Who doesn’t love homemade apple pie? Come fall, it’s a must-make dessert for just about any baker in America. But if you’ve never made one, or if you think yours could improve, perhaps you should play around with your choice of apples.
With more than 2,500 varieties of apples grown in the United States alone, how do you know which ones will make the best pie?
Well, it all comes down to just two characteristics: firmness and flavor.
First, you’re going to want firm apples that can hold their shape through the long, slow cooking process — no one wants applesauce pie! Second, you’re going to want to make a mix between two varieties of apples: sweet and tart. Buy half of your apples from the tart column and half from the sweet. A good balance between the two is what makes the best pies.
So when we compare apples to apples and filter our thousands of apple options through this firmness/flavor funnel, what are we left with?
These are the apples most widely regarded for being the best to use in apple pie:
Firm and Tart Apples
Granny Smiths are just about the most perfect baking apple since their crisp, extra tart flavor pairs with sweet flavors so well. They hold their shape really well too, so bake away!
Cortland apples are slightly tart with a bright red skin and bright white flesh that doesn’t discolor as quickly as some other varieties making it a great choice for apples and charcuterie boards, as well.
Empire are a cross between Macintosh and Red Delicious. They’re a nice all-purpose apple for juices, pies, salads, or eating fresh. They have a firm texture and sweet yet slightly tart flavor.
Northern Spy is a late season apple with a mildly tart, sweet flavor. These store well, so same some for when a pie craving calls later in the winter.
firm and Sweet Apples
Golden Delicious has a nice mellow flavor that nicely balances with tart apples for a pie that just about everyone will enjoy.
A cross between the Jonathan and Golden Delicious apples, Jonagolds have a tangy-sweet flavor that makes them excellent for cooking.
Fuji are firm, crisp, and juicy making them one of the most popular apples for eating fresh, but they make great pies, too. They’re fall firmly on the “sweet” end of the apple scale.
Crispin’s are known for their sweet, juicy flavor. This apple will have much more sweetness than the Golden Delicious or Jonagold, and it holds up really well when cooked.
Firm Tart and Sweet Apples
Of course, some apples fall in the sweet and tart columns. You can use any of these as your second apple choice if you want your pie to lean strongly either to tart or sweet.
Pink Lady apples are a nice balance between sweet and tart and have a great ability to hold their shape.
Honey crisps weren’t introduced to market until fairly recently (the 1960s), but they’re already a favorite for eating fresh. The honey-sweet, tart flavor is great for baking, too.
Braeburn have a sweet-tart flavor that works well in pies that you don’t want to be overly juicy.
How many apples to buy
Buy half of your apples from the tart category and the other half from the sweet category, and you can’t really go wrong. Or, if you’re going to use just one apple, go with one of the tart and sweet varieties.
You will need about 2 1/2-to-3 pounds of apples per pie. Once you peel, core, and chop those down to recipe specifications, you’ll have much less than that weight, but that’s how you’ll have to weigh it at the store.
If you don’t have a scale handy, one pound equals about four small apples, three medium apples, or two large apples. So by that math, you’ll need about six large apples, eight medium apples, or 11 small apples to make one pie.
I always buy a few more just in case. If you don’t use them, you can always just eat them!