Baking with Apples for the Holidays

Favorite apple recipes are handed down through generations, like Grandmother’s Famous Baldwin Apple Pie, from Joanne DiNardo of Sholan Farms, Leominster, Massachusetts (currently closed for the season).

IT IS NO WONDER that apples feature prominently in holiday celebrations. 

They represent the bounty of the year’s harvest. They brighten the season with the colors of summer and fall. They offer sustenance for the winter months ahead.

New England-grown apples celebrate our local farmers, while their appeal crosses cultures. 

Thanks to a good, if slightly smaller, 2022 crop, there will be a plentiful supply of locally grown apples for fresh eating and cooking until next year’s blossoms have come and gone. Kept cold, this year’s apples will be nearly as crisp as the day they were picked.

But part of the beauty of apples, of course, is their unmatched versatility in baked goods and ciders.

With so many ways to eat and prepare them, apples are the ultimate comfort food and never get boring. They warm our kitchens, bodies, and souls.

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No sampling Geri Griswold’s six single-variety apple pies (Cortland, Empire, Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp, Macoun, and McIntosh) at the White Memorial Conservation Center in Litchfield, Connecticut, which we have done every other year. (Bar Lois Weeks)
Geri Griswold tests people’s tastebuds with six single-variety apple pies (Cortland, Empire, Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp, Macoun, and McIntosh) during an apple program at White Memorial Conservation Center, Litchfield, Connecticut. (Bar Lois Weeks)

AS WE ENTER PRIME BAKING SEASON, here are some suggestions for getting the most from your apples:

Your favorite apple can make a good pie. Whatever variety you choose can excel in a pie, either by itself or mixed with other varieties. The key is a good crust — and being judicious with sugar and spices. 

Strong spices like nutmeg or cloves can enhance apple flavor, but only in modest amounts or they can overpower the desired taste.

Apples are naturally sweet. Many recipes benefit from using less than the recommended sugar to maximize apple flavor, especially with sweeter varieties like Gala or Honeycrisp.

A single variety can make a great pie. Many cooks prefer a mix of apples in their pies to take full advantage of their strengths, such as McIntosh for flavor and aroma, Mutsu for size, Cortland for texture.

Leave the peels on for added color, flavor, texture, and nutrition. It also means less work in the kitchen!

A truly exceptional pie has a soft, buttery crust, and that can take lots of practice. But don’t despair! Apples are generous and forgiving. Even if your crust falls short of perfection, the apple filling will eagerly be gobbled up.

We have several good pie recipes in our Recipes section, including this one from Ken Haedrich, author of Apple Pie Perfect: My Mom and Dad’s Brown Sugar Apple Pie

For something pie-like but in a different form, try Peg’s Apple Squares. Delicious!

Prefer a tart? This one is as pretty to look at as it is good to eat: French Apple Tart.

Or skip the crust altogether and go straight to Grandmother’s Apple Crisp.

Apples generally are best used within a month of purchase. Keeping apples cold in your refrigerator slows, but does not stop, the ripening process, which continues after the apple is harvested. 

After a few weeks, varieties like McIntosh become sweeter, juicier — and softer. They retain some of their tang but their flesh becomes creamier. Even firmer apples like MacounFuji, or Empire are crispest when fresh.

Children like to help! (Bar Lois Weeks)
Children like to help making applesauce! (Bar Lois Weeks)

Applesauce can be substituted for oil, butter, or other fat in recipes, on a one-to-one basis. The result is moister, more flavorful, and healthier treat.

Applesauce is easy to make, and a good way to use apples when they are past their peak. Applesauce keeps for weeks in the refrigerator and can be frozen; enjoyed by itself or as a topping for yogurt or ice cream.

Here’s an unusual twist on this traditional dish: Apricot Applesauce.

Substitute apple cider for water. It adds more flavor and boldness to whatever you are cooking, from applesauce to gravy.

Apples pair well with other fruits like cranberries, raisins, and pears, like Apple Pear Cobbler with Cheddar. Tossing in a handful of cranberries or raisins can transform a baked dish from good to extraordinary.

For breakfast, try Apple Banana Scones. For dessert, both raisins and nuts are featured in Glazed Apple Cookies.

Apples pair well with savory foods, too. Many people like a sharp slice of Cheddar with their pie. Apples add a distinctive flair to dishes like Golden Apple Stuffed Filets.

For a main course, try Apple McIntosh and Cheese; for a side dish, Family Favorite Apple Stuffing.

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HAVE A FAVORITE APPLE RECIPE? Feel free to pass it along. 

If there is a special story behind it or tips on how to prepare it, include them as well. If we like it, we may add it to our Recipes section or feature it in a future blog!

Send your recipes to info@newenglandapples.org.

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LOOK FOR LOCALLY GROWN APPLES in your supermarket or grocery store throughout the winter and spring (if they are not there, ask for them!).

Find out which orchards remain open through the holidays at our Orchard Finder.

Short on time but want something delicious? Try this variation on a classic: Baked Apples with Fruit. (Jonathan A. Wright)

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