After posting about apple pie I was thinking that Cameo apples, while my favorite apple, are not the usual baking apples. Then my good friend J asked me what apples are good for baking and which ones are better to just eat? So I started doing a little research on the subject. While I still firmly believe that cooking and baking with a filling is more about following your own preferences than hard and fast rules or traditions… Obviously baking has an element of chemistry to it so you do have to follow recipes more closely than in just regular cooking. Though when you are filling a crust up with some kind of fruit what difference does it really make which fruit you use?
Apples can be tricky. If you do not use the right apples you could bake them into this gorgeous looking pie and then cut into it, only to find applesauce! This would likely happen to me in front of the (well accomplished pastry chef) mother of a man I am trying to impress, or at least I am trying to impress his family. Usually some snide remark or joke at my expense would be made and I would want to crawl into a hole somewhere. But that’s me not you… I digress. Cutting into your beautiful pie to find that the apples have disintegrated could be very depressing. I am never one to turn down a good dessert so I would go ahead and try it. How bad could it really be? You like pie, and most people like applesauce. The pie won’t win any prizes but eh… If you are baking to impress or just not a fan of mushy apple pie then read on.
Selecting a good apple is the first step to any pie, cobbler, brown betty, tart, or crisp and fundamental to enjoying any apple. Look for apples that are firm, have a good color, and usually about the size of your fist. NO mushy, pale, behemoth apples for you! Look out for soft spots or breaks in the skin. I am really picky with my fruit; in fact the majority of my grocery shopping time goes into picking out fruits and veggies. I want to find as close to sheer perfection as I can. (Except bananas, then I want them green… but that’s another post) Local apples are usually much fresher and sometimes have a better flavor if you can get them.
It is good to note that three medium apples weigh around a pound. Remember that medium apples are about the size of your fist, sounds small doesn’t it? We are conditioned to think that way in these days of super sizing. You will get about a cup of slices out of one medium apple.
According to my research the best apples to just eat are:
Gala, Fuji, Mutsu, Jonathan, Cameo, Golden Delicious, Cortland, Empire, Red Delicious, McIntosh, Braeburn, Winesap, Pink Lady, and Sundowner.
Apples used a lot in pies are:
Northern Spy, Golden Delicious, Rhode Island Greening, Pippin, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Gravenstein
Best for applesauce:
Pippin, Rhode Island Greening, McIntosh, Elstar, Cortland, Fuji, Gala, Gravenstein
Best for baking:
Rome, Jonagold, Granny Smith, Pippin, Gala, Braeburn, Northern Spy, Gravenstein, Rhode Island Greening, York Imperial, Cortland, Winesap
Best for making salads:
Cortland, Golden Delicious, Empire, Gala, Red Delicious, Fuji, Winesap, Criterion, Pink Lady
The reason my Cameo apples didn’t break down in the pie is due to their firmness. Firmer apples do well when baking and the softer apples are better for sauces. Sierra Beauty apples are wonderfully juicy, slightly tart apples but do not hold their shape when baked. They have a softer texture than some other apples and therefore are not an ideal candidate for pies or baking.
When baking a pie, it is recommended that you choose an apple that is a bit tart so that the sugar added to the pie doesn’t overwhelm the apple. Sweet apple + sugar = super sweet pie! My favorite, Cameo apples can be a bit sweeter than the more traditional apple for pies, Granny Smith, but that is my preference. I like the added sweetness.
What you are looking to accomplish is apples that have a slight snap to them when you bite into your slice of pie. You don’t want baby food, but a bit of resistance from the apple as you take that bite is a good thing. Most importantly you want to be happy with your final product. That really is all that matters! I hope that this bit of apple knowledge will help you in baking your next pie. Remember to make it your own! Mix a bunch of different apples together and see what happens! Let me know about your results!