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The best apples for making pie

What are the best apples for baking apple pie?
There are so many varieties of apples available in stores and at farmers markets these days, that it can be challenging to choose apples for baking. In the past, a baker might have reached for sweet-tart Granny Smith apples without a second thought, but there are many different kinds of apples that will work just as well, if not better, in baking pies, crisp and other apple desserts.

Texture and taste are the two most important qualities to consider in a baking apple, and the apple that you like best for everyday snacking might not hold up when put into a pie. Apples need to retain their shape and not turn into applesauce during baking. The best apples will be able to offer a little bit of resistance (keep a little hint of crunch) even after a long time in the oven. Baking apples should also not be too sweet, since most pie recipes call for a fair amount of sugar. The sugar serves as flavoring and helps thicken the juices of the apples as they cook, and cutting it down to compensate for super-sweet apples can sometimes change the outcome of the final pie.

Granny Smiths are always a decent choice for pie, as they are easy to find, will hold up during baking and can take a lot of extra flavor from sugar and spices. Jonathan, Jonagold and Pippin apples are other excellent sweet-tart choices. Gravenstein, Braeburn, Fuji and Pink Lady Apples are all crisp and sturdy, as well. Red Delicious and Golden Delicious, despite their promising names, are not good choices for baking, and neither are Gala and Cortland, since they tend to become mealy in pie fillings.

Apples in Pie Crust

If the recommend apples aren’t available in your area, or if others not mentioned here are (this is the case in many apple-growing areas), try experimenting a little with different types of apples. One way to do this is to blend together several different kinds for a pie filling, giving your pie a mixture of textures and flavors – and covering up any apples that bake up less-than-perfectly.

I personally like to use a mix most of the time no matter what and, at the moment, my favorite is a blend of Granny Smith, Braeburn and/or Pink Lady. If you have a favorite blend, or if I missed your favorite type of baking apple (because there are so many to choose from), leave a note in the comments below!

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129 Comments
  • Coffee & Vanilla
    September 27, 2007

    If you can’t find sour cooking apples you can always use any apples and squeeze in some lemon juice… it works really well. I made recently apple pie with Gala apples and some lemon juice. It was the best pie I have ever made 🙂

    Margot

  • Stacey
    September 27, 2007

    I love using Empires mixed with Granny Smith

  • MLO
    September 27, 2007

    I just tried Bitter Face or was it Suite(?) apples I got from our local Farmer’s Market, and it made a wonderfully sour sweet apple pie!

    Of course, I’m an advocate of mixing the mushy saucy apples with the apples that hold their shape so that you can maximize your pie goodness.

    Now, I have to can up both 1/2 bushels of pie apples for filling before Saturday’s Farmer’s Market run… DH is getting a little upset with the amount of foodstuffs in our house.

    Pax,

    MLO

  • sprite
    September 27, 2007

    I’m a mixer of apples, as well. I like there to be some chunks and some juicy, applesaucy bits in my desserts, so with a variety of apples included in the pie/crisp/crumble, I’m usually happy.

  • Sarah
    September 27, 2007

    If you live in the northeast, the absolute best baking apple is the Macintosh. It’s finnicky though; you need to use them when they’re in season. They don’t winter well.

  • Sally
    September 27, 2007

    It totally depends on what you are baking, I have to disagree with the golden and red delicious comment as they are excellent for tarts. I was skeptical about this until I tried a Jacques Pepin recipe that absolutely insisted on using the “delicious” apples—the key difference here seems to be less sugar and less cook time. The advice with regard to pies however is accurate.

  • Jennywenny
    September 28, 2007

    In england we always had special apples for baking and they were way too tart to eat, I think they were called bramleys. I remember sam from becks and posh getting her hands on some in San Francisco and they were really great!

  • Jerry
    September 29, 2007

    My favourite pie combination . . . Courtland + Gala + Empire! You have me craving an apple pie, It is time to go apple picking!

  • Jim
    October 1, 2007

    I highly recommend mixing in some Northern Spy; they make great pie apples. Unfortunately, though, they’re not widely available if you don’t happen to live in the Northeast United States or Michigan.

  • Garrett
    October 22, 2008

    Over many years of baking pies I have found the Northern Spy to be the most consistent. Spies are an old variety, unattractive to the eye but delicious in a pie!

  • Ann Apitz
    October 25, 2008

    Ida Reds ; hands down!

  • carmen
    November 9, 2008

    My grandmother always used Johnathon apples from her tree for all her apple recipes and I won’t use anything else! They always hold their shape and have the right balance of sweet and tart.

  • Barbara
    November 11, 2008

    I was pleased to see you did memtion that jonathon apples are good for pies. But you said golden delicious are not. I have always used gold del. and to me they have the best flavor. They never get to soft and they hold up very well in my pies. This time since I have eaten alot of my golden del. apples I will have to use some jonathon’s that was given to me. It should make for an interesting taste!!

