We all have a favorite kind of apple for biting into—mine’s Golden delicious, thanks for asking—but not all apples are created equal. Some are great for snacking, others work well in a salad or served with cheese. But the very same apple you may find yourself eating on a day-to-day basis might be a variety that would turn to absolute mush when baked, and we’re not trying to make applesauce pie here. For the perfect apple pie, you need the perfect type of apple.
Which Apple Is Best for What?
There are over 7,500 cultivars (or varieties) of apple. Does that mean America’s Test Kitchen tried to make a pie with every single one and came up with a definitive answer? God, I hope not. Among the multitude of types, there are apples that are best eaten raw, apples that are best for making cider, and apples that are best for uses that involve heat: cooking apples.
What Are the Best Apples for Baking?
Among the most popular types of cooking apples are Granny Smith, Empire, Cortland, Gala, Spartan, Pink Lady, Northern Spy, Braeburn, and Bramley. Many of these are also considered eating apples. As with potatoes, some of the most popular varieties serve multiple purposes.
What Kind of Apple Is Best for Apple Pie?
Even among culinary authorities like Bon Appetit magazine and Serious Eats' “The Food Lab,” there’s not necessarily a consensus about one particular apple being better than others 100% of the time. The apples should be tender but not mushy, and sweet but still with a hint of tartness. Baking breaks down the sugars in the apple. This can lead to a mushy texture if your apples are too sweet. On the other hand, if you pick an apple that’s not sweet enough, you’ll get more acid than apple flavor when it comes time to taste.
What’s the solution? A mix of apples, of course. Choose one tart variety, like Granny Smith, and one sweet-but-not-too-sweet variety, like Fuji. Otherwise, you’ll have a mix of apple mush and crisp apple slices instead of a uniform pie. There are also apples that toe the line between tart and sweet, like the Braeburn, that seem to be universally popular. How about a mix of Braeburn and some tart, or some sweet, according to your preference?
How to Make Apple Pie
It feels like there are as many styles of apple pie out there as there are apple varieties, from classic to tarte tatin to streusel-topped. When choosing your apples, keep in mind that you will be adding sugar to them before they go into the crust, so erring on the side of tartness can be useful. No matter what type of pie and combination of apples you decide on, there’s a recipe out there for you. Just don’t forget the vanilla ice cream—and to invite me, of course.