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.
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!