What are the best apples for baking?
The best apples for baking are those that don’t disintegrate during cooking, and that have a balance of sweetness and tartness. My favorite eating apple is a McIntosh, with its white interior and shiny red-and-green peel, but it is not a good baking apple because it’s too soft. Granny Smiths, Honeycrisps, and Crispins are all good baking apples, but there are lots of other good baking apples to choose from. If you’re making caramel apples, you need a firm, tart apple, like a Granny Smith. Applesauce can be made from virtually any type of apple, though if you want it to be very smooth, like a puree, a McIntosh or Rome apple is a good choice.
Since apples are grown in many parts of the country, I think the best apples are those that are grown near you, because they will be the freshest. I write a lot about New York apples, but Washington apples are amazing if you live on the west coast. There are wonderful apples just over the DC line in Maryland and Virginia, and you can find many different varieties wherever you live. This is the time of year to really enjoy apples, because after they’ve been in cold storage for a couple of months they lose that snap of flavor that makes them so beloved. They’ll still be good for cooking, but less so for eating.
When baking apples in a strudel or a pie, one of the most common difficulties is that the apples give off so much liquid as they cook that they dampen the dough and turn it to mush. The way to avoid this is to partially precook the apples first, drain them, and then put them into the pie or strudel. It keeps the bottom dough crisp, and makes it easier to serve.
Some favorites: I love Granny Smith apples with peanut butter, Braeburns, Cortlands and McIntoshes for apple butter, and Empires and Galas for an apple crisp, but none of this is written in stone. If you mix a little butter, lemon, and cinnamon with apples, whatever you bake is likely to be good. And if you’re cutting up apples for school lunches, a few drops of lemon juice will keep them from turning brown so quickly.
It’s best to store apples out on a counter or in a paper bag – not in the refrigerator, where the cold will change their chemistry, and also their flavor. If you can’t afford organic apples, the next best thing to do is to peel them before eating, as toxins tend to be found in the peel. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of nutrients in the peel, so it’s not a perfect solution.