Inter-departmental cooperation? We’ve got that in spades! Two Sundays ago, this manifested itself in a team effort between the bakery and the produce departments. Emily, produce buyer and home chef extraordinaire, brought the apples: 10 different kinds, most of them heirloom varieties. I represented for the bakery and turned each variety into an individual mini-crisp and sliced extras for a “raw” tasting. Our goal? To find out which were the best baking and which were the best eating apples.
First we tasted the crisps, working our way down the line in a blind tasting, making notes and discussing as we went. After we had finalized our preferences, we revealed the apple varieties to ourselves and sat down to do a raw tasting of the same varieties. Here are our results:
Rhode Island Greening: This apple has traditionally been considered a New England pie favorite. In the crisps, Emily felt it had a, “subtle flavor and creamy texture” while she thought the raw apple was, “dense and dry.” In crisp form, I found the Greening to have a nice acidic flavor with the vaguest hints of pear – the apple itself broke down a fair amount though and was almost applesauce-y. As such, it wasn’t an apple that we could recommend using solo for pie- or crisp-making. Raw, this apple left me with a dry mouth, reminiscent of a tannic wine. Like a robust red, it would likely pair well with some heartier cheeses. Summary: good acid flavor for baking but needs to be mixed with other apples for texture.
Jonagold: Weighing in at one pound exactly, I only needed one Jonagold apple to make a mini crisp AND furnish us with some leftovers for the raw apple tasting! Both Emily and I were impressed with this apple’s flavor when baked – Emily noted that it was “pear-like” with a “strong flavor” that had “hints of spice.” It had a deep sweetness that avoided being cloying and was both juicier and held its texture better than the Rhode Island Greening. As I sliced the apple for the crisp, it seemed to have large corpuscles that exuded a lot of juice – it was also quite easy to slice. When tasted raw, Emily and I both noticed a pear-like aroma and flavor in the Jonagold. Crisp and juicy with a good length of flavor, we thought this was a great snacking apple. Summary: excellent both baked and raw.
Fuji: This apple yielded a lot of juice at the bottom of the crisp tin. Interestingly, however, the pieces of apple had not broken down – in fact, they retained some of their crunch and we were astonished at how different the Fuji were from the other apple varieties we tried – the Greenings, for instance. The Fuji flavor was not, however, as strong as we were looking for, nor did the flavor linger long. The raw apples were not dissimilar in that they had a mild taste with, as Emily noted, a “short flavor.” Summary: will help add texture to a pie or crisp when combined with other, more robust, apples – will also up the juice factor! Good raw if you like a milder apple.
Ashmead’s Kernel: In contrast to the Fuji, Ashmead’s Kernel yielded very little juice at the bottom of the crisp tin – not a huge surprise when we revealed apple varieties at the end of our tasting – when I prepped this apple for crisp-making, it was noticeably less juicy than some of the other apples I sliced. Upon baking, however, this crisp acquired a marmalade-like appearance which I found was echoed by notes of citrus-like acid in the fruit itself. Emily said that she tasted the acidity of “tropical fruits” and we both agreed that pineapple was perhaps the best fruit descriptor for what we were tasting. The raw apples, we thought, were quite tannic with a long finish. Summary: lends a good acidity to baked goods. Some might find this apple too strong for an eating apple – however, if you like tannins, then this might be right up your alley. Paired with or mitigated by a dollop of honey or a wedge of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar, it could also be a whole other story.
Honeycrisp: When we broke the crust of this crisp, both of us noted a strong, enticing apple aroma unique to this variety – none of the other crisps made such an impact smell-wise unless brought directly to our noses. Again, there was a fair amount of liquid at the bottom of the crisp tin. However, both of us gave high marks to the Honeycrisp for its floral notes and buttery, balanced flavor. It also managed to retain some texture. In the raw tasting, Emily exclaimed, “it tastes like grapes!” My response, “like Concord grapes!” Crisp, fresh and juicy, this apple was a winner in the raw tasting too. Summary: good for boosting the aroma to your baked apple goods. A good snacking apple – although if you like your apples quite tart, this may not be the one for you.
Macoun: This apple was the most disappointing baking-wise for both of us. It baked up like applesauce and had a touch of both sweetness and tang but had such a mild flavor overall that it could easily get swallowed up by other flavors. In the raw, however, Emily and I agreed that Macouns are excellent eating apples, assuming they are fresh from the tree – this variety tends to diminish in deliciousness pretty quickly on the shelf. At peak, however, it is crunchy with a beautiful tartness and a hint of the sweet. Summary: don’t use this for baking – but definitely snap up fresh Macouns for snacking when you can!
