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?
What are the best apples for pie?
First, let's answer what makes an apple pie good or bad? While a lot of this is up to personal preference, here are some general rules:
- The apple pie filling has in-tact apple slices that hold their shape after cooking up nice and soft (without turning mealy or bland)
- A balance of tartness and sweet-apple flavor
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.
Firm apples for pie:
- Granny Smith (tart)
- Cortland (slightly tart)
- Braeburn (sweet and slightly tart, strong apple flavor)
- Golden Delicious (sweet)
- Pink Lady (sweet)
- Jonagold (sweet)
- Fuji (extremely sweet)
Opinions from other professionals
Gala is listed as 'very good for pies' by the Washington Apple Commission, however Whole Food's claims they turn rubbery when cooked. Unfortunately, I haven't experimented enough with Galas to give you my verdict.
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. "
Check out their apple pie test which includes some pictures of how different apples break down after baking. By the way, the King Arthur Baking blog has a ton of helpful baking tests to answer our most pressing questions! If you aren't a King Arthur Baking fan yet, I suspect you will be soon!
Best apples for chips
Almost any apple can be used to make chips. However, some will be even better than others.
- Consider picking larger apples because the chips will shrink quite a bit when baked and dehydrated
- Consider the flavor and sweetness level that you want
- Many sweeter apples can get away without added sugar
- Don't use apples with softer flesh since they won't hold up as well. Red Delicious fall into this category and are probably best avoided.
Granny Smith apples make a nice tart-flavored chip. Fuji will be on the sweeter side as will Gala apples (but the latter can be smaller in size). If you're making chips, check out the tips from Food & Wine.
Best apples for salad
In my opinion, all apples are delicious in salads. One thing you might want to consider is how quickly will the apples oxidize (turn brown). This is only for appearances and they are still safe to eat if they do oxidize.
Some apples brown much slower, making them more visually appealing in salads. Here are slower-browning varieties:
- Cortland: slightly tart, possibly the slowest to brown
- Empire: slightly-tart
- Cameo: sweet-tart
- Gala: extra sweet
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."
Best apples for applesauce
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.
Apple varieties that work particularly well for apple sauce
- Fuji - extra sweet, making it great for unsweetened apple sauce
- Gala - extra sweet
- Cortland - sweet-tart
- Mcintosh - sweet-tart, too mushy for pie, but that makes them perfect for cooking down into a sauce
- Granny Smith - tart
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.
Be sure to scrub any waxy coating off so the caramel can stick to the apple.
Varieties to use:
- Gravenstein apples are more tart than sweet with red skin with yellow undertones. One of the earliest apples to ripen in fall, showing up in August.
- Honeycrisp apples are tart, but a little less so than Granny Smith. They have a crisp texture and red skin with golden undertones. Available early season (starting in September)
- Braeburn apples are slightly smaller on average with a sweet (and slightly tart) flavor with good balance. The skin is red and yellow. Available starting in mid-to-late October.
- Granny smith give that classic bright green look where the skin shows through the caramel. Very tart with crisp flesh. Available starting mid-November, so it might not be available for Halloween.