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How to Select Apples for Cooking & Baking

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Today: How to pick apples for cooking and baking (and snacking).

Autumn is in full swing, and we’ve been busy cooking and baking with the best of the season: apples. Whether you’re cooking them in a soup, baking them into a pie, or just snacking on them, pick the right variety for the job. And if you have any extras sitting around, keep them chilled! Apples ripen 6 to 10 times faster at room temperature than if they are refrigerated.

For Baking
First of all, if you're planning to bake your apples, don't just think about pie. Consider apple cheddar muffins, or apple upside-down cake. (Or chocolate-chip sour cream apple coffee cake. Or maybe even an applesauce cake, doused with a crackly caramel glaze. But we digress.)

The best apples for pie (and crisp) have a different set of characteristics from apples you mix into a batter. It takes about 6 medium apples to make a standard apple pie, so you can easily mix and match varieties -- and you should -- for a livelier filling. Before baking pie, read James Beard Award-winner and author of Apples of Uncommon Character Rowan Jacobsen's advice on the best 6 apples for pie. Then get to it. Here are two of our favorite recipes: Truly Scrumptious Apple Pie and Martha Stewart's Slab Pie, which you can adapt easily for fall by swapping 7 medium apples, sliced, for the berries in the filling.


More: If baked apples are your thing, learn to make them without a recipe.

For Cooking
Ornate strudels and buttery pies get all the glory when it comes to apple season, but savory apple dishes shouldn't be overlooked. In general, look for more tart apples in savory dishes, like the less sweet Braeburns and Cortlands. Add them to salads; purée them into soups; dice and quick-pickle them, then spoon them over roast pork. 

Think about the other flavors in your dish, too: Subtle-tasting apples like Granny Smiths or Rome Beautys will get lost against bold spices, so save them for something milder, like Amanda’s Butternut Squash and Cider Soup.

More: Didn't get enough dessert? Make caramel apples.

For Snacking 
Firm and crunchy is the way to go when eating apples raw -- nothing disappoints like biting into a slightly soft apple. Honeycrisp and Crispin (as the names imply) are two of our top snacking apples -- especially when spread with almond butter.

More: See Merrill's tip for a faster way to peel an apple.

What if you have an apple that you can’t identify? Should you bake with it? Cook with it? First, you should taste it. See if it's tart, or sweet, or soft, or firm, and then follow the guidelines above. You don't need to know the name to decide how to use it. If you're stumped, here's a solution that works for all apples, regardless of variety: Slip thin slices inside your grilled cheese before cooking. If that’s not a good way to get your daily serving of fruit, we don’t know what is.

Tell us, what is your favorite apple variety?

Photos by James Ransom

Tags: Fruit, Dessert, Weeknight Cooking, Bake, Tips & Techniques, Provisions