Saturday, September 14, 2013
September is here and apple picking is in full swing! In my area, there are many orchards (and therefore many varieties of apples) to choose from, so I thought I would do a post about baking with apples.
There are a few basic things to remember when using apples for baking:
1) The best apples for eating raw are often NOT the best for baking: Macintosh turns to mush, Gala and Fuji become bland. And just forget about Red Delicious, they are absolutely horrid in baking. Golden Delicious can be good, but you have to be careful to get really firm ones.
2) Use different apples together: Combining two or three different apple varieties gives you a more interesting, complex flavor, especially in pies. Using only one kind of apple can make your pie have a "one note" flavor, and using a couple of different kinds lets you get the best of each apple - one might have a great flavor but lacks the firmness to stand up to baking, while another firm apple may not be as flavorful. Mix them together and it works perfectly.
3) Keep in mind the use: You may perfer a different type of apple for pies than what you would use for apple muffins or apple cake. In muffins, cakes and breads, I usually use just one type of apple, a firm-sweet or a firm-tart variety (like Cortland or Granny Smith). For sauce I tend to use whatever I have on hand, though I prefer Macintosh. For apple crisp, I use whatever I have on hand, since it doesn't need to hold its shape the way a pie does. For apple pies, I always like to use 2-3 types together.
4) There are endless varieties of apples, and selection will vary by region. While there are a handful of apples we all see in the grocery store (Granny Smith, Delicious, Macintosh, Gala, Fuji) there are numerous lesser known varietals which each region is known for. Because of this, it is hard to recommend apples that everyone will be able to find. There is an excellent book devoted to the subject of cooking with apples. The Apple Lover's Cookbook by Amy Traverso. This fantastic book goes into many of the rare and strictly regional varieties and how they are best used.
The orchard I go to every year, Breezeland's Orchards, has a very good Pick Your Own Apple Chart to help you determine which apples are good for what. They are located in Western Massachusetts, so some of the apple varieties listed are ones you might only find in New England. But there are many common varieties listed, so take a look.
5) It really comes down to your personal taste. Some of the apple types I like to use are listed as "good" but not "excellent" for baking, but I prefer them. Some people love the tartness of a pie made with all Granny Smith apples, while some people bake with Galas and think that's just fine. The best way to discover which apples you will like in desserts is to get baking! Yes, it is time-consuming to try out different apples, but it is a delicious experiment. Here are my local favorites, which are by no means the only good ones for baking, it is just my personal list:
Cortland - Firm, on the tart side but sweeter than Granny Smith
Jonathan - Medium firm, sweet
Jonagold - Medium firm, sweet
Ginger Gold - Medium firm, sweet with a hint of spice
Granny Smith - Very firm and very tart, assertive flavor, good for very tart desserts
Honey Crisp - Medium firm, sweet
6) Apples vary from year to year, and even orchard to orchard. Fresh is best, so get them from an orchard or farmer's market rather than the grocery store if you can. Not only will the apples be fresher there, it will give you more selection to experiment with. An apple fresh from the orchard will taste very different from the same variety of apple in the grocery store! I was surprised to realize how different they can taste. For example, the Cortlands I get in a store are usually sweeter, blander and not as juicy as the ones that are fresh picked from an orchard.
In the recipe section, I have recipes for pies, cakes and muffins using apples - take a look!
Posted by Christa Dunn