Apple

The 7 Best Apples for Vegan Apple Pie and What to Avoid

The arrival of the season’s first crop of apples is an annual event that signals fall and warm, spice-filled desserts. But there are so many varieties, it makes choosing the best apples for apple pie difficult.

The fact is, 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 suitable for baking.

“The most important thing about picking apples for pie is texture,” Hannah Kaminsky, cookbook author, food photographer, and creator of the vegan recipe blog, BitterSweet, tells VegNews. “That’s why I would never go for something with a softer bite, like an Empire or a Macintosh. Instead, they are better suited for making applesauce or apple butter.

Fortunately, the best apples for apple pie don’t change when you make the dessert vegan. The perfect apple pie features a filling that’s sweet yet tart and an intact yet tender, buttery, flaky crust. Not every apple is suitable for work.

What is the best apple for apple pie?

When it comes to baking, not just any old variety will do. Here are the best apples for apple pie.

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1 Granny Smith

If you ask a baker what their favorite apple is for apple pie, chances are Granny Smiths will be at the top of their list.

“Granny Smith apples are commonly cited as the best apples to use for pie,” Emily Frigon, founder of vegan recipe blog Garlic Head. “Their tart flavor pairs well with sugar in most recipes. If you want, you can mix the apple with something sweeter, like Honeycrisp or Pink Lady, for a nice balance of flavors.

This spring green apple is perhaps the most tart variety available. It has a citrus flavor and acidity that complements the sugar and spices you top it with for a pie. It also has a firm, crunchy texture that holds up when baked. When you use Granny Smith apples in vegan baking, you’ll find that they tend to stay in whatever shape you cut them into.

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2 Honeycrisp

With a name that matches its taste and texture, Honeycrisp apples are another superb fruit for baking. This variety comes in shades of red and yellow.

“Personally, my favorite apples for pie are Honeycrisp because they have a firm, crunchy texture that holds up well to baking without becoming floury, and a nice sweet-tart balance,” Kaminski says. They also have a sweet, honey-like taste.

While Honeycrisps make good apples for apple pie, Kaminsky notes that they can be expensive. “So a good alternative is a blend of Granny Smith and Fuji apples to get a really satisfying range of flavors,” she says.

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3 Braeburn

You can easily spot the Braeburn apples by the orange and red rinds against the green background of the Granny Smith – fitting as this variety is a cross between a Lady Hamilton and a Granny Smith.

Braeburns are low-acid apples that are juicy and crisp, with a sweet citrus flavor. They soften a bit when baked, but remain firm and flavorful enough that they don’t get lost in all the spices and sugar.

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4 Crispin

Crispin apples, also called Mutsu, are a cross between Golden Delicious and Indo, a Japanese variety. These light green apples with an orange blush have a light, sweet flavor with a crunchy texture that withstands the heat of the oven. They are also known for being extremely juicy. Crispins are usually much larger than other apples suitable for apple pie, so you won’t need to buy as many for baking.

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5 Pink lady

Also known as Cripps Pink, the official variety name, Pink Lady apples have a reddish-pink blush color. This exceptional apple has a good balance of acidity, sugar and crunch, making it good for snacks, salads, cooking and baking. It has a crunchy bite and an intense, sweet-tart flavor that lasts even when baked into a pie.

“They’re all sweeter, so if you’re going to focus on just one apple, I’d suggest adding some lemon zest for contrast,” suggests Kaminski.

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6 Golden Delicious

Golden Delicious is one of the most popular varieties in the US. This classic apple has mottled skin and a green-gold hue, sometimes with a faint orange blush. Although implied in the name, it is not a cousin of Red Delicious. It has a mild sweet-tart flavor with a crisp, juicy texture, making it a popular apple for apple pie.

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7 Jonagold

A cross between Golden Delicious and Jonathan apples, Jonagolds look the part. They have a golden yellow skin with hints of muted red and a crunchy texture with a flavor that is more sweet than tart. But it still packs enough acidity to make a good apple pie. For their size, Jonagolds are substantial, so you won’t need to buy too many – or you can buy a lot and keep them for a snack. It is also a pleasant apple to eat.

The worst apples for apple pie

Apples to avoid in apple pie are those whose flavor and texture do not match what we believe the perfect vegan apple pie needs.

The apples below aren’t good for pies because they usually can’t take long to cook, Frigon explains. “If you try to bake a pie with them, it can get too soft and sticky,” she warns.

They become a grainy and tasteless mush that gets lost between the crusts. That’s not to say these are bad apples – they shine in other ways. Along with Rome, which Kaminski recommends instead of apple butter, the apples you don’t want to use are:

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1 Mackintosh

These thick-skinned apples are often ovoid in shape and slanted with a coloration that consists of green and muted blush. It is thick and juicy with a floury yet crunchy 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 great for snacks, salads, oatmeal, vegan stuffing, applesauce and puree. Use applesauce in vegan baked goods, like this Spiced Apple Cake, which features warming notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger.

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2 Red Delicious

Say the word “apple” and most Americans probably picture Red Delicious in their head. Red Delicious apples have a firm, vibrant red skin, a long shelf life and a tall conical shape. They have a firm bite and soft, slightly crunchy flesh.

Unfortunately, its popularity is waning. Many people complain that it lacks flavor. Still, Red Delicious has its fans who like it for snacks and salads. However, it gets lost in baked goods – so skip it if you’re making a vegan apple pie.

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3 Fuji

Fuji is considered one of the best apples. It’s green with pink flecks, crisp, refreshing and juicy. But on its own, Fuji tastes watery and sad in a vegan apple pie.

Mix Fuji with an apple crisp, like Honeycrisp—Kaminsky’s personal favorite—if you want to keep costs down. Otherwise, save the Fuji for snacks, salads, and vegan wine and cheese pairings.

It is also an ingredient in Japanese curry, helping to balance salty, sour, umami and bitter flavors. In her recipe for Vegetarian Japanese Curry, Namiko Chen, cookbook author and creator of Just One Cookbook, uses grated apple, Japanese curry powder, garam masala, and chili pepper. Replace the butter with a dairy-free alternative to make it vegan.

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4 Gala

Gala is one of the most popular varieties in the US. It has mottled red skin and yellow spots, plus a complex aroma that is sweet with floral and vanilla notes. This makes it an amazing apple for snacking, juicing and salads, but it tends to get too grainy when baked. However, that texture is wonderful in these Maple Apple Cinnamon Dough Vegan Rolls.

Now you are armed with the knowledge of what makes a good apple pie an apple. Use it the next time you bake an apple pie or those quick apple pie turnovers that happen to be made with vegan puff pastry. Of course, no vegan apple pie is complete without a scoop of dairy-free vanilla ice cream.

For more seasonal vegan baking guides, read: