With such a wide variety of choices, choosing the best apples for apple pie can be a daunting task. To make the process easier, I have tested a variety of apples so that I can help you determine which apples to choose for your perfect apple pie!
With fall in full force, this is no shortage of apple varieties to choose from! Figuring out which apples are the best for apple pie is no easy feat. Each variety has a very different flavor profile and texture, especially when cooked. So I wanted to do a good old taste test to determine which varieties would work the best in my apple pie.
I checked out my local farmer’s market and closest grocery store to pick up a variety of apples. I wanted to pick out an assortment that I knew would be fairly easy to find for most people, as well as a couple that were different and interesting. Here is the lineup: Granny Smith, Red Delicious, McIntosh, Pink Lady, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Gala, and Honey Crisp for the common apples and Pink Pearl and Sweet Tango for the less well known. I was well aware that some of these common varieties do not make good pie apples, but had never put them to the test to understand why exactly they don’t work well.
Pie Apple Test Overview
To do this test, I mixed up the ingredients for my standard apple pie recipe minus the cinnamon. While I do always use some cinnamon in my apple pie, I really wanted to taste the flavor of the apple, and not muddy it up with spices for the taste test. I peeled and sliced each variety of apple and combined 1/3 cup of each with 1 TBSP of filling. I baked all of the testers in a muffin tin and compared each.
Once the testers came out of the oven and cooled completely, I tasted each one. I judged them each on the following aspects:
Flavor Profile: What are the complexities of the flavor profile. Is it sweet or tart or a combination of both? How apple-y does it taste? Strong or mellow? Are there any other notable flavors beside the apple?
Texture: Is the texture firm, soft, or mushy?
Shrinkage &Liquid Content: How much does the apple shrink when it bakes? This affects if there will be a large gap between the filling and crust after baked. How much liquid is released from the apple? Did the liquid thicken up? Will it create a soggy crust?
Final Thoughts: An overview of how my feelings of this apple as an apple pie filling.
Traditionally, apple pies are baked with a variety of apples because each one offers a different characteristic. I wanted to test each separately so I could determine the qualities of each before I started combining. Let’s review the results, shall we?!
Testing Apples for Apple Pie
Granny Smith apples are widely available year round and are notably the most common baking apple. The flavor of the raw Granny Smith apple was by far the most tart and firm apple of the group.
Flavor Profile: Quite tart, in a pleasant way. Made my mouth water for more. Mild apple flavor, I longed for a more intense apple flavor.
Texture: Apple softened when cooked but held its shape.
Shrinkage & Liquid Content: Did shrink quite a bit, but juices thickened up very nicely.
Final Thoughts: Granny Smith apples are good apples for apple pie. I love the tartness that this apple provides and believe it would pair well with other apples that offer more sweetness and a stronger apple flavor.
I hadn’t eaten a Red Delicious apple in years, and the raw taste test immediately reminded me why. Extremely bland, with little to no apple flavor present. I threw this one in there because it is one of the most common apples to find. I didn’t have high hopes for this one as being a good pie apple, and my suspicions were correct.
Flavor Profile: Very bland. Only taste the sugar from the filling. Really no discernible flavor notes. Very, very low in apple flavor, boarding on nonexistent.
Texture: Held shape well. Pretty firm after baking. Did not soften as much as a pie apple should.
Shrinkage & Liquid Content: Did not shrink very much, but did produce quite a bit of liquid that did not thicken up. I think it would lead to a very soggy crust.
Final Thoughts: Red Delicious apples are not good pie apples (or eating apples, honestly). While they do hold their shape well, the flavor does not contribute anything to the pie and the liquid released that doesn’t thicken would lead to a very soggy crust.
The raw taste test of the McIntosh apple got me very excited for how it well it would do baked. It tasted very strong of apple flavor, and had notes of apple cider. It was extremely juicy, so I was concerned about how much it would shrink and how much liquid it might release.
Flavor Profile: Slightly tart and sweet and tastes of apple cider! I really loved the hint of cider flavor in this apple. Very strong apple flavor. What apple pie should taste like.
Texture: Became soft more quickly than most of the other apples. It did not hold its shape very well and became almost like a thick apple sauce.
Shrinkage & Liquid Content: This apple shrank more than any of the other apples, but the juices thickened up quite nicely into a very thick applesauce consistency.
Final Thoughts: I do think McIntosh apples are good pie apples in combination with apples that would hold their shape more. I think the ratio of McIntosh to other apples might need to be lower so that there isn’t too much shrinkage between the filling and the crust. The flavor was one of my favorites.
Pink Lady (also known as Cripps Pink)
I like the balance of sweet and tart in the Pink Lady apple during the raw taste test. It was also refreshingly crisp.
Flavor Profile: After baked, the Pink Lady apple had a very one-dimensional sweet flavor. Very, very mild apple flavor that did not develop when baked.
Texture: Stayed very firm and held it’s shape.
Shrinkage & Liquid Content: Did not shrink much and liquid did thicken up somewhat.
Final Thoughts: I think Pink Lady apples make fair pie apples. There were definitely other apples that I preferred and they would not be my first choice, but when paired with other apples they would do fine in an apple pie.
The Fuji apple was very juicy and sweet tasting during the raw taste test. I was concerned about how much liquid it would produce.
