What kind of apples should you use to make apple pie?

There are a couple of comforting things about fall to help ease the adjustment of shorter days and cooler temperatures. The fact that it’s a time for apple picking, corn field mazes and winter squash (pumpkin, butternut and acorn to name a few). One of my favourite things to make is apple pie. It’s one of the first things that we made at my George Brown College culinary classes. One of the most common questions that I hear is “What kind of apple(s) should you use to make apple pie?”

This involves being familiar with the flavour profiles and the textures of the different type of apples. A couple years ago I did a couple apple taste tests where we compared several types of red apples and green apples. However, just because an apple taste good on it’s own doesn’t necessarily mean that it will translate into making good pies.

Hard core apple pie making aficionados swear by Granny Smiths because of their tart flavour (to offset the amount of sugar that’s added) and the fact that they hold their shape while cooking. Which makes for a very nice looking pie and one that doesn’t turn to mush or have a mealy texture.

However, if you aren’t a fan of Granny Smith apples (because of their tart flavour), Honeycrisps are a good all round apple that offer a sweeter taste while still holding their shape. Galas and ambrosias are also sweet apple varieties that hold their shape but some people find that the pies taste too sweet or have a grainy texture.

Some serious bakers often use a combination of Granny Smith and a sweeter apple such as Golden Delicious or Braeburn for the perfect balance of texture and tartness while still having sweetness compared to just using Granny Smiths alone.

Generally the following types of apples are recommended:

  • Granny Smith – Because they hold their shape and don’t result in a pie that is too sweet.
  • A combination of Granny Smith and a sweeter apple (like Golden Delicious or Macintosh) – Because the pie holds its shape but is sweeter compared to using Granny Smiths alone.
  • Honeycrisp – Because these apples hold their shape and are also sweet. They are great all around apples for eating out of hand or baking with. However, they tend to be more expensive.

Serious Eats did a series of taste tests using ten different types of apples. They preferred Golden Delicious and Braeburn as the apples to use when baking pies. Check out this article for more details.

Honestly speaking though, if you arrived at a dinner party with a homemade apple pie, people probably wouldn’t be too picky with what type of apples you used (unless there are some pie making pros in the group). And even then, they will probably just be grateful that someone else made a pie that they can enjoy. Food always tastes better when someone else makes it.

Play around and experiment. See what matches your personal preferences and taste. Sometimes, it’s just about using whatever types of apples you happen to have on hand in combination (which is not a bad thing). But if you are new to pie making and want to make sure that your pie turns out the way it should, choose Granny Smiths, Golden Delicious, Honeycrisps or Cortlands.

What types of apples do you use when making apple pie? Do you notice that the type of apple really makes a difference?