland apples before baking them.
Granny Smith apples make a nice tart-flavored chip. Fuji will be on the sweeter side as will Gala apples. If you're making chips, check out the tips from Food & Wine.
Best apples for salads & cheese boards
The best apples for salads are slow to brown. Some apples turn brown in 5-10 minutes, other hold up for a really long time. While it's safe to eat oxidized apples (the process of turning brown), they aren't very appealing.
You can also soak apples in a water solution to slow browning. For more details see the section titled "How to prevent apples from browning."
Varieties that are slow to turn brown
Apple sauce & apple butter
Nearly any apple will work for sauce and it can be an excellent way to use up old apples that aren't as crisp as when you bought them. If you are picking apples specifically for sauce, choose two or three varieties to add complexity to the flavor, including at least one sweet and one tart variety.
Varieties that work well for apple sauce
Making apple sauce is relatively simple, but a few tips never hurt anyone:
- Pink applesauce: leave the skins on red apples which will turn the sauce slightly pink. Then run the sauce through a food mill to filter out the skins
- Sweetness: add sugar after the applesauce is almost done. Cooking the apples down concentrates and caramelizes the sugars, so add sugar when the sauce is almost done to avoid over-sweetening it.
- No added sugar: use Fuji and Gala apples along with your other varieties. They are sweet enough that you probably won't need to (or want to) add any sugar.
Best caramel apples
I strongly advise buying tart apples to add dimension when covered in a super-sweet caramel sauce. When buying apples, choose the smaller ones in the bins, which give you a better caramel-to-apple ratio. Also look for ones that will sit flat on their bottoms.
The wax coating on apples prevents the caramel from sticking. So either get apples from the farmers market (where it's rare to find waxy apples), or scrub the wax off from grocery store apples.
Before you make caramel apples, read through Williams Sonoma's thorough guide.