Fall Guide to the Best Baking Apples

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Baking with apples is easier than it seems! Follow our guide to fall apples to find out which apples are best for baking pies, making sauce or serving on a cheeseboard.

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Photography Credit: Alison Bickel

I wait all year for apple season and know that buying the right type of apple can take fall baking recipes from good to “I can’t stop eating this” delicious!

When the weather cools, I dream of tart, crisp apples baked into turnovers, layered into Dutch Apple Pie, coaxed into applesauce, and pressed into cider.

If you’re not sure which apple is best for a pie and which is best for a mid-afternoon snack, don’t worry! You’re not alone. There are more than one hundred apple varieties commercially grown in the United States and with so many options, it’s difficult to know what apple is best for which fall baking recipe?

According to Toni Lynn Adams at the Washington Apple Commission, an apple with high cell density is heavier and better for baking because it won’t break down as quickly as low density apples. But what does that mean when you’re at the orchard or staring down apples in the produce aisle?

I wrote this easy-to-follow fall apple guide to help you pick the perfect apple for baking, snacks, and sauce. Read on to up your apple IQ.

Guide to fall apples with Fuji, Pink Lady, Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp, Braeburn, Granny Smith and Gala apples pictured and labeled.

BEST APPLES FOR BAKING

All apples taste great eaten out of hand, but a tasty snacking apple doesn’t always hold up in the heat of an oven. For a good pie apple, you want it to soften, but still hold its shape to maintain the structure of the pie.

Whether you lean toward the sweeter side of things or you prefer your apples with a tart pucker you can find a variety that suits you and your baking needs.

Don’t feel like you have to stick to one type of apple. Mix up tart and sweet varieties in the same pie, cake or cobbler if that’s what you have on hand.

A guide to fall apples shows two Gala apples on a plate. The apple to the left is sliced horizontally to show the inside of the apple.

On the Sweet Side

  • Honeycrisp: Honeycrisp apples are juicy, crisp and sweet. They have bright red skin speckled with green. Honeycrisp is a great pick for baking and pies because it has dense cell structure. These apples also tend to be large, making them great to slice and share. They can be pricey so keep that in mind if you’re making a lot of pies.
  • Gala: One of the most popular apples in the U.S. as well as the first variety harvested in Washington state each season. Gala apples are very sweet and crisp. It’s a great pick for baking, snacking, sauce, and salads. Gala apples are not a great choice for freezing, however, as they break down faster than other varieties.
  • Braeburn: Braeburn apples were discovered in New Zealand in 1952 and are one of the first bi-colored varieties. Braeburn apples are red with a yellow flesh and are incredibly crisp, making them a great choice for eating fresh. A balanced, aromatic flavor also works well for sauces, salads and pies.
  • Jonagold: These sweet and juicy apples are a cross between Golden Delicious and Jonathon varieties. They were developed in New York in 1968. They also tend to be large in size. This apple releases a pleasing aroma when baked, which makes it a good pick for pies. It’s also delicious for snacking, salads, sauces and preserves.

Granny smith apples, one of the best apples for pie, is set on a plate. The apple on the left is sliced in half.

On the Tart Side

  • Cripps Pink: Also known as Pink Lady, this variety has a blush skin and sweet-tart flavor. It’s a late season apple so it’s great for long term storage. It’s slow to oxidize or turn brown which, makes it a good pick for cheese plates. It’s also holds up well in baking recipes.
  • Winesap: This tart, heirloom variety is more common on the east coast than in other parts of the U.S. and has been a favorite since the late 1800s. Winesap apples have a long shelf life and are prized for making pies, sauce and cider. Winesap apples have a deep flavor, reminiscent of wine and are medium to large in size.
  • Granny Smith: The only green apple, as well as the tartest apple on the list, the Granny Smith is an excellent baking apple. Its tart, bright flavor balances out the sweetness in both pies and crisps. It holds its shape and has a firm, crunchy texture.

Apples outside in a wooden crate to show what apples are good for baking.

BEST APPLES FOR SAUCES, SNACKING AND CIDER

  • McIntosh: A dark red heirloom variety with a green background and white flesh. McIntosh apples were discovered in 1811. They are tart, juicy and tender. They breakdown easily, which makes them a favorite apple for snacking, sauces, juice and cider.
  • Golden Delicious: This yellow apple is sweet and mellow. Its balanced flavor makes it a great pick for salads and sauces. Its flesh stays white after being cut, making it perfect for a cheese plate, as well.
  • Fuji: A yellow and red striped apple that is firm and super sweet. These apples are great for snacking, making sauces and they freeze well. Its low cell density makes it the least desirable on this list for baking since it doesn’t keep its shape as well as other varieties.

TRY THESE FALL APPLE RECIPES

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Rachel Knecht

Rachel tests recipes for Simply Recipes, teaches a kid's cooking class, and develops the content for Baking with Rachel.

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12 Comments

No ImageFall Guide to the Best Baking Apples

  1. Deborah

    whatever happened to Stayman apples? They’re tart and sweet and really crisp!

    Show Replies (1)
  2. Sally

    Late October apple the Northern Spy is by far the best pie apple. It’s tart, holds it shape, and best of all is a large apple so you don’t need to peel too many apples. Ron’s comments was spot on!

  3. Judson Chasey

    Whatever happened to Jonathons? They were always my favorite. Best was picking them green, salting, and eating them until the stomach hurt.

  4. Philippe Laberge

    Omitted what I feel is the best baking apple… The Cortland… Stays white and keeps its crunchiness once baked.

    Show Replies (2)
  5. Ron

    I live in Canada. You missed the best cooking apple called a northern spy
    Try some if you can get some
    Ron

    Show Replies (1)
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Overhead view of apples on a black background for the best apples for fall baking.Fall Guide to the Best Baking Apples