Zabergau: The Zabergau was perhaps the biggest surprise in our line-up. Emily and I agreed that in its raw state it had good texture but it was fairly mild. Baked, however, was another story. Time in the oven transformed this apple into a, “rich, savory unctuous apple with a deep, full flavor” (as Emily eloquently put it). I liked the way the crisp smelled when I brought it to my nose – a kind of roasty-savory smell. When baked, the Zabergau also had a good length of flavor and a sweetness that finished with a touch of tang. The baked texture was a combination of sauce and bits of apple that made for a good mouthfeel. Summary: excellent for baking!
Ananas Reinette: These apples were one of the two tiny apple varieties we sampled. Baked into crisp form, Emily and I found they retained a strong acid flavor and were quite rich. Texture-wise, they turned somewhat applesaucey. In raw form, they were possibly the most sour of the apples we tasted and they were quite firm. A little went a long way so their size was appropriate to their big flavor. Summary: good for lending acidity to baked goods.
Pitmaston Pineapple: This – the other mini apple we tasted – yielded a very juicy crisp. When we cut into it, little chunks of apple appeared almost suspended in liquid. The chunks were not as firm as the Fuji but retained enough firmness to be pleasant. Both of us noted a delicate floral flavor to this apple. Raw, the flavor was not particularly assertive. Summary: good for adding juiciness to baked goods.
Bramley’s Seedling: Emily mentioned that, like the Rhode Island Greening, this apple has a reputation as a pie apple here in New England. On first glance, the Greening crisp appeared to be a little lower height-wise than the others in the line-up. It wasn’t super juicy on the bottom which led us to wonder if the moisture had for some reason evaporated a bit more. That said – it was by no means dry and had an apple-saucey texture. While the texture would not recommend this as an apple to use solo in a baked apple dish, the flavor was another story – acidic and full with a long finish, it is an excellent flavor booster. In raw form, Bramley’s Seedling has a nice texture with a flavor that Emily dubbed, “wine-like and cidery.” Summary: great for boosting flavor in your baked goods – a different kind of eating apple – given its wine-like characteristics, pair with cheese and/or honey.
In conclusion – both Emily and I agreed that the Jonagold and Zabergau apples had wonderful flavor and great texture when baked. Emily also liked Ashmead’s Kernel in crisp form and I felt that Bramley’s Seedling and Rhode Island Greening would be good flavor boosters (I like a touch of acidity which both of these apples offer) but would need more substantial apples to complement them. We also liked Honeycrisps for their aromatic contribution. In terms of snacking, we both liked the Honeycrisp and Jonagolds and might also incline towards a Bramley’s Seedling every now and again when craving something more wine-like.
If you are interested in replicating our tasting (with the same apples or with other varieties), here is the very basic crisp recipe I used, based on the one we use in our bakery. We did not add any spices so we could focus on the flavor of the apples but if you wish to add a dash of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves or allspice, I am sure you won’t go amiss! Also, please note that a lot depends on the freshness of your apples – we are fortunate to get some great apples from local farms and have a constant rotation of varieties (already, we have a different line-up than when we did when staging this tasting just over a week ago). If you can’t make it into the shop to share in our bounty, we hope you have another source that is local to you for good, fresh apples. Best of luck and happy baking!
Small Apple Crisp Recipe
2 cups of apples, peeled and cut into pieces
1 teaspoon cornstarch
3 light tablespoons sugar
1 ½ cups flour
¾ cups brown sugar
½ pound cold butter, cut into ½ inch cubes (refrigerate until the last possible moment)
Preheat convection oven to 350°F.
Pulse streusel ingredients in a food processor until the mixture resembles large crumbs. Immediately return to the fridge.
Prepare your apples and toss in a bowl with the cornstarch and sugar until fully coated. Put in a baking dish. Cover the top with your streusel, making sure to generously cover it so that no fruit is visible (we like a lot of streusel so we usually heap on a little more just to be sure). Store any extra streusel in the fridge (generally, it will keep for a week or so if refrigerated and it is excellent to have on hand for spontaneous crisp making!).
Bake crisp on a cookie tray lined with parchment paper (to catch any juices that bubble over) on low blow for ten minutes. Rotate tray in the oven and bake another 10-12 minutes, or until the apple juices are bubbling up through the crisp and it has acquired a nice brown color. If you don’t have a convection oven, the crisp will take a little longer to bake but you are looking for the same criteria – a nice brown color and a slow bubbling from the fruit. Let cool 10-15 minutes and serve warm. Enjoy!
Mary is a baker and cheesemonger at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.