Best Cooking Apples

André Baranowski

When we set out to test the recipe for the baked apples with caramel sauce, we followed conventional wisdom and used Granny Smith apples, a common baking variety. It turns out that conventional wisdom isn't always so wise. The apples in our first batch broke open; the ones in the second turned to mush. So, we decided to bake a single batch using all the varieties we could readily find—13 kinds in all. The results are pictured, and they held a few surprises. The McIntosh, considered a poor candidate for baking, came out of the oven in good shape (though, like the Red Delicious and Golden Delicious, it lost most of its flavor), while the Rome, supposedly a baking champion, burst, as did the Royal Gala and the Pink Lady. Of the lot, the Cortland and the Empire had the best flavor—sweet, with a lingering tartness—and a luscious but firm texture. I related our findings to Katherine Alford, a SAVEUR contributor and avowed apple fanatic. "A lot of apples cook best right off the tree," she said, surmising that our Granny Smiths and Romes may have been sitting on a truck or a supermarket shelf too long, which allowed them to overripen and made for weak, mushy flesh. The lesson? Go for young, tart, firm apples—ideally ones that are in season and grown nearby.