Whether you like to get yours from the grocery store or an orchard, keep an eye out for these types of apples when you know you want to prepare a dessert.

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As soon as the leaves start to change, home bakers everywhere pre-heat their ovens and clear off their countertops as they get ready for a season of baking pies, cookies, and other desserts. While apple picking season is at its peak in September and early October, popular apple recipes like apple pie and Apple Crumble are enjoyed through the end of December. With so many varieties of apples available at the grocery store—as well as those still hanging on the tree at the orchard—which type is right for your recipe? "You definitely want good tart flavor to offset the sugar that's used in so many desserts," says John Lyman, an eighth-generation co-owner of Lyman Orchards in Middlefield, Connecticut.

variations of apples
Credit: Justin Walker

What to Look For

So, what qualities constitute a good baking apple? Flavor and firmness. "A good baking apple will have a tart, acidic flavor. The apples also need to cook down to a soft consistency without turning to mush," says Jake Samascott of Samascott Orchards in Kinderhook, New York. Keep an eye out for universal varieties such as Golden Delicious, Pink Lady, and Granny Smith, all of which make fantastic baking apples. Don't underestimate Honeycrisp apples either: "They're what I call all-purpose apples, meaning that they're great for both eating and baking. Their nickname is the dessert apple because they have a full body of tart and sweet flavors, and their flesh is crispy," says Lyman.

If the color of your apple isn't a vibrant red or an even shade of green, which is often the case for apples picked at the orchard later in October, don't assume they're bad. Lyman says the flavor and crispness will be just as good as first-grade, picture-perfect apples; and if you're going to peel the apples for a pie or cobbler anyway, then the color of the peel makes no difference.

The Best Apples for Pies

Both Samascott Orchards and Lyman Orchards use a combination of Jonagold and Ida Red apples in their pies, cakes, cobblers, and crisps. "Jonagold has a great flavor, good consistency, and is even sweet enough to make no sugar-added apple products. Ida red has a very strong apple flavor and cooks very well," says Samascott.

Crispin (or Mutsu) apples and Granny Smith apples also have a nice acidic flavor that works well in baked goods. For the most flavorful pie, Lyman recommends using a combination of at least two different apple varieties. Try pairing Ida Red and Crispin or Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples. If you're baking with Empire apples, mix them with a slightly firmer variety since they tend to get too soft once cooked.

The Best Apples for Applesauce

While Macintosh apples generally get too soft for a pie filling, both Samascott and Lyman agree that they're the perfect apple for making homemade applesauce. They cook down quickly, which means it will be easy to mash the fruit with brown sugar and spices, transforming it into a smooth or chunky sauce depending on your preferences.

The Best Apples for Salad

A crisp apple salad made with winter greens, candied nuts, and sharp cheese is a fabulous contrast to the many sweets we enjoy throughout the fall season. If you're looking for the perfect apple to slice into matchsticks and scatter over the top of a salad, consider Cortland, Red Delicious, and Empire. These varieties are slow to brown, super crunchy, and generally sweeter than other varieties, which will offset the more tart or savory flavors found in a salad.

Apple Varieties for Snacking

According to Samascott, Red Delicious and Fuji, which is a hybrid of a Red Delicious, take too long to cook down enough during the baking process and most people would not enjoy eating a pie made from them. "Both Fuji and Red Delicious are also very sweet but bland, not making for a good flavored baking apple," says Samascott. Gala apples are too sweet for most desserts and don't bake as well as other varieties, so save those for snacking, too.

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