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Fall cooking 101: The best apples to use in pies, cakes and other dishes

by Vidya Rao / / Source: TODAY

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Good apples are like gifts from the gods, full of complex flavor and super satisfying.

With so many apple varieties out there (and more being released), it’s important to know that not all are created equal. Some are tart, some are sweet, some are crisp and some are soft. And each variety is suited for particular uses in the kitchen.

Apples
ApplesShutterstock

To get the core facts, TODAY Food spoke with Amy Traverso, author of "The Apple Lover's Cookbook" and senior food editor at Yankee Magazine. Together, we geeked out on apples.

Here’s what you need to know:

How to store apples

Put apples in a paper bag and put them in a drawer in the fridge. If you only have a plastic bag, poke holes in it to allow the air flow through. Don’t store apples on the counter unless you’re going to eat them right away.

How to know when apples have gone bad

“If you can push your finger in an apple and make a dent in it, it’s overripe,” Traverso says. “Treat it like bananas gone brown. You can just cook it down for applesauce or apple butter.”

The best apples for pies and tarts

Who doesn’t love the smell of a fresh apple pie baking in the oven? It’s pure love. It’s also a lot of work — so make the most of it by picking the right variety of apples for the filling.

“A combination of apples is ideal because apple flavors range from lemony to wine-like to berry to spicy. The more varieties you use, the more flavor you add. In general, you want firm apples and you want a combination of sweeter and more tart apples so you get a broader range of flavors,” Traverso advises. “But if I had to choose only one variety, for me it’s Jonagold or Northern Spy.”

Additionally, Traverso says, always peel your apples for pies and tarts, because “no one wants to bite into pie and get a mouthful of peel.”

Caramel Apple Pie

Caramel Apple Pie

Gesine Bullock-Prado

Try these: Jonagold, Northern Spy, Honeycrisp and Cortlandt, Granny Smith and Pink Lady, Golden Delicious, or Sierra Beauty, Calville Blanc, Roxbury Russet

Avoid these: McIntosh, Gala, Fuji or Red Delicious. These apples are a little too soft or just don’t have the right flavor punch for the long baking time pies and tarts require.

The Apple Lover's Cookbook

For muffins and cakes

Try Gala or Fuji apples, which add delicate, floral flavor.

Use apples in savory dishes

“Apples are great in a lot of savory dishes,” Traverso says. She points to a cider-braised brisket from her cookbook, as well as adding apples to stuffing and pork.

For most savory dishes, use tart apples and think of them as the acidic element, the way you would with lemons or limes. For dishes like pork that already have a hint of sweetness, sweeter apples make a great pairing.

Apple Cider-Glazed Pork Tenderloin

Apple Cider-Glazed Pork Tenderloin

Frances Largeman-Roth, RD

For applesauce

As Traverso suggests, applesauce or apple butter are good uses for overripe or mealy apples. McIntosh apples are soft and also work for this purpose, as well.

Get creative!

“The biggest mistake people make is not using apples enough in a really wide range of dishes,” Traverso explains. Try cooking with apple cider, especially drier varieties, the way you would with wine.

And pair apples with other fall fruits. “Fruits that ripen at the same time tend to go well together, like apples and pears,” she says. In her cookbook, Traverso also throws apples in sweet potato latkes and even in a savory pork pie with a cheddar crust — which ended up being a standout recipe in her cookbook.

“Open your mind to what apples can do, especially savory flavors,” Traverso says. “You will have a lot of happy surprises.”

Happy apple-picking season!

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