Flavor Profile: Sweet & tart. Does not produce a very strong apple flavor after baked. Flavor raw is much better.
Texture: Crisp and firm, even after baked.
Shrinkage & Liquid Content: Released quite a lot of liquid that did not thicken up. Would lead to a soggy crust.
Final Thoughts: Fuji apples do not make good pie apples. They are best eaten raw.
Golden Delicious apples have a soft flesh and I was concerned it would turn mushy during the test. It had a pleasant sweet flavor that was nicely balanced.
Flavor Profile: Sweet, but not cloyingly, and a good balance of tartness. Really good and present apple flavor.
Texture: Very soft, but held its shape well. Did not turn to mush.
Shrinkage & Liquid Content: Did not shrink too much, released a small amount of liquid that thickened up nicely.
Final Thoughts: Golden Delicious apples do make a good pie filling, especially if you like a softer apple in your pie. I liked Golden Delicious apples baked much more than I anticipated.
The Gala apple tasted really sweet and had a nice strong apple flavor when raw. I had high hopes for it baked, but was very let down.
Flavor Profile: Extremely sweet and one note after baked. Lost all of its apple flavor.
Texture: Soft and almost mealy after baked.
Shrinkage & Liquid Content: Slices did hold their shape well, but shrank a great deal and the liquid released turned into a very thick and sickeningly sweet syrup.
Final Thoughts: The mealy texture after baked leaves a lot to be desired. Gala apples are not recommended for apple pie.
The raw taste test reminded me where the Honeycrisp apple got its name, as it does have notes of honey in the flavor profile. Very good balance of tart and sweet when raw.
Flavor Profile: Pleasant fresh flavor. Slightly sweet & tart with a crisp apple flavor.
Texture: Crisp yet tender.
Shrinkage & Liquid Content: Did not shrink too much or release a great deal of liquid. The liquid that was released thickened nicely.
Final Thoughts: Has a very nice, well balanced, but mild flavor. Honeycrisp apples would work well in pie fillings in combination with other apples.
This apple was a total surprise to me! The flesh of the Pink Pearl apple was actually pink! It was beautiful and delicious raw. Tasted like a pear/apple hybrid. Sadly, this apple is only available for a few weeks in the early fall.
Flavor Profile: Perfect balance of tart and sweet. Tastes like a pear/apple hybrid.
Texture: Tender and smooth.
Shrinkage & Liquid Content: This apple did shrink a great deal, but the liquid released turned into a wonderfully thick tart syrup.
Final Thoughts: This was my favorite of any of the single apples I tried. Its a shame that it isn’t as readily available. Pink Pearl apples are good for apple pie. I highly recommend giving it a try both for eating and for pie making (in combination with other apples) if you can get your hands on some!
Sweet Tango has a very slightly sweet and somewhat tart taste when raw. Reminded me somewhat of Honeycrisp.
Flavor Profile: Slightly tart and sweet. Distinctly void of apple flavor.
Texture: Crisp and tender.
Shrinkage & Liquid Content: Held shape well, released fair amount of liquid that thickened into a syrup that tasted unpleasantly bland.
Final Thoughts: I don’t have much to say about this one, except that it was noticeably un-noteworthy. Probably the most boring tasting of all of the baked apples I tried and does not offer anything to apple pie. I do not recommend Sweet Tango apples for apple pie.
Best Apples for Apple Pie
Of all of the apples I tested, I determined 5 of the 10 to be the best for pie filling:
- Granny Smith
- Golden Delicious
- Pink Pearl (though this is a rare find.)
- Pink Lady is also a fair addition to the list
My second test was to do some combinations of the apples I determined to be good for pie to see which I preferred. I left the Pink Pearl apple out of most of the combination tests since it isn’t readily available, but I will say, if you can find it definitely give it a try! I will be eating as many as I can while I can find them!
My biggest realization of the second round of taste testing was that I really loved McIntosh in the mix over all other combinations. When tasting any of the combinations without McIntosh next to any of the fillings that did include McIntosh, the ones without it really felt like they were lacking apple flavor. I preferred every single combination that included McIntosh over any of the combinations that did not.
If you prefer a very tart apple pie: Try a combination of Granny Smith and Honeycrisp.
If you prefer a pie with a soft apple filling: Try a combination of McIntosh and Golden Delicious
If you want a balance of sweet & tart: Try a combination of Granny Smith and Golden Delicious and/or McIntosh
My favorite combination: Granny Smith & Honeycrisp with a small ratio of McIntosh. This combination gave a pie filling that is slightly on the more tart side, with a good balance of sweetness and the amazing apple cider notes that the McIntosh brings. I also love that the Granny’s & Honeycrisps hold their shape well and the McIntosh adds a bit of a different texture.
Other Notable Pie Apples Apples
Unfortunately, I did not have every apple available to me that could be used for pie. Other notable pie apples that would work well for pie include: Macoun, Cortland, Jonathan, Stayman Winesap, Rhode Island Greening, York Imperial, Northern Spy, and Ginger Gold.
This article is part of the October pie series. In case you missed it, check out last weeks articles where we reviewed every detail of How to Make Pie Crust as well as my Troubleshooting Guide for Shrinking Pie Crust. On Thursday, I will be publishing my article for the Mastering Series: Mastering Perfect Apple Pie! I hope you will join us!