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Exploring Baked Apples

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.


Was the First Baked Apple Nearly Perfect?

Was the apple the original “forbidden fruit”? No one knows for certain, but the image of Adam receiving a luscious red apple from Eve has appeared in centuries of artwork. I’m willing to go along with the notion. And, sometime after Adam and Eve were banished from Eden they must have figured out fire, so is it too much of a stretch to assume that they made the first baked apple?

OK, perhaps I’m reaching too far back into history, but baked apples have been around for a very long time. Anything that has stood the test of time like that must be worth exploring today.

Don't Use Just Any Apple

Gertrude Stein penned “A rose, is a rose, is a rose,” but not all apples are the same. Trust me. Some are crisp but some cook down to delicious (but texturally lacking) applesauce. Some are sweet, others are tart and tangy. They range in color from yellow to gold streaked with pink, pale to deep green, and shiny ruby to dark garnet red.

So, which one is the best?

Which Apple Is Best When Baked?

Here is a list of the most common apples and how well (or poorly) they perform as baked apples. The staff of the kitchens of Bon Appetit and NPR did all the heavy lifting and conducted the tests; I’ll supply the results below (one of these might surprise you).

Pretty Good

  • Braeburn: This crisp sweet-tart apple originated in New Zealand in the 1950s and now accounts for 40 percent of the world apple production. It’s red with golden-yellow undertones and stores well. The Braeburn exudes lots of juice but keeps its shape when baked.
  • Cameo: Red and yellow-streaked, this apple was discovered in Washington in 1987; it’s thought to be a hybrid of the Red and Golden Delicious but was not part of a breeding program—it resulted quite by accident. The skin is thin and delicate, the flesh creamy white and juicy with hints of honey and citrus.
  • Cortland: This is a “McIntosh-style” apple (one of many hybrids of the McIntosh with crimson skin, a green blush, and bright white flesh). It was developed at Cornell University in 1898. The Cortland is a large apple, crisp and juicy with a sharp sweet-tart flavor.
  • Gala: The gala is one of the most common apples in the world, available year-round. This cross between the Kidd’s Orange Red and the Golden Delicious is loved for its crisp bite and mellow sweetness. The Gala complements any recipe—you can even get away with using less sugar because of its natural sweetness. The crispness helps it retain its shape throughout baking so it doesn't get mealy.
  • Jonagold: This red apple with yellow streaks was developed in the 1940s. The Jonagold is a hybrid of the Jonathan and Golden Delicious, tart with a hint of honey sweetness. However, it doesn’t store well (it’s quite thin-skinned) so purchase in autumn at the peak of their season.
  • Jonathan: This is an heirloom apple, discovered in the early 19th century in New York. It has a perfect balance of sweet/tart and is the progenitor of several hybrids. The flesh is creamy yellow, crisp, juicy, and mildly sweet with hints of spice.

The Surprising Failure

  • Granny Smith: With its bright green skin, the Granny Smith is instantly recognizable at the produce market. Extremely tart and crisp it is commonly used for caramel apples and pairs spectacularly on cheese boards with sharp Bleus and Gorgonzolas. The Granny Smith apple is regarded for its tangy-tart flavor in apple pie. However, it was a dismal failure as a baked apple. The green skin morphed into a rather unappetizing shade of brown and the flesh collapsed into a dismal puddle.

The Best of the Best

  • Honey Crisp: The honey crisp (also known as the honey crunch) was developed in the 1960s at the University of Minnesota where it was bred to tolerate the harsh cold weather of the northern region of the United States. It appeared on the market in the mid-1990s. This one certainly lives up to its name; the honey crisp is supremely crisp and holds up to the heat of the oven. The skin is a beautiful still life painting of light green/yellow with a pink-red-orange blush and russet-colored freckles. The flesh is juicy and sweet with hints of pear.
Apple pie baked apples

Apple pie baked apples

Apple Pie Baked Apples

Everything that you love about America's favorite pie is right here in these apple pie baked apples. Gooey cinnamon filling, warm apples, and buttery handmade pie crust make a dessert that everyone will love.

Crockpot baked apples

Crockpot baked apples

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Read More From Delishably

Crockpot Baked Apples

Crockpot baked apples offer a bonus—not only are they easy to make and delicious—they make your house smell wonderful. Old-fashioned oats and brown sugar make a crumbly filling that tastes just like apple crisp. This is a very flexible recipe; you can add raisins, dried cranberries, or even chopped walnuts.

Easy apple crisp stuffed baked apples

Easy apple crisp stuffed baked apples

Easy Apple Crisp Stuffed Baked Apples

These apple crisp stuffed baked apples are similar to the crockpot recipe above, and take only 45 minutes in your oven. Oana takes this homey dessert over the top with homemade butterscotch sauce.

Instant pot baked apples

Instant pot baked apples

Instant Pot Baked Apples

The instant pot is the multi-functional kitchen dream-machine of the 21st century. It can function as a slow cooker, a rice cooker, a yogurt maker, and a pressure cooker (some even work as an air fryer and/or sous vide immersion circulator).

Pressure cookers seal in flavor and cook very quickly, and these instant pot baked apples require only 12 minutes of cooking time.

Microwave baked apples with granola

Microwave baked apples with granola

Microwave Baked Apples With Granola

The cooks in the Better Crocker Kitchen have developed a microwave baked apple filled with crushed granola bars; this would be a perfect dessert option for the dorm room.

Paleo stuffed baked apples

Paleo stuffed baked apples

Stuffed Baked Apples (Paleo)

Many of us are struggling with heart disease, obesity, and diabetes—conditions that advocates of the Paleo(lithic) diet (also known as the Caveman diet) believe were unheard of thousands of years ago. They point to our sedentary lifestyle and diets loaded with sugar, fat, and processed foods as the culprit.

The answer is to concentrate on lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, and nuts, shunning flour, sugar, and starchy foods. These paleo baked apples fit right in, replacing the typical oats and brown sugar with pecans, coconut, and honey.

Savory stuffing-stuffed baked apples

Savory stuffing-stuffed baked apples

Savory Stuffing-Stuffed Baked Apples

Baked apples aren't just for dessert. These savory stuffing-filled baked apples are a perfect blend of sweet and savory. Instead of sugar, oats, and cinnamon, these apples are packed with a dried-cranberry-sausage mixture, a perfect meal-in-a-dish.


© 2020 Linda Lum

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