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Please Share Your Favorite Apple Crisp Recipe (No Oats) and a Question: Best Apples for Crisp & Pie?

Well, after all, my hostess decided she wants me to bring an apple crisp for Thanksgiving. And personally, I just do not like oats in desserts. One outstanding question: what kind of apples are best for crisps and pies? My tendency would be to go for Granny Smith apples or whatever those, commonly seen in SF produce stores, round chartreuse green apples are. I'll be trying out your recipes between now and the big day - for our own consumption, so will try a few different ones and give you feedback on how they turn out.

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  1. If I've just picked apples, I use a combination of all-macs will be saucy but I like to add one or two with others if I have them. If not, I usually use granny smith or golden delicious or again, a combination. I usually like something sweet with tart and I am not a huge fan of Cortlands which are plentiful around where I live because I find them very dry, although many like them because they hold their shape.

    1. Rhode Island Greenings are over by now, but there are lots of Sierra Beauties; Bates & Schmitt stand at the Ferry Building market Saturday has them, so does Mollie Stone's/Tower Market up on Portola, so does Berkeley Bowl. They're the best dual-purpose (eating and cooking) apple I know of (the Greenings aren't good eating.) They have a kind of spiciness that sort of makes cinnamon superfluous if you use them in a pie.

      My basic crisp topping recipe (courtesy Cliff, the pastry guy at Hayes Street Grill):

      1 cup brown sugar
      1 cup all purpose flour
      1 stick unssalted butter cut into 4 or five chunks
      1 cup pecan halves

      Pulse a few times in the processor to make a coarse meal. That's it. Delicious.

      4 Replies
      1. re: rootlesscosmo

        Wow, it sounds like you know your apples. I'm going to do a little online search - it's about time I was able to visually I.D. more than just Granny Smith and delicious. And it is so kind of you to give me/us the Hayes St. Grill recipe. For those not near SF, it's a great restaurant. I will add a little kosher salt. And also, as an aside, it won't matter if one uses broken nut meats since you're chopping them - cheaper.

        1. re: niki rothman

          That Bates & Schmitt stand has been a revelation. I recall Greenings (without the "Rhode Island" prefix) from my Manhattan childhood; a restaurant called the Tip Toe Inn (honest) on Broadway in the 80's (not the 1980's, the stretch between 79th and 89th Sts.) served what they called "Green Apple Pie." Greenings are dry, hard, not very flavorful to eat, but in baking they develop an intense, tart flavor, and they hold their shape even as the slices turn a deep brown. B&S have a few trees; they bring Greenings to market usually for a few weeks around the beginning of October. They've got other great heirloom varieties, too, including Cox's Orange Pippin, Bramley (another commenter mentioned these), Fameuse (aka Snow Apple--small and delicious for eating) etc. Right now the Sierra Beauties are at their peak. They probably will have quinces for another couple of Saturdays too.

          1. re: rootlesscosmo

            I hope I can make it to the Ferry Building in the near future. If I can I'll definitely check out the B & S stand and sample those apples.

          2. re: niki rothman

            I made an apple spice cake last week with the Black Arkansas/Arkansas Black apples I found at the Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Mkt. They were wonderful in the cake. They held shape but were very tasty and moist. Don't know if they have them near you. Prob wouldn't be at Albertsons/Safeway-type stores. Maybe a local produce place.

        2. I have no suggestions on apples since I'll use any that are mostly sweet but lightly start and will hold their shape. I'll then add in about a 1/4 cup of citrusy white wine instead of the standard lemon juice for extra tartness - it isn't so much that I don't like lemons or don't use them on occassions, but I'm more likely to have a crisp white on hand than a few lemons. A little bit of cinnamon and ginger finishes my apples.

          As for the crisp topping, I do a similar one to rootlesscosmo except that I use spicy gingersnap cookie instead of pecans. (I also mix with my hands, but I think that's more of a "too lazy to wash anything but the bowl" type of thing.)

          2 Replies
          1. re: Ali

            This is so interesting. I actually have a tin of Swedish ginger snaps left over from last year's holiday season - and no longer crisp enough for anything but something like what you suggest. Also, do you think chardonnay would work? I don't drink and usually only have Japanese mirin in the pantry, but got some of this nice chardonnay as a gift. I tasted it and it seems to have a slightly sweet/not harsh flavor that would work in a dessert.

