How to Select Apples for Cooking & Baking

October 18, 2014

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.

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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

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Engr Md Atiqur Rahman
    Engr Md Atiqur Rahman
  • AntoniaJames
  • Jeanne
  • Karen Albee
    Karen Albee
  • Posie (Harwood) Brien
    Posie (Harwood) Brien
I like warm homemade bread slathered with fresh raw milk butter, ice cream in all seasons, the smell of garlic in olive oil, and sugar snap peas fresh off the vine.


Engr M. January 31, 2015
Patricia C. Ross
I usually make tomato rice using pressure cooker.Recently my friend Shalini told me to try in electric rice cooker without using a kadai and she shared her recipe too. I love tomato rice only when it is fully packed with garam masalas.For Sendhil, it should be with least spices.So i tried Shalini’s recipe which has very less spices with a south Indian touch.He loved it a lot.I have made it many times so far.It comes out very well. [email protected]
AntoniaJames October 19, 2014
Other than in pies, what are some good uses for just-picked Granny Smiths? My neighbor brought me about 10 pounds of them. (I plan to prep one pie to freeze, to bake and take back to her right before Thanksgiving.) Thank you. ;o)
Posie (. October 19, 2014
Ooh, lucky! I think Granny Smiths are best with cheese because of how tart they are: like I said, I love them in a grilled cheese but they're also really good just sliced with a cheese plate. Any baked good works well: cakes & muffins (Smitten Kitchen's whole wheat apple muffin recipe is GREAT with Granny Smiths if you've never tried it) If you have a juicer, they're a good candidate for juicing. I slice and freeze them -- I find that they hold up to freezing well and I use them in stews etc. in the winter (and, weirdly, even smoothies! Try it! I don't know why people don't freeze them more).
AntoniaJames October 19, 2014
Thank you, PH. Do the frozen slices do well in pies and on tarts? I don't have room in my freezer for many pies. See this for why. ;o)
Posie (. October 20, 2014
I've never used frozen slices in pies; I probably wouldn't attempt them in a tart, since they'd likely fall apart, but I think in a pie that would be fine. I'd suggest not thawing them first, and extending your baking time by at least 5 minutes to make sure there aren't any undercooked spots in the filling.
Jeanne October 18, 2014
Winesap apples are my absolute favorite eating apple...they are easily baked or cooked into sauce, but nothing beats biting into a winesap...their taste is outstayed, the flesh firm but juicy. Yes, my absolute favorite...
Karen A. October 18, 2014