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Choose the best apples for baking
By Caroline LeBlanc | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 9/3/2008 12:05 AM

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A homemade apple pie is only as perfect as the apples that hide beneath the flaky crust or crumbly topping. These all-American pies require baking apples that have tough skin and offer a harmonious balance of sweet and tart flavors.

"Ideally, you want the apples in the pie to be al dente so when you take a bite the apples are tender but don't melt in your mouth," says chef Maria Selas, a baking and pastry instructor at the Illinois Institute of Art in Chicago and an apple pie veteran.

However, only one apple truly embodies the decadent, tender mouth feel she's referring to. "Typically, I use Granny Smith. They hold their shape in the oven and are not as mealy as others," she adds. "But usually I will combine Honeycrisps and Granny Smiths for a sweet and sour flavor."

Try these varieties, as suggested by, or a combination, for your next apple baking venture.

Cortland: This red-skinned apple is slightly tart and juicy and is ideal for baking since the flesh won't discolor quickly.

Empire: A hybrid of McIntosh and Red Delicious, this all-purpose apple is firm-textured and will add a dash of tartness to your pie.

Golden Delicious: For a sweeter pie, look no further than the best all-around cooking apple. It maintains its shape as well as adding rich, mellow flavor.

Granny Smith: Hands-down one of the most popular tart apples, Granny Smith is simply ideal for apple pie. As it cooks, the tart flavor enhances and also pairs well with sweeter apples for a crisp contrast. Try using Granny Smith and Golden Delicious in tandem for a sweet and sour pie.

Honeycrisp: A hybrid of Macoun apples from Minnesota, this apple offers a pie sweeter flavor and aroma but firm flesh and bite.

Jonagold: A blend of Jonathan and Golden Delicious give this firm apple its tangy-sweet flavor and yellow-green coloring.

Northern Spy: Popular in upstate New York, Spy's produce late in the season. Not falling short on flavor, this spicy apple adds mildly sweet, rich flavors to your pie. The flesh is crunchier than most, so holding up in the heat of the oven won't be a problem.

Winesap: If you're jonesing for a unique flavor to jazz up the old fashioned pie, this firm apple is not only juicy and tart but offers a winelike flavor. Also used to make cider, it is an all-purpose apple, which tends to hold its shape and flavors while cooking.