Apples. You eat them every day (if you’re trying to keep the doctor away). That’s because some sort of apple is typically available in our supermarkets 365 days a year. It’s easy to reach out and grab whatever apples are featured without giving the variety a lot of thought. Which is a good thing because the most popular way to eat apples is out of hand and raw. Top of the heap apples best enjoyed this way include: Honey Crisp, Braeburn, Granny Smith, and McIntosh. Where I live Fuji can also be had without too much effort. I love apples and I’m happy for their wide availability.
However, when I’m cooking with apples I want to choose the best apples for the job. The best apples for baking, the best apples for braising, the best apples for sauce, etc. My general rules of thumb is this: for sweet apple recipes like pies and cakes I choose tart apples such as Granny Smith and for savory preparations I choose sweeter apples like Honey Crisp, and my favorite all-purpose apple (snacking, sweet baking or savory cooking) is Braeburn.
Choosing the “best of” anything is at best murky. I usually roll my eyes when we bloggers bestow titles like “the best” on anything (and everything). I figure we’re either being lazy writers or SEO whores. However since I am both a lazy writer and an SEO whore, I will say this – when it comes to cooking there are some things that are just plain proven fact – water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, cooking bacon starts in a cold pan, and buttercream frosting requires magical skills that I do not possess. Most of the rest of those supposed cooking “rules” are just personal preference.
Well almost most of the rest. When it comes to choosing the best apples for baking, the truth is some of the information is proven fact and some of it is personal preference.
Best Apples for Baking
As I said, Granny Smith is my default apple for baking sweet desserts. It’s crisp and tart and stays that way even under high heat. It may seem counterintuitive to choose a tart apple for a sweet treat. However, I think a nicely acidic apple gives the sugar in a recipe balance. That’s an example of personal preference. My own personal preference.
Texture however falls in to the category of rule. The rules and standards of apple pie demand that the fruit not be mushy. McIntosh makes nice apple sauce because it’s a soft apple. However, they aren’t the best apples for baking – they make a mushy apple pie. There are other crisp beauties that work as equally well as Granny Smith. Braeburn, Cortland, Honey Crisp and Rome Beauty all get high marks. So these apples are often included on the best apples for baking blogger lists. If you’re unsure what your favorite apple for baking is try a combination of these apples. In my opinion that’s “the best”.
However, just when you think the rules are decided I have more information for you. This information falls under personal preference. There are plenty of apple varieties out there that are considered heirloom or regional. So I suggest you taste what is available in your area raw and out of hand, then make up your own mind. Like I said personal preference can be murky. GREG
Choose apples that are crisp and tart and stay that way even under high heat. I used a combination of Braeburn and Granny Smith.
- 14 ounce cream cheese (at room temperature, divided)
- 7 tablespoon unsalted butter (at room temperature)
- 2 tablespoon heavy cream (or more as needed)
- 2 3/4 cup (390 grams) all purpose flour scooped & leveled (plus more as needed)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar (divided)
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
- 1 large egg
- 2 large, tart, firm apples (peeled, halved, cored and cut into ½‑inch dice)
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 large egg yolk (mixed with 1 teaspoon water, as egg wash)
- turbinado sugar (as needed)
Put 6 ounces cream cheese, butter and cream into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment. Process until well combined and fluffy, about 20 seconds. Add flour and salt. Pulse mixture 5 or 6 times. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Process an additional 15 or 20 seconds, until dough just comes together and begins to pull cleanly away from the sides of the bowl in jagged clumps. If this doesn’t happen within 15 or 20 seconds add another few teaspoons cream as needed.
Move the dough to a lightly-floured work surface and gently knead 2 or 3 times. If dough seems quite sticky or at all wet sprinkle in another few teaspoons flour. Give dough another couple of quick, gentle kneads. Divide dough in half, shape into 2 squares about 5‑inches wide and 3/4‑inch thick. Wrap in plastic. Refrigerate dough at least 1 hour (or up to 2 days), or freeze up to 1 month.
Place oven rack in the center position. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a medium bowl use a hand-mixer to beat the remaining 8 ounces cream cheese, ½‑cup granulated sugar, lemon zest, and egg until very smooth. In a separate bowl toss diced apple with lemon juice, remaining ¼‑cup granulated sugar, cardamom and cinnamon. Chill both bowls at least 20 minutes and up to 8 hours.
