I recently posted a grilled cheese sandwich with Taleggio and apple slices that I made on my sweet potato bacon sourdough bread, and someone asked me why I put apple in my grilled cheese sandwich. For the crunch of course, I replied. I got to thinking that I’d never really thought systematically about apples. Which apples are tart? What apples are sweet?
One thing that’s frustrating is that the apples we get in Washington State differ from the apples that I knew on the East coat. And the apples you see in April are so very different than the apples you see at the beginning of the apple season in the fall. End of season apples are the ones that do best in long storage or can be transported from New Zealand and elsewhere.
So I bought one of every apple I could find in our two regular grocery stores, organic and non-organic. And I bought a selection of cheese to try out with these apples, in thinking about those grilled cheese sandwiches. Typically we think of cheddar as the best cheese to pair with apples, and my cheese guy thought I was a bit crazy when I told him what I was doing.
A couple of caveats. The first is that this wasn’t a blinded taste test, although I generated the order by blindly picking each apple out of a bag. And, as with anything, the best apple is the one that you like the most. There’s no such thing as a “best” apple, just as there’s no such thing as a “best” chocolate chip cookie. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something, a wise man once said.
So what apples are sweet? Let’s get the tart ones out of the way first:
The Granny Smith is a classic apple that originated from Australia in the 1800s. It is firm and tart and keeps its shape when baked. The apple I tasted was firm and slightly sweet – less tart than I remember from Grannies in my past. It was perfect with the goat cheese Gouda and overwhelmed the more mildly tasting Fontina.
The Pink Lady (aka Cripps Pink) is a cross between a Golden Delicious and Australian apple called Lady Williams. This was the tartest apple I tasted and had a crisp apple flavor, perfect for salads. I loved it with the Brebirousse d’argental fromi, a gooey, stinky cheese. It’s the kind of combination that I’d use in my grilled cheese sandwich and my kiddo wouldn’t touch.
The Fuji is a Japanese apple that was developed in Fujisaki, Japan in the 1930s as a cross between a Red Delicious and Virginia Ralls Genet. It’s one of the most popular apples in the U.S., trailing behind the Red Delicious and Gala, which might tell you something. Though it had a beautiful color and was moderately crisp, it was watery and tasteless this April. I tossed it. Life’s too short.
A cross between Fuji and Braeburn (mr. uglyducklingbakery’s favorite), Koru is a NZ apple with Maori name meaning “unfurling fern.” They are supposed to be slow to brown (mine wasn’t), but it was moderately crisp, somewhat sweet, very juicy, and had tons of clear apple flavor paired with Manchego. This is one I would turn into applesauce without adding much sugar or spices.
The Envy is another Braeburn cross (this one with Gala) and my least favorite of the three Braeburn crosses. They all seem to fall into the category of somewhat crispy and slightly sweet, but this one hadn’t over-wintered as well as either the Koru or the Juici. As with all of my tasting, this apple may have suffered from sampling error, but it was a fine apple. It would pair best with an unassuming cheddar.
Juici (no, that’s not a spelling mistake) is our final Braeburn cross (with Honeycrisp) and is supposed to be less sweet. Mine was somewhat crisp, very juicy, and packed with apple flavor. It would be a great apple for applesauce or pie where you want the apple to melt down a bit. Its flavor stood up to the Gruyere and even the stinky cheese (although the Pink Lady did better with that one).
The Honeycrisp and its progeny are now taking over the apple world because they are crisp and sweet with little complexity. Though loved by many, they weren’t bred for storage or shipment, which is why we are starting to see all these new crosses (see all the apples below). The Honeycrisp I tasted was slightly bitter and definitely hadn’t overwintered well.
The Cosmic Crisp came to market to a massive amount of hype – “More than an apple, it’s an inspiration.” A Honeycrisp and Enterprise cross, it was bred in Washington for size and durability. Mine was crisp, juicy, and sweet but not huge in apple flavor or tang. I’d eat this on a grilled cheese or with a tangy cheese that would bring out its sweetness and wouldn’t overpower it. But I’m not sure I’d want to eat a whole Cosmic Crisp every day.
The Sugarbee was the result of an open (natural) cross between Honeycrisp and an unknown apple in Minnesota in the 1990s. It was pleasantly crisp and sweet, juicy and a bit watery like the Fuji. It didn’t stand up well to my Gruyere but worked well with a mild cheddar. This is an apple I would bake in a pie.
Apple #10 for this post is the HunnyZ, and I’m glad I didn’t miss this one. It’s a Honeycrisp and Crimson Crisp cross and is new this season with limited availability. It was another big apple, though not as big as the Cosmic Crisp. The taste test results? I found HunnyZ to be quite crisp (my crunching annoyed mr. uglyducklingbakery sitting across the room!) and a great balance of sweetness and tang. I liked it so much, I forgot I was supposed to find a cheese to go with it. If you’re a lover of this flavor profile, please look for and try this apple.
Frequently asked questions
It depends on when you intend on eating them. Apples will store better in the refrigerator, but I prefer them at room temperature for flavor.
Yes. Apples you buy are coated in a thin layer of wax that helps to preserve them for storage and makes them look prettier. Some even suggest that washing in water isn’t sufficient to remove pesticides, and a baking soda solution is needed. Alternatively, you can peel the apple and/or buy organic when available and feasible.
This answer depends on what you want from your pie. Do you want an apple pie where every apple slice stays firm and keeps it shape? Or do you want a pie where the apples bubble and melt into apple-y goodness? Personally, I prefer a mix and always use a few different apple types in my pies, focusing on those with a strong apple taste.
The Granny Smith is ideal for this, whether you’re making bourbon apples or the apple snacking cake from the Flour Bakery cookbook (pictured below with cream cheese frosting).
Of the apples I tried, I would use the Koru or Juici because they are full of apple flavor and you wouldn’t need to add much sugar to their applesauce to make something that tastes delicious.
If I’ve omitted your favorite late season apple, please comment and let me know.