Hello and welcome to my new feature, “A Teaspoon of Tips.” In these posts, I’ll offer general tips and advice on baking that I’ve learned from my adventures in the kitchen. I hope these will help bakers of all skill levels achieve the best results in their bakes!
First up, a somewhat hot topic in baking during autumn: the “best” apples for baking. When you decide to go to the market with the intention of making a pie, tart, crisp, or cake, it can be overwhelming to decide which apples to get. There are often several varieties to choose from and little information on how they are different.
There are many articles and blog posts on selecting apples for baking, and they all seem to include lists of specific varieties of apples that have been deemed “the best”. But I have always found these lists frustrating. One, they often include varieties that are difficult or impossible to get at my orchard or from a local market. (I’m sure Winesap apples are delicious, but I have never found them to purchase!) Two, they often have conflicting information. I would sometimes see the same variety marked as “good” in one article’s list, but marked “bad” in another list – it can hardly be both!
These confusing articles lead me to an epiphany on apple selection: there are no “best” apples for baking. There are just apples you like the taste of and can easily buy. As long as you follow my secrets below, you should have success using whatever apples you want.
Apple Secret #1: Choose two or more varieties of apples. When I go apple picking, I have good intentions of keeping each variety in a separate bag, which I will label and store separately. That usually lasts all of 15 minutes. By the time I haul my pick to check out and get it home, I have one or two reusable grocery bags filled with three or four varieties all mixed together. And since many apples are red, it’s not that easy to tell them apart. But as it turns out, the mix of varieties gives pies a richer flavor and varying textures. Laziness for the win!
Apple Secret #2: There may not be “best” apples, but there are worst. There are two apple varieties I always avoid: McIntosh and Red Delicious. This is because these apple varieties, when cooked, are too mushy for this kind of baking. They also don’t provide any good flavor to compensate for their texture. If you plan on making applesauce, then McIntosh and Red Delicious might be good choices. Otherwise, hard pass.
Apple Secret #3: Buy as fresh and local as possible. Yes, the locavore movement is probably a little over-hyped at this point, but buying apples locally makes a big difference. Apples are an amazing fruit – they can be held in cold storage for up to 10 months before being SENT to your supermarket. That’s right, the apples you see for sale in spring and early summer were most likely picked the previous fall. (In the olden days, they were stored in cellars for this reason). But being kept in cold storage for that long means they loose their crispy juiciness very quickly after you bring them home, making any variety go too soft for baking after just a few days. The best option is to go to your nearest orchard and have a fun day of apple picking! Since those are fresh apples you can keep them much longer. If you can’t make it to an orchard, the next best thing is to go to your local farmers market or a store that carries local produce. If all else fails, at least save your apple baking for September-December, when you have the best likelihood of getting recently picked apples. Eating seasonally and locally really pays off with apples!
(Note: I am specifically talking about baking WITH apples, such as pies, tarts, crisp, cobbler, apple cake, etc. I have never made baked apples. I would imagine that the nature of that dessert does require specifically firm apples, and there may be only one or two ideal varieties. If I ever tackle baked apples, I will update this post.)
I hope you find these tips helpful. Please leave me a comment if you have any questions on baking with apples!