Which apples are best for making your holiday apple pies? Ask any dozen bakers and you’ll likely get a dozen different answers. There are so many varieties available that choosing just one can be a challenge.
An apple that’s great for eating out of hand or dicing up into a salad may not be the best choice for baking into a pie. The best baking apples are usually firm and will retain their shape after cooking. Apples that become mushy, like McIntosh or Cortland, make great apple sauces or apple butters, but can’t stand the heat in the kitchen when it comes to pies. Other qualities to look for in apples for pies are great taste and texture. Not necessarily all sweet. A mix of sweet and tart makes the best combination!
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If at all possible, buy apples as close to the source (where they are grown) as possible. If you don’t have your own apple tree to shake, head for the local farmer’s market. Specialty grocery stores will also carry a variety of apples this time of year. Just ask the produce manager which ones they carry that are best for baking.
Many sweet-tart and out-and-out sour apples make the best pie apples. And not all sweet apples make good pies. Most apple pie recipes require sugar by the cupfuls to thicken the juices as the apples cook and also for flavoring. This is why you can bake with a tart, firm apple, like a Pippin, and still satisfy the sweet tooth.
Well, I didn’t ask a dozen cooks what their favorite baking apples were; I asked three of my friends who are avid bakers. These are the seven best baking apples that we decided on:
Golden Delicious – the best all-around baking apple. It’s plentiful, easy to find, and tastes sweet, but also mellow.
Fuji – (if we can stop eating them as we slice them!). This apple has a spicy sweetness. Not the best for baking on its own, but delicious when mixed with a really sweet apple, like a Rome Beauty or a Pink Lady.
Honey-crisp – I just discovered this honey-sweet and tart variety not too long ago, now that I’m back on the East Coast. My first pie with this didn’t last a day before it was gone.
Jonathan – can be really tart. I remember my Mom baking pies with this one. This is where all that sugar (or sugar substitute) comes in handy.
Granny Smith – my favorite tart and sour. I like it best when paired with the Golden Delicious.
Rome Beauty – just a little bit tart and firm. We all agreed on this one and when we can get it, we bake pies.
Pink Lady – a “modern” variety with a “designer” label and premium price to boot… A really juicy apple that leans towards its Golden Delicious parentage. It is a “pretty” apple. Great for salads, for looks, and it does make a great pie, too.
As I said, there are as many varieties of apples as there are bakers who cook with them. If I didn’t list your favorite, it might be because it doesn’t come into my part of the country very often. Sometimes, you just have to go with the tried and true when the holidays get rushed.
Whichever apple varieties you bake into your pies, don’t hesitate to mix them up a bit.
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