The arrival of this season’s first apple crop is an annual event that signals fall and warm, spice-laden desserts. But, there are so many varieties, making it difficult to choose the best apples to use for apple pie.
The fact of the matter is that not just any old apple will do. Some can take the heat of the oven without turning into a mushy tragedy while others … Well, they’re just not suited to baking.
“The most important thing when picking apples for pie is the texture,” Hannah Kaminsky, cookbook author, food photographer, and the creator of the vegan recipe blog, BitterSweet, tells VegNews. “That’s why I’d never go for something with a softer bite, like Empire or Macintosh. These are better suited for making applesauce or apple butter instead.”
Thankfully, the best apples for making apple pie don’t change when you’re making the dessert vegan. The perfect apple pie features a filling that is sweet but tart and intact yet tender, with a buttery, flaky crust. Not every apple is up for the job.
What’s the best apple pie apple?
When it comes to baking, not just any old cultivar will do. Here are the best apples to use for apple pie.
1 Granny Smith
If you ask a baker what their favorite apple for apple pie is, chances are that Granny Smiths will be at the top of their list.
“Granny Smith apples are typically listed as the best apples to use for pie,” Emily Frigon, founder of the vegan recipe blog Garlic Head. “Their tart flavor plays well with the sugar in most recipes. If you’d like, you can mix the apple with something sweeter, like a Honeycrisp or Pink Lady, for a nice balance of flavors.”
This spring green apple is probably the sourest variety available. It has a citrus-like aroma and an acidity that complements the sugar and spice that you coat it in for pie. It also has a firm, crunchy texture that holds up when it bakes. When you use Granny Smith apples in vegan baking, you’ll find that they generally stay in whatever shape you cut them into.
With a name to match its flavor and texture, Honeycrisp apples are another superior baking fruit. This variety comes in hues of red and yellow.
“Personally, my favorite apples for pie are Honeycrisp, since they have a firm, crunchy texture that holds up well to baking without becoming mealy, and a nice sweet-tart balance,” Kaminsky says. They also have a sweet, honey-like flavor.
While Honeycrisps make good apple pie apples, Kaminsky notes that they can be on the expensive side. “So, a good alternative is a mixture of Granny Smith and Fuji Apples to get a really satisfying range of flavors,” she says.
You can easily spot Braeburn apples by its steaks of orange and red on a Granny Smith green background—fitting since this variety is a crossbreed of Lady Hamilton and Granny Smith.
Braeburns are low-acid apples that are juicy and crisp, with a sugary citrus flavor. They soften up a little when they bake, but remain firm and flavorful enough to not get lost in all of the spices and sugar.
Crispin apples, also called Mutsu, are a cross between Golden Delicious and Indo, a Japanese cultivar. These light green apples with an orange blush have a light, sweet flavor with a crunchy texture that can stand the oven’s heat. They’re also known for being extremely juicy. Crispins tend to be much bigger than other apple pie-worthy apples, so you won’t need to buy as many for baking.
5 Pink Lady
Also known as Cripps Pink, its official cultivar name, Pink Lady apples have a reddish-pink blush color. This jack-of-all-trades apple has a good balance of acidity, sugar, and crunch, making it good for snacking, salads, cooking, and baking. It has a crisp bite and intense, sweet-tart flavor that holds up even when it’s baked into a pie.
“These are all on the sweeter side, so if you chose to focus on just one apple, I’d suggest adding some lemon zest for contrast,” Kaminsky suggests.
6 Golden Delicious
Golden Delicious is one of the most popular cultivars in the US. This classic apple has speckled skin and a green-ish gold hue, sometimes with a faint orange blush. Although it’s implied in the name, it’s not a cousin of Red Delicious. It has a mild sweet-tart flavor with a crisp, juicy texture that makes it a popular apple for apple pie.
A cross between Golden Delicious and Jonathan apples, Jonagolds look the part. They have a golden yellow skin with flushes of muted red and a crisp texture with a flavor that’s sweeter than it is tart. But, it still contains enough acidity to make it a good apple pie apple. In terms of its size, Jonagolds are substantial, so you won’t need to buy too many—or, you can buy a lot and save them for snacking. It’s a pleasant eating apple, too.
Worst apples for apple pie
The apples to avoid in apple pie are ones where the flavor and texture don’t match up to what the, in our opinion, perfect vegan apple pie needs.
The apples below don’t work for pies because they usually can’t take long cooking times, Frigon explains. “If you try baking a pie with these, it could become overly soft and gummy,” she warns.
They become a grainy and flavorless mush that gets lost between the crusts. That isn’t to say that these are bad apples—they shine in other ways. Along with Rome, which Kaminsky recommends for apple butter instead, the apples you don’t want to use are:
These thick-skinned apples are often ovular and lop-sided with a coloring that consists of green and muted blush. It is dense and juicy with a mealy, but crisp texture. But because of this, it tends to turn to mush when used in baked goods and its sweet and tangy flavor is lost.
McIntosh apples are good for snacking, salads, oatmeal, vegan stuffing, applesauce, and pureeing. Use the apple puree in vegan baked goods like this Spiced Apple Cake, which features warming notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.
2 Red Delicious
Say the word “apple,” and most Americans likely picture Red Delicious in their head. Red Delicious apples have tough, vibrant red skin, long shelf-life, and a tall, conical shape. They have a firm bite and a mild, lightly crisp flesh.
Unfortunately, its popularity is declining. Many people complain that it lacks flavor. Still, Red Delicious has its fans, who enjoy it for snacking and salads. However, it gets lost in baked goods—so skip it if you’re making vegan apple pie.
Fuji is considered one of the best eating apples. It’s green with pink speckles, crunchy, refreshing, and juicy. But, when it’s on its own, Fuji tastes watery and sad in vegan apple pie.
Mix Fuji with a crunchy apple, like Honeycrisp—Kaminsky’s personal favorite—if you want to cut down on costs. Otherwise, save Fuji for snacking, salads, and pairing with vegan wine and cheese.
It’s also an ingredient in Japanese curry, helping to balance the salty, sour, umami, and bitter flavors. In her vegetarian Japanese curry recipe, Namiko Chen, cookbook author and the creator of Just One Cookbook, uses grated apple, Japanese curry powder, garam masala, and cayenne pepper. Swap out the butter with a dairy-free alternative to make it vegan.
Gala is one of the most popular varieties in the US. It has speckled red skin and yellow spots, plus a complex flavor that’s sweet with floral and vanilla notes. This makes it an amazing apple for snacking, juicing, and salads, but it tends to get a little too grainy when it’s baked. However, that texture is wonderful in these doughy vegan maple apple cinnamon rolls.
Now, you’re armed with the knowledge of what makes a good apple pie apple. Use that when you next bake an apple pie or these shortcut apple pie turnovers, which are made with accidentally vegan puff pastry. Of course, no vegan apple pie is complete without a scoop of dairy-free vanilla ice cream.