  • Joanne
    November 22, 2008

    I like my Apple pie well cooked and “mushie”. I find it hard to find an apple that holds it’s shape but is fully cooked. I guess I like my pies to be much like apple sauce. Am I the only one who likes well cooked apple pies?

  • ally
    November 25, 2008

    I love a combo of golden delicious (I have to disagree with the author!), gala, and braeburn apples! That’s the best!

  • ally
    November 25, 2008

    oops! meant to write fuji! not gala!

  • Aneita
    November 26, 2008

    I used Granny Smith and Empire apples and what a pie! It was great!

  • Bobette Bryan
    November 27, 2008

    I can’t believe that someone said the Macintosh is a good baking apple–it’s not true. I couldn’t find Jonathans or Granny Smith apples at the store this year–they had probably sold out for Thanksgiving–and so I used Macintosh apples in my Thanksgiving pie this year. It turned out to be the worst pie I’ve made in ages as the apples turned into mush. So beware if you plan on using Macs for baked goods and stick to the old reliables.

  • Joie
    December 12, 2008

    I have Gravensteins available to me here in the Pacific Northwest, but I’m always interested in mixes when these yummy apples aren’t available – lots of info for the East and Northeast – but I’m new to the Northwest and still trying to figure out the best local growns for pie! I got lucky with Gravensteins, someone brought me some bags of windfall apples from her tree the first year we were here – the best pies and applesauce I’d made in a long time – but what else is up here???

  • DENNIS
    January 3, 2009

    AM NEW TO BAKING, BUT HAVE FOUND GRANNY SMITH’S AND GALA, WORK WELL, ALSO GALA FOR BAKING APPLES

  • Sarah
    March 16, 2009

    If you ever find Winesap apples, use them for pie! I’ve made more apple pies than I can shake a stick at, and they are by far the most flavorful, wonderful, structurally sound pie apples I’ve ever come across.

    Also, using recently picked apples really does make a difference. I promise.

    And mix! Heterogeneity is the spice of apple pie. Well, one of many spices, at least.

  • Andreas
    April 13, 2009

    If you can get a hold of them “Belle de Boskoop” (sometimes also just called “Boskoop”) is in my opinion the best choice.

  • Ted
    May 28, 2009

    Don’t bother with supermarket apples. Newtown Pippin is by far the best pie apple I have found. It has a winey,rich apple flavor and cooks soft but not mushy.Don’t bother mixing with other apples; it would only diminish the results. This apple of New York State origin was George Washington’s favorite.

  • Mary
    October 12, 2009

    I just made a pie with Jonagold & Honeycrisp that people kept raving was the best apple pie they’d ever eaten. May be because I used boiled cider in the recipe, however – that REALLY gave it a great flavor! Crust makes a big difference in a pie to me too though. Love reading about all the varieties that you all have tried – wish I had access to try all of them!

  • Amy
    October 15, 2009

    During all my growing up years, I thought the only pie-making apple variety was Haroldson. There were two Haroldson trees in my Minnesota backyard, and every fall my mom would go on a pie-making spree. I miss my mom who passed away in 2007, but can always get a taste of home by baking an apple pie using the Haroldson variety of apple. I think it is interesting to try the variety-mix approach and may have to do that with Granny Smiths and Haroldsons. I personally cannot imagine using a sweeter variety of apple; however, kudos to those who do.

  • Phil
    October 21, 2009

    Apple pipes with firm “crunchy” apples, I find very unpleasant. For my taste the apple should melt in my mouth with just a push of the tounge. If I want a “crunchy” apple I can eat them raw. An apple that holds its shape after baking may be pleasing to the eye but a disaster to the mouth.

  • nkosi b
    October 30, 2009

    can you send me the effect of different ( golden delicious ,granny smith and sparkle apple.)apples in the quality of the apple pie.in terms of appearance ,colour,texture,flavor

  • Jayne
    November 28, 2009

    Always a winner: Ida Reds hands down!

  • Cargo pants women
    March 2, 2010

    My favourite pie combination . Great

  • trisha
    March 8, 2010

    I’ve been baking for nearly 65 years and can vividly remember my sister’s pies; I have tried to emulate them. My family is a lover of pies and especially apple, and this was one of my sister’s favorites. My pick out of all is MacIntosh. And believe me I have tried many kinds. The Macintosh keeps apple shape, but is always cooked through and tastes delicious. Each time I make one, my children tell me it’s “the best one you ever made.” I have found however, that apples have their own harvest time, and it is well worth finding out when the particular apple is in season. I have tried on different occasions to use Granny Smith, and gave that up since they have always come out half cooked, which I don’t like. Macintosh is my preferred, but I found out if you buy them past their harvest time they are mushy and have a little less flavor. Our family will not eat Apple pies served in restaurants or buy them at bakeries, because they don’t care for cinnamon. The only seasoning I use is vanilla, a tip I got from a co-worker where I was employed, it seems to boost the flavor of any apple. Makes me hungry for a slice right now.