Remove dough from refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll out one square of cold dough to about 10 or 11-inches square, a generous 1/8‑inch thick. Use a paring knife to trim the edges squarely and neatly. Then cut into four 5‑inch squares. Lay squares onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, about ½‑inch apart. Repeat with second square of dough.
Working with dough squares in place on baking sheet place a generous 2 tablespoon dollop of the cream cheese mixture onto the center of each square, leaving about a 1‑inch border all around. You will have extra cream cheese for another use. Place a scant ¼‑cup spiced apples on top. Working one at a time, fold all four corners over the filling, so that the points meet near the center but do not touch (leave about ¼‑inch of space between them). Press lightly to distribute the filling somewhat, being careful not to let any escape. Repeat with the remaining squares of filled dough. Refrigerate until chilled, about 20 minutes.
Brush the exposed tops and edges of the dough of each hand pie with egg wash and sprinkle with turbinado sugar. Bake in the heated oven, until pies are golden brown and filling is oozing out a little, about 30 minutes. Move to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
I love a very sour green apple. Haven’t been able to get one since I left Canada.
Okay, I am definitely with Wendy. Red Delicious apples are an oxymoron. They are useless and, sadly, ubiquitous. Their bad taste and texture are proven facts. Now, as to all the other varieties, I loved reading the comments and finding everyones’ favorites. Mine, growing up in New England, is the Mcintosh. Yes, it is sweet, but also tart, and it allows me to use less sugar in pies, which I like. (To be clear, I like both pies, and less sugar…) These hand pies are beautiful and I wish I could get my hands on one now for brekky!
So true that each apple variety is best used in a certain way. These look so tasty, and cardamom is one of my favorite spices and it’s so lovely with apples!
Greg, just this morning I was thinking of apples and pastry, then I came here and found these perfect little hand pies — if only I had cream cheese on hand, I’d be in the kitchen making a batch before I can finish this sentence.
It is working! Now if you could please tell me how to become an SEO whore! I am so bad at this stuff! Love this apple post!
I’m back from vacation (a whole month off!), and so happy to see you’ve baked me a treat! At this time of the year I often have an apple for breakfast, along with a hard-boiled egg. That whole keeping the doctor away thing, you know. Anyway, I like Golden Delicious a lot — totally different flavor from the red delicious, which I don’t much like. They work pretty well for baking, but your choices are better. Anyway, fun recipe — thanks so much.
I never know what apple to choose for what recipe, so this is a great read Greg. Your hand pies look divine!
“10 tips for the best apple hand pies — you would believe this one food blogger’s trick. Doctors hate him!” SEO whores, you cracked me up for calling us all out.
I think Granny Smith is my favorite of all. I used to love eating them fresh and cold as they got to our store
I love a good honeycrisp in baking but boooooy are they expensive! Right now they are pretty cheap at the Farmers’ Market so I’ve been buying them by the (enormous) basket-full for baking. I agree that Granny Smith is a star in baking as well — especially in pies and tarts like this! I love the look of these 🙂
Well Greg , you always make me smile when I read your blog. As for apples I miss the apple trees from my village in Germany. My favorite being an August apple (that’s what is was called because it ripened in August). It was the juiciest apple ever, not much for cooking but oh, did It taste good. There were so many different varieties of apple trees. Some were stored for the winter, some for eating and some for baking. My mom always made apple sauce with the ones that nobody wanted to eat. I make these killer ginger pork chops and now thanks to you I can choose the right apples. Have a great week.
It’s a great year for apples in the northeast this fall, I’m happy to say. I just got back from visiting my son in Vermont and the farmers’ market had all sorts of varieties that we don’t get down here in VA, such as Hubbardston Nonesuch and Cox’s Orange Pippin. We do get Albermarle Pippin, which was one of Jefferson’s favorite apples. I also had something called Blondee for the first time a couple of weeks ago. It’s a crisp, sweet-tart early apple (already done for the year). My all-time favorite apple is something called Gold Rush (I’ve posted about it before), which is very dense and juicy, with an intense sweet-tart flavor. I agree it’s always a good idea to mix up apple varieties when baking; that way you get a mix of flavor and texture. As for the ubiquitous supermarket apples, I try to stay away from them. One thing I have found is that if you buy the old standby varieties, such as Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and Gala, from the farmers’ market or you-pick orchards, they are much, much better. I love the idea of making apple hand pies with cream cheese dough. A lovely touch. Thanks for the recipe Greg!