What makes a great baking apple? The best have a good sweet-tart balance and their flesh won’t break down as they cook.
For a dessert that’s complex in flavor and pleasing in texture, mix tart apples with firm baking apples.
Look for regional and heirloom varieties at farmers’ markets and specialty grocers. And when in doubt, ask the grower which apples are best for baking.
Commonly available apples:
Cortlands are juicy and slightly tart, with bright red skin and snowy white flesh. They are a terrific baking apple: use in pies, cobblers, and crisps. When sliced, Cortlands are a welcome addition to fruit and cheese plates, as the flesh doesn’t brown and discolor quickly.
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Empires are a cross between McIntosh and Red Delicious apples. Firm-textured and slightly tart, the Empire is a fine all-purpose apple good for sauce, pies, baking, salads, fresh eating, and freezing.
This large, yellow-green fruit is very juicy and super crisp. It has a sweet, refreshing flavor and is great for fresh eating, salads, freezing, sauce, and baking.
A crisp, sweet apple with a mild flavor, Galas have yellow-orange skin with red striping. They’re best for salads, eating out-of-hand, and applesauce.
The Golden Delicious is sweet, with a rich, mellow flavor. It is one of the best all-around cooking apples, as it maintains its shape after baking.
One of the most popular tart apples, Granny Smiths are crisp and quite sour. They’re a good all-purpose cooking apple, and their flavor is enhanced when paired with sweeter, spicier apples in pies and crisps.
Developed in Minnesota and introduced fairly recently, Honeycrisps are fantastic eating apples. As the name indicates, they are crisp and juicy, with a honey-sweet and tart flavor. Honeycrisps are also good for baking and sauce.
A very old variety, Ida Reds have a tangy flavor and a flesh that is sometimes tinted a rosy pink. It makes beautiful applesauce: cook the apples with the skins on and strain the sauce to get the best pink color. Ida Reds keep their shape during baking and are also excellent in salads and for freezing.
Jonathans are quite tart, with a rich, slightly spicy apple flavor. They hold their shape well when baked. They are also good in salads and for applesauce.
Sweet and aromatic, Macouns are excellent for snacking, in salads and for sauce. With bright red skin and juicy white flesh, they make an attractive apple on a cheese plate.
A blend of Jonathan and Golden Delicious apples, Jonagolds have a tangy-sweet flavor. With a yellow-green base and a blush stripe, they are excellent both for eating fresh and for cooking.
Tiny, doll-like lady apples are sweet-flavored and are a beautiful decorative apple.
A classic bright red apple with green undertones, juicy, crisp McIntoshes tend to break down when cooked. They are delicious eaten out of hand or in sauces, and are best paired with Golden Delicious or other apples in pies and other baked goods.
Bred to be an eating apple, Red Delicious are unsuitable for baking. They are mild-flavored, sweet and juicy, with a deep ruby skin and a classic heart shape.
The Winesap is very firm and aromatic, with a spicy bite. A sweet-flavored apple, Winesaps are good in sauces and for baking.