  • chuck
    March 30, 2010

    Try a mixture of Granny Smith and Honeycrisp when in season in the fall.To me Honeycrisp is the best eating apple out there.In a pie they are wonderful.

  • Sweet 16 decorations
    May 11, 2010

    Thank you and good job. Great article! I really gotta send it to some friends from college, they would really appreciate it. This is the first time I visit your site, but I can guarantee you’ll see me around. You have some valuable stuff here.

  • Jenny
    September 18, 2010

    I live in the pacific northwest and just canned apple pie filling with Ginger Gold apples from a Washington grower and they were FANTASTIC. I had never canned apple pie filling before and am so sorry I didnt buy more when they were available. Next year I will buy as many as I can get my hands on. The pie was WONDERFUL.

  • Angie
    September 21, 2010

    I always seem to have trouble with apples when making pies. Last year at Christmas I tried Jonathans and Honey Crisp and it was delicious. I might have to try that vanilla hint,although we do love cinnamon and nutmeg in our pie.

  • Joanne M
    November 9, 2010

    The old timers swear by Northern Spy because they are firm yet naturally sweet. No need to add sugar! However, as stated b4, they are rare, even in NY. Ironically, I live in Bloomfield, the home of the Northern Spy, and had to drive 1/2 hr to find them in Geneva. I consider them a semi-firm apple. I was surprised to hear some people like soft/mushy apples in pie–so you folks might like Macs. No matter the type, a mix is the best way to go w/ 2-3 other varieties!

  • Janet
    November 18, 2010

    Baldwin is unnamed in your list of apples for pie baking. A New England staple, as is Northern Spy.

  • Marion Clair
    December 20, 2010

    I have never tasted (or baked) a better apple pie than one made with Granvensteins. Once I tried Granny Smiths and they are just too crunchy for my preference. Unfortunately, I didn’t freeze sliced Gravensteins this year and now have nowhere to find them since they have such a short season. I will try one of the above suggestions.

  • sharon
    February 13, 2011

    where do i find an apple called “june apple” we had a tree , but it no longer is there. They made a good apple pie!

  • BOB
    May 31, 2011

    I have to agree fully with Phil. A ‘crunchy’ apple pie is absolutly NOT what I want to run into. I can get that at any ‘side of the road’ dinner. I am about to plant four more apple trees and from all these suggestions and comments I think I can now make a good decision. Thank to all.

  • Virginia Churgovich
    August 7, 2011

    I love the Lodi apple. It is the first apple of the season here in Northern Ohio. It is very much like the transparent apple. They are not an eating apple. They are very dry and tasteless. Put in a pie they are transformed. Very tart so people who like sweet won’t like them. They also
    ” mush up” which we also like. I will try some of the brands mentioned.

  • Stephen
    September 25, 2011

    I think the Northern Spy is great for pie. Not the prettiest apple in the world but it’s my favorite. They may be a little hard to find, but here in Southwest Michigan I have several sources every October. Empire is also a great apple for pies. I use them all by their lonesomes in each pie, but a mix would be fine, I am sure.

  • Ann
    October 12, 2011

    Cortland was my favorite for pie when I lived in the East (and they were never mushy contrary to comments above). Now I live in the Northwest and am looking for an apple with a similar texture. Any suggestions?

  • Louise
    October 14, 2011

    I find the best apples for pie are northern spy. This is the variety my mother and grandmother both prefered but they also used granny smith and what ever fell on the ground. I find that if you have the right amount of sugar and spice and the apples dont turn to apple sauce then its all good. Of course a good crust is imperitive. I use half lard and half butter for great texture and taste.

  • Dianne
    October 15, 2011

    I use macintosh. I like my apples to be really mushy when cooked. Granny smith work almost as well.

  • Michele
    October 16, 2011

    A mixture of apples works best I think. I like to use Granny Smith as the main apple. I add a few Macintosh because they cook down and really help thicken and flavor the juices of the pie. Then I add a few Braeburn, Ida Reds, or really any other sweeter firm apple to compliment the Granny Smith.

  • Doug
    November 16, 2011

    I’ve been experimenting with apple pie combinations for years along with different flours and shortening, lard and butter being my preference. I now have a few favorites and have become a strong advocate of apple mixes. Stayman and Cortland; Granny Smith and Golden Delicious; Fuji and Northern Spy. To overcome the too crunchy texture, you can always slice thinner. Personally, I like the combination of tart and sweet, crunchy and soft

  • Linda
    November 16, 2011

    I mix unpeeled granny smith with galas, braeburns or fijis.
    I realize leaving the apples unpeeled seems a bit unorthodox, but this is the way my family has made pies forEVer!
    I also add a splash of sherry and lemon juice with a sprinkling of cinnamon (red hots) candies. They melt into the mixture of sugar, flour, spices and butter.
    Simply divine!

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