The Best Baking Apples
You don't want to choose a variety that'll turn to mush in the oven.
By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen
Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.
If we're making an apple pie or galette, we don't want those apples to turn to mush or taste bland. That's why it's important to select the right apples for baking. Read on to find out the qualities of a good baking apple - as well as which apple to use when.
Best Apples for Baking
The best apples for baking are crisp, firm, sweet-tart and can stand up to the heat of the oven or stove without turning mushy.
Surprisingly, not every apple fits this description. Some apples maintain their shape in an odd way by dehydrating and not actually cooking. There are apples that have so much water in their flesh that they become grainy apple soup in the oven.
Some of the apples on this list are readily available, while others may be harder to find unless you're at the farmer's market or have just gone apple picking. Read on for the full scoop.
Braeburn: Crisp, with a strong apple flavor that doesn’t need another apple to balance the flavor in a pie, these apples will bake up juicy but not mushy. Braeburns can stand up to strong warm spices like cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
Cortland: Apples you can prep without fear of browning quickly are convenient when prepping pie filling, and Cortlands fill the bill. A good balance of sweet and tart flavors, they can be the lone apple in a pie.
Crispin: This is an apple with a Japanese heritage, also known as a Mutsu. Crunchy, sweet and seriously juicy, Crispins are an all-around great apple. Use them in pies, salads and sliced as a snack.
Golden Delicious: The word "delicious" is the only thing that links Golden Delicious to Red Delicious apples, and it’s best not to confuse the two when planning to bake a pie or crisp. With a mild flavor that’s on the sweeter side, golden delicious hold their shape well, and pairing them with an apple with a stronger flavor like a Braeburn will give you a better filling.
Granny Smith: Granny Smiths have all the same qualities as Honeycrisps: juicy, crisp and great for baking. The only difference is that Granny Smiths are as tart as a Honeycrisps are sweet. You may need a bit more sugar in the mix when making a filling with Granny Smith apples.
Honeycrisp: This apple took the U.S. apple market by storm in the early 1990’s when it hit the market. Created by the University of Minnesota in the 80’s, it was only available in small quantities for several years. Now it is the most widely planted type of apple tree in the country - and for good reason. More sweet than tart, it's juicy and will hold up well when baked.
Ida Reds: If there is an apple on our list that we could say has an old-fashioned flavor, Ida Red is it. The skin is brilliant red, the flesh is yellow-green and you don’t need to look any further for an apple that can stand on its own when making baked apples.
Jonagold: Honey-flavored sweetness is the most notable quality of the Jonagold. It’s also known for how well it keeps its shape during baking. For the best pie, going half-and-half with Granny Smiths will give you a delicious balance of sweet and tart.
McIntosh: McIntoshes are delicious, crisp and sweet and perfect for apple sauce, but they don’t hold their shape when baked in a pie. If you’re bound and determined to bring their flavor to a pie, your best bet is to use half of a McIntosh, cut it in very small pieces and toss it with slices of Honeycrisp and Granny Smiths, two readily-available apples. Then slice and eat the half you didn’t put in the pie.
Northern Spy: The Northern Spy is an apple that isn’t produced in huge quantities like Honeycrisp or Golden delicious, but when you see them, buy them. They’re one of the last apples to come into season and they are crisp and dense, qualities that allow you to store them longer than some early season apples.
Pink Lady: Pink Ladies also known as Cripps Pinks are as crunchy and juicy as Honeycrisps, but definitely more tart. Equally great as a snack or baked, you can use them for just about anything. They’re another apple that doesn’t oxidize as quickly as others, so you can prep them ahead of time. Pink Lady apples have the longest growing season of all the common apples which is why they tend to be more expensive than most other apples.
Rome: Another super red apple, Romes are mildly tart, and can be used just about any way you’d want to use an apple. In pies and crisps, a blend of Rome and Golden Delicious is great. They are one of the best apples around to include in apple sauce.
Winesap: Yes, Winesaps do have a sweet-spicy-winey flavor, and one of their qualities is the ability to play equally well with sweet and savory foods. Like all the apples on our list, they hold up well when baked in pies, crisps, cakes and muffins.
Best Apples for Pie
Any of the apples we’ve profiled are good for baking.
There are a few apples that don’t make the cut. While great for snacking, Gala, Fuji and Red Delicious are the most common apples that won’t hold up in the oven and will give you a watery-mushy pie, tart or cake.
How to Prep Apples for Baking
Prepping apples for baking involves a few simple steps. Peeling, (called paring in the old days, hence the name of the knife), coring and slicing are the first steps; the last step is holding them in water with acid before baking to keep them from browning and to strengthen their naturally occurring pectin.
1: Peel the Apples
We prefer to peel our apples for 99% of our apple recipes, the exception being a baked apple where the peel keeps it together in the shape of an apple. To peel, use a paring knife or a peeler. We think it’s easiest to start at the top and peel the apple in one long strip. Is it important? No. Is it fun to challenge ourselves? You bet.
2: Quarter, Core and Slice
After the apple is peeled, cut it in quarters through the core. Using a paring knife, slice off the core from each piece. You'll now have a flat side to put on the board to keep the apple stable while you slice it. Slice it crosswise or lengthwise, keeping the slices a consistent size so that they cook evenly. For a crisp, you could cut chunks or dice the apple in larger pieces.
3: Hold the Slices in Lemon Water
Putting the apple slices in a bowl of water with lemon juice will prevent them from browning. In addition, lowering the pH draws out the apples’ natural pectin. When the slices are combined with sugar, spices and more lemon juice, their pectin will create a naturally thick sauce, not a watery filling.
What’s the Best Way to Cook Apples?
The best way to cook apples is your favorite way. Some families are pie people and nothing will change that: they’re not interested in apple crisps or sauce or baked apples - it’s just all about the pie.
An easy way to make a fresh apple dessert is apple crisp: no pie crust involved. The topping can be a hand-mixed blend of flour, brown sugar, butter and spices with or without nuts or quick oats.
Apple sauce is popular and can be made in small batches all year long or in a large batch in the fall when there’s a variety of apples to blend, then frozen for a few months. Apple muffins, pancakes, baked apples, fritters, cake and galette are a few other smart, easy ideas.
Baked Apple Recipes
With three pounds of apples in this pie, you can pick three from our list and mix it up every time you bake it.
We dare you to not make this cake after seeing this image. How could anyone pass this up? Golden Delicious apples are what the recipe calls for, and we stick with that direction.
Easier and faster than making an apple pie, a crisp is an easy way to try different varieties of apples that are best for baking.
This sweet-savory baked apple recipe is just the thing to serve with a pork roast. If you can find Winesaps, they’d be perfect for this dish.
These mini muffins would be good with any of the apples on our list. They bake very quickly, so be sure to cut the apple in small pieces so it cooks all the way.