I grew up just feet from an apple orchard on a farm in Easter Washington. Although not as idyllic and charming as one may be led to imagine, I did walk away with an above average ability to name an apples variety just by looking at it. I’ve also learned a thing or two about which apples to use for what, and more importantly, why.
Apples not only run the spectrum of sour to candy like sweetness, but texture is also a huge issue. If a recipe calls for a Granny Smith and you use a Gala don’t be surprised if you end up with an overly sweet pie pan full of mush. Some apples hold up really well to high heat, others don’t. Some need more sugar, while others need very little. If a recipe calls for a specific type of apple, try your best to find that type, the recipes success may depend on it.
Red Delicious: This is the most popular apple in America and I have little idea why, other than it looks so beautiful in a fruit basket. The flesh easily turns to mush when cooked and texture is grainy. Try to avoid this when cooking and use it only raw, like in salads.
Granny Smith: Very popular baking apple because it holds up to high heat, keeping it’s shape during baking. It is also on the sour side, so if you’re substituting a different apple for recipe that calls for a Granny Smith, you might want to pull back on the sugar a bit. Still a great choice for baking, pies especially, but it tends to be best when mixed with another sweeter apple (like a Braeburn or Golden Delicious).
Honeycrisp: with a beautiful red and green skin, this apples has had a rapid rise in popularity among bakers in the past decade. With a snappy crispness, well balanced sweet-tart flavor and a flesh that wont let you down once baked, this is a variety to seek out when making an apple tart, apple pie or apple tart Tatin. If you can’t find the popular Honey Crisp, look for the Rome Beauty or a SweeTango. With similar qualities, these an excellent stand in.
McIntosh: This is another large red and green marbled beauty. It isn’t the best choice for baking because it tends to fall apart, but because of it’s strong apple flavors it’s a great choice for apple sauce makin’.
Cortland: This is one of the few apples that has tannins. Tannins are most often talked about when discussing wine, they give you that pucker feeling in the back of your throat when drinking a glass of vino. Because of that, Cortlands make a great addition to cider making.
Just be aware that “apple” is not one size fits all when it comes to baking. Making sure you have the right man for the job will help make sure you hit the mark when making those holiday pies.
- 4 tbs butter
- 3 large Honeycrisp apples, peeled and chopped (about 4 ½ cups)
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon, divided
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 loaf Italian bread, cut into cubes (about 8 cups)
- 4 large eggs
- 1 ½ cups milk
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ¼ cup chopped pecans
- Whipped cream (optional)
- Melt the butter in a pan over medium high heat. Add the apples, brown sugar, cinnamon, and ½ tsp salt. Allow to come to a low boil, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has turn thick and syrupy, about 15 minutes.
- Spray a 7x11 (or 9x9) baking dish with cooking spray. Pour the apple mixture into the pan, avoiding the outer edges.
- Top with bread cubes and pecans.
- In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs, milk, sugar, nutmeg, vanilla and remaining ½ tsp salt. Pour evenly over the bread.
- Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour and up to overnight.
- Preheat oven to 375.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. If the bread starts to brown too early, cover with aluminum foil and continue to bake until cooked through.
- Invert onto a serving tray, slice and served topped with whipped cream, if desired.