            1. re: niki rothman

              Those snaps will be perfect. After all, my original idea to throw in ginger snaps came about because I didn't want to waste otherwise good cookies.

              As for the chardonnay, I'm not quite sure. It depends, but if it isn't too oaky, it should work. The key with the wine is to use something with a nice acid level, a quality that chards usually share; the sweet-tart flavour in the wine brings out that same quality in your apples, making the crisp not too sweet.

          2. If anyone can track down Bramley apples, you will end up with the best apple pie/cobbler/crisp/danish/donut/whatever. Probably rare in the States but common in Britain. They are a cooking apple, not for putting in the lunchbox/pail!
            My mouths gone all weird thinking about them. :)

            4 Replies
            1. re: Sentiamo

              Bramleys were at Ferry Plaza earlier, but I haven't seen them in a couple of weeks. I would go for Sierra Beauty, also. Available, in addition to the above, at Monterey Market.

              1. re: Sentiamo

                Anybody know other sources for Bramley apples (from your salivation I'm very intrigued) and Sierra Beauties, or a source for more interesting apples (for cooking) than the usual - around SF or through mail order? Gravensteins are really nice for eating, but do they work in pie? And I'm ashamed to have to ask - where is the Monterey Market?

                1. re: niki rothman

                  I think you can eat bramleys raw - I always eat chunks when making strudel things, pies, turnovers, apple sauce, crumble (which sounds like your crisp!). But you should know that bramleys DO NOT hold their shape. If they are not quite ripe and sliced thinly then used in pie they do have a bit of solidity but if stove cooked or they are ripe you get sauce. (Unless you have really large chunks to start with, then you get lumpy sauce!)

                  1. re: niki rothman

                    Monterey Market is in Berkeley, at the corner of Monterey and Hopkins.

                    The only source I know for Bramleys is Bates & Schmitt. Their orchard is in Mendocino County, on Highway 128 just West of the tiny town of Philo; there's another apple grower there, Gowan's, that also has heirloom varieties (not sure which ones.) A person could do worse in these last pre-rainy-season days than take a leisurely drive up that way and bring back apples, Anderson Valley wines...

                2. I like making my apple crisp w/ something like 4-5 different kinds of apples--just depends what's available and what I'm in the mood for. I just get apples that taste good to me and don't worry if some may bake up more mushy then others. Last time I made crisp I used: granny smith, pippin, honeycrisp, braeburn, and fuji. I just add a little lemon juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, and flour.

                  My topping is very close to rootlesscosmo's, although I like walnuts and just use my fingers to blend. Last time, I found that the topping was a bit too molasses tasting, so I'm going to try replacing some of the brown sugar w/ granulated. I'm also going to add a pinch of salt next time.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Carb Lover

                    Good points. I was wondering about walnuts since I have a bag of them in the freezer. I'm thinking about trying one version with my wonderful shortbread as a bottom layer - prebake it, then the apples, then the crumbs. And I'm going to bring vanilla ice cream too. Here'a a general question for everybody: how much cornstarch for how much apples? I AM going to add a little corn starch rather than risk a juice wash out.

                  2. I made an apple pie last weekend with a combo of Braeburn and Turkey Winesap--they were good eating and tasted great in the pie. I might have wished for a granny smith thrown in there for a bit more 'firmness', but the flavor was great and they weren't applesauce in the end.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Smokey

                      You're right, it seems like a mix of apples is the best way to go. And it is really becoming obvious I desperately need to get an education in visually identifying different apples. I wouldn't be able to ID a turkey winesap if it bit me.

                      1. re: niki rothman

                        You'll be able to find it - just listen for the gobbling noises.

                        1. re: oakjoan

                          Q. How can you recognize a dogwood tree?
                          A. By the bark.

                    2. Apples are going to be a regional choice and on the West coast we have fewer. I usually choose pippin or granny smith if I can find them (I live in LA) but otherwise gs. When I bake on the east coast I'll always buy winesaps-- oh, oh wonderful baking apples.

                      1. Have you given any thought to using quinces instead of apples? They are available for such a fleeting amount of time and they are available now. They have wonderful flavor and hold their shape very well.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Candy

                          No, I have never tried quinces. What a wonderful idea! If I see them I will definitely buy some.

                          1. re: niki rothman

                            They are worth seeking out. I got a localy owned store get in a case and have been having a quince fest.

                        2. I like, for a little variety, a crisp made with Golden Delicious apples (the yellow ones) and blackberries and only white sugar to sweeten. (not brown w/molasses flavor) Not a formal recipe, it's just toss together fruit and sugar to taste with a little lemon juice. Topping is (real)butter crumbled with white flour and sugar. It's still homey & scrumptious like regular apple crisp, it just *seems* lighter.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: blue room

                            Oh, that sounds Sooooolovely. Pretty too. You don't have a problem cooking the delicious apples? I tried making apple sauce with them and it was kind of pithy - but, it very well could have been that the apples were just too old. I've recently discovered that apples do not keep very well at room temp. They get brown and woody after about a week it seems.

                          2. I will give you (all) my secret for an amazing apple crisp. Dot apricot or peach perserves on top of the apples and then top with your favorite combination of crisp topping (I too do not like oats and prefer the brown sugar/flour toppings).

                            As to apples, I also agree that a combination lends the most favor, but you should always include a few grannies for structure.


                            2 Replies
                            1. re: kate used to be 50

                              Ooooh, you devil, you! Apricot or peach preserves is an amazing idea. Which do you think would be the first choice? I have both - Bon Maman was on sale. I will include some grannies in there too. But, you know, I'm not sure I can tell the difference between fuji, granny smith, and pippins. Any hints? Does it matter?

                              1. re: niki rothman

                                Thanks ;)

                                I like apricot best. Peach is just a little sweeter, so if you were using all grannies (which by the way are very tart), peach is a good choice.

                                The last time I made a crisp, I used all Fuji. This is an apple I happen to love! The crisp came out better than I would have thought. It held together very well. I don't use Delicious or Macs as I find they get too soupy for my tastes.

                                I've never tried a Pippin. I'm on the East Coast and I don't remember seeing that type of apple. Like you said, I will have to educate myself a little better on apple types.

                            2. I'm making one today, so happy that I got online to check this site out. I too only have the granny smiths on hand so will use them, and since I only have one type of apple to use I'm going thow in some of the Trader Joe dried Bing Cherries for sweetness. Any idea about tapicoa for thickner instead of the cornstarch? It has been suggested that I try that instead...

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: chef chicklet

                                You don't need any thickener at all. As a Californian, for apples I use Pippins, if I can get them, and otherwise Granny Smith, or a combination of the two. No sugar or anything else with the apples. For the topping I use 1 cup a.p.flour, 1cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup (1 cube) salted butter and 1 teaspoon of cinnamon. These days I mix this in the Cuisinart, but any method will do. Just don't overwork the mixture. Toss in some toasted walnuts. This is heaven. I do find that Pippins take longer to cook than some other apples. This recipe is straight out of the Joy of Cooking, 1953 edition!

                              2. I don't use a thickener for crisps either. The juice is part of the goodness.

                                I love the jam on top before the topping idea!

                                I have been making crisps with little or no sugar at all (even in the topping), adding lots of nuts (filberts, walnuts, almonds) and (shh! Don't let Niki see this....oatmeal. I also put some spices in the topping. Now husb can sweeten with Splenda (which I can't abide) and I with sugar.

                                1. http://www.brogdale.org.uk/nfc_plants...

                                  I know this is an English site but if you're trying to identify apples by sight there might be a US equivalent. Or just peruse the one I've linked and let us on this side of the pond know the difference!

                                  1. Yesterday I made apple crisp in the crock pot for the first time. It turned out fine. (5-6 hours on low) I chose Cortland apples because that's what my MIL always used for pies and crisps. My husband grew up on an apple orchard and around here (NH) cortlands are considered good cooking apples. I am surprised to see thickeners mentioned because my crisps are never watery. Some apple varieties are firmer and drier. I was trying a new recipe that added 2 T of peanut butter to the topping mix. Not sure if I would do this again. The family didn't seem impressed and I think it detracted from the apple flavor. But adding some kind of nuts sounds good. The Cortlands were 30 cents a pound/utility apples at the orchard store. Good deal! My next try at a different recipe will be one that includes cranberries. For fresh eating I prefer Gala. The orchard store had Red Blush Delicious variety which I thought was very good, more crisp and tangy than usