There is nothing more American than apple pie. Except maybe that unusual trend of putting a slice of American cheese on top of a slice of apple pie—but we don't need to go there. We prefer to stick to the basics, and the perfect dessert for any summer or fall gathering is the classic apple pie. You may have made a hundred different varieties of homemade apple pie in your day—we have experimented with at least that many ourselves—in search of the perfect apple pie recipe. One of the most important ingredients, not surprisingly, are the apples that you use for the apple pie filling, but with so many varieties of apples out there, how on earth are you supposed to choose the right ones? Never fear, Bob’s Red Mill is here! We have a handy guide below to choosing the best types of apples to make an out-of-this-world apple pie.
Granny Smith Apples
For whatever reason, Granny Smith apples have long been considered the favorite for apple pies. This is likely because they are extremely firm, and do not mush under almost any amount of cooking. A mushy pie is widely considered a bad apple pie, so this may explain why many people refer back to the Granny Smith for their pies. However, Granny Smith apples are quite tart and do not contain a very strong apple-y (that is a technical term, guys) flavor, so they may not be the perfect apple to use by on their own. If you combine them with a more sweet and flavorful apple, you will likely create a lovely pie combination. One positive for the Granny Smiths is that they are typically readily available at any supermarket, any time of year. They are also very easy to distinguish based on their unique color.
The Honeycrisp apple is one of the sweeter varieties, so it definitely is not lacking in the flavor department. They stay relatively firm, although less so than the Granny Smiths, and this makes them a great combination of flavor and texture for your pies. Unfortunately, the Honeycrisp apple variety is only available for a few months in the fall, so you will have to snatch them up when you get the chance.
Not to get confused with Red Delicious, Golden Delicious apples are distinct in their yellow color and should be pretty easy to find most times of the year. They are a nice blend of sweet and tart, making their flavor profile perfect for an apple pie. You will love the blend of flavors in this apple! They do lose a bit of firmness when cooked, so the texture is not quite up to the level of the Granny Smith, but we think Golden Delicious is a great pie apple, especially if you only want to use one type of apple!
Commonly referred to as the “most beautiful” apple, the Rome apple has a very regular spherical shape to it and a nice red skin. The texture of a Rome is nice, but the flavor is a little bland, which is not exactly what you want for a pie. Mix this one with a more flavorful apple for the best results.
Jonathan or Jonagold Apples
Jonathan apples are pretty much your classic apples, with a nice red skin and a pleasant blend of tart and tangy flavor. Jonagold apples are slightly rarer and are the cross between Golden Delicious and Jonathan apples. Together, the two produce a new variety that has both a firm texture and a flavor with hints of sweetness and tartness together. These are a little harder to find (the Jonagolds, that is) but you should be able to find them at Farmer’s Markets in most areas.
The Braeburn is a unique apple which has almost a citrus-y aroma to it. The Braeburn is very firm, which is perfect for baking apple pies, and some have said that it almost tastes like a pear after baking. If you like this unique flavor, then you will be very happy with a Braeburn apple pie! Plus, it is a great apple for mixing with other varieties, because it adds a unique and interesting flavor to the mix.
Now we are getting into the rarer apples. The Northern Spy apple is perfect for baking, but they only grow biannually, so they will be tougher to come by. If you are really dedicated to your apple pie, however, this will definitely pay off! Contact a local grower to see if you can come across some Northern Spy apples, and you will not regret it. This apple may look a little lumpy, but it is firmer than many other apples, which makes it a perfect option for baking pies, and the flavor is mostly sweet, with just the kick of tartness that you want in a pie! We definitely recommend trying out the Northern Spy apples.
Other Factors to Consider When Choosing Apples For Your Pie
How many types of apples have you tried? How many does your local store sell? We would guess that your answers to these questions are somewhere around five or six—max. You may not even know the names of the different varieties beyond the obvious yellow, red, and green. As it turns out, there are somewhere around 7,500 different types of apples that are grown in the world. Yes, you read that correctly—over seven thousand apple varieties compared to the five or six that you may have tried. Now if that doesn't leave you feeling a little confused, then we don't know what will. Luckily, in the United States, that number is significantly smaller. Unluckily, it is still not that small. About 1,000 apple types are commercially grown and sold in the United States. While not quite 7,500, this number is definitely still intimidating when you are trying to find the perfect apple pie. We do not want all of you to have to bake 1,000 pies to be confident you have found the best apples—so we have a slightly easier way of figuring it out. Keep reading to help you figure out the perfect apple variety for your next apple pie.
What Do We Want from Our Apples?
With so many different options, you can imagine that there is a great deal of variation in apples’ taste and texture profiles. In baking, there are some definitions of the “right” and “wrong” thing to do (for instance, not undercooking your pie) but in many cases, the right choices for your apple pie come down to your personal preferences. It is widely understood that a “perfect” apple pie should contain apples that are still a bit firm after being cooked, that they should not be too mushy, and that you should get a good mix of tart apples and sweet apples. We have put together a list of some of the favorite options and their positive and negative characteristics. When you are putting together the perfect mix, try to find one that stays firm, but creates a complementary blend of tart and sweet for the perfect pie combination!
One of the important considerations in choosing the right apples will be your access to them. Certain apples are only available in certain parts of the country, at certain times, and in certain types of markets. So, pay attention to what you see during your shopping trips to see which apples will be the right kind to liven up your kitchen. However, at Bob’s Red Mill, we always recommend purchasing the freshest ingredients and only using apples that are currently in season. Apples in supermarkets are often held in storage containers for up to ten months—seriously, ten months—before being placed on a shelf at your local grocery store. This storage affects apple varieties differently, but for the most part, can affect their ability to maintain firmness in a pie, so you will have much better results if you use a more freshly picked apple.
If you search high and low for the best apples, you want to ensure that you have the best crust possible to complement these apples. We recommend our Easy Gluten Free Pie Crust recipe for the best results! It is also important to find a pie pan that is the right size for your crust.
With 7,500 varieties, there are unimaginable combinations of apples you could use to bake your perfect apple pie. Try checking out your local farmer’s market and testing out some new varieties if you can find them. The best pies often come from mixing two to three varieties and taking the best attributes from each one—we recommend grabbing one variety with great texture, and one with your favorite flavors to get the best combination. Let us know what varieties you try and which ones are your favorites in the comments section below—we can't wait to taste test our own experiments with apple pie.