Many beginner cooks may not realize how tricky it can be to bake the perfect apple pie. Some say “its all in the crust.” But, using the wrong apple could also ruin your pie! Some apples just don’t hold up well for cooking. They may be too soft and mealy, for example. As well, a super-sweet apple that is great for eating out of hand may not be the best choice for a pie.
Sweet or Tart Apple for Apple Pie?
Here is a quick example of a misconception about apple pies. A Granny Smith apple is a very firm, but a very sour apple. Surely, this would not be a good choice for apple pie? Think again. The Granny Smith is a favorite for apple pie bakers. Remember that cooking brings out sweetness by converting starches. Granny Smith’s also cook up very well because they are so firm. They keep a nice texture and maintain their shape when baked in a pie.
On the other hand, let’s look at the Fuji. It’s firm and very sweet. The Fuji has a great flavor and texture for eating, but it’s really not so good in apple pies. Other cooks may disagree with this, or with any of the apple descriptions given here. In the end, what apple you like in your pie is up to you.
But who says you have to use just one variety of apples for your pie? A good rule of thumb is to use one “firm-tart” apple, like the Granny Smith, and one “firm-sweet” apple like the Jonagold. Some apples have in-between flavors that could best be described as sweet-tart. Sounds like candy, doesn’t it?
Here are some of the best apples for apple pies or other baked apple dishes. I’ve stuck with apples that are widely regarded for pie making, but this is not an exhaustive list, and other apples can sometimes do well in pies. Any apple can be inconsistent. Apples such as the Red Delicious and McIntosh are not the best choices for pies, at least on their own.
Best Apples for Apples Pie
- Baldwin: Hard to find but great for pies if you can get them. Frim and crisp with a mild sweet to tart flavor, and a red skin.
- Braeburn: Hailing from New Zealand, the Braeburn is greensish gold to red with yellow marks, and is juicy and crisp. Good addition to any pie.
- Golden Delicious: the familiar Golden Delicious has a fairly firm texture can vary in flavor from a bit tart to very sweet. Usually, the skin color will tell you the sweetness. This apple is quite variable! Can be excellent or just “meh” in a pie but when it’s good, it’s very good.
- Granny Smith: As above, this very firm apple has a very tart flavor. Excellent for use in pies, especially mixed with another firm-sweet apple.
- Gravenstein: From Denmark. Generally firm and sweet but can have some tartness. The skin is greenish yellow with red stripes.
- Ida Red: A hybrid of the Jonathan and the Wagener. Red skin with firm texture and tart flavor. Good for any sort of baking.
- Jazz: This is a cross between the Gala and the Braeburn. The texture is quite firm and the taste is sweet but complex. Red colored skin with greenish-yellow patches.
- Jonagold: Firm and sweet but with a bit of acidity. The Jonagold can make a good pie all by itself. It is a cross between a Jonathon and a Golden Delicious. The Jonathon itself, to me, is too tender but lots of bakers love it for pie. The Jonagold gives you a better pie, I think.
- Keepsake: A cross between the Malinda and the Northern Spy, it actually gave rise to the famous Honeycrisp. Nice and sweet with some spice, and a firm texture.
- Newton Pippin or Pippin: Thomas Jefferson is said to have loved these apples and grew them in his orchard. I doubt he actually grew them himself. This is an American apple but it is well-loved in England. It is a firm-tart apple, with a green to yellow color. Great for pies and any baking.
- Northern Spy: The flesh is crisp-tender and juicy, with a sweet flavor and a bit of acid. It is also known as “Northern Pie” apple, which should tell you something. Other names are Red Spy and Red Northern Spy. Good for pretty much anything.
- Rhode Island Greening: This is an apple that is somewhat like the Granny Smith, but with more complexity. It is also known as a Greening, Burlington Greening, Russine, Ganges, Green Newtown Pippin, Green Winter Pippin, and Jersey Greening.
- Rome Beauty: Not the juiciest apple, the Rome Beauty has a courser flesh than some of the other apples here, but still a firm texture. It holds its shape very well when baked and many swear by it for apple pie.
- Winesap: Available late in the year, this very old its one of the favored cider apples. Sweet-tart and juicy. They start out firm but get soft very quickly.
How do You Choose Which Apples?
Some of the apples here, if you can get them, should serve as a starting-point. But a great apple-pie can be a high-art as well as a science. Just because an apple is soft and coarse-grained, for example, and more suitable for apple-sauce than for baking, doesn’t meant that you can’t throw in a little bit of one if it has the flavor you like and is mixed with some firmer tart and sweet apples. You have to consider how the texture and the flavor changes when baked.
The way some cooks go wrong is to assume that you only want one single texture in an apple pie and thus must choose apples that have the same behavior when baked. This actually is the wrong way to go! A mixture of textures in apple pie is as welcome as in any other dish. Nobody likes and apple pie where all the apples are soft, mushy, and mealy. However, they may also frown on an apple pie where all the apples are super firm and dry. Mix it up! There is a good reason nobody can seem to agree on the best apples for pie. There are so many variables.
Apples change depending on how late in the harvest they come, how long they have been stored, etc. Within any one variety of apples, there are going to be variation in texture and taste. It is difficult to bake one apple pie that is just like another, but if you can get a feel for how different apples, based on their variety and condition at the time of use, will behave in your pie, you can have a better chance of baking a great apple pie each and every time.