The best baking apples offer a balance of sweet and tart flavors as well as flesh that doesn't break down in the oven. Here we showcase 12 great baking apples that meet those criteria--as suggested by the Ohio Apple Marketing Program and the Michigan Apple Committee. Once you know which apples to look for, experiment, mix and match to find your tastiest combination.
"My mother's favorite is to blend Cortland and Melrose in a pie," says Bill Dodd, program director for the Ohio Apple Marketing Program. "The more varieties you use, the richer the blend of flavor."
Click ahead for apple suggestions, then give your favorite combination of baking apples a try in Apple Pear Praline Pie (pictured at left).
One of the sweetest apples around, this Midwestern favorite is good for anything--including baking. It boasts a distinctive juicy crispness and is firm enough that it won't cook down much. It complements just about any other apple variety to make a stellar pie. But be ready to grab Honeycrisps; they're only available for a few months in the fall.
One of the most popular baking apples, the classic Granny Smith puts the American in apple pie. It's a tart and tangy apple with a firm flesh. If you like a splash of sweetness, pair it with some slices of Honeycrisp in your recipe.
The Melrose is the state apple of Ohio--and the favorite of Dodd's mother. It's a cross between Red Delicious and Jonathan, a combination that Dodd says gives it "just a good tart, apple taste." Harvested in October, they taste best after 2-3 weeks off the tree so they can develop their full aroma and flavor.
This tart-and-spicy apple's very thick skin makes it good for storing, and the white flesh doesn't cook down during baking. Try this apple not only in pies but also in salads, cider, applesauce and wine-and-cheese treats.
With its perfect round shape and deep red color, Rome Beauty qualifies as one of the prettiest apples. Mildly sweet and tart, "it's pretty middle-of-the-road, flavor-wise," Dodd says. "This is one I'd mix with something else because it has a real good consistency but not a strong flavor." The hard green/white flesh keeps its shape in the oven; it also sautés well. Romes ripen late in the growing season and can be found throughout the Midwest.
Favored for its naturally sweet flavor, the Golden Delicious requires less added sugar in recipes than other varieties. The thin skin doesn't need to be peeled, but the flesh won't stay as firm as some other baking apples. If you prefer a softer, sweeter pie, this apple is for you. Goldens also make great applesauce and apple butter, and will dress up any salad.
A relative of the McIntosh, this versatile red apple is a favorite for out-of-hand eating, but it is also delicious in dessert recipes. When cut, the snow-white flesh keeps its color longer than other apples. A touch of tartness gives it a kick, and the crisp flesh will help your pie stay higher and have better shape. Cortlands also do nicely in salads and kabobs.
These Northern Michigan natives aren't known for their beauty--they have an irregular, lumpy shape and dull green/red color--but they bake like a dream. "They've got great consistency, flavor and bake-ability," Dodd says. They're harder and crunchier than most apples, and have a mostly sweet, mildly tart flavor. Dodd says they're difficult to come by because they're biannual--meaning they only yield a big crop every other year. Your best bet is to get these directly from a grower.
With a crisp bite and a mellow sweetness, the Gala complements any recipe--you can even get away with using less sugar because of its natural sweetness. The crispness helps it retain its shape throughout baking so it doesn't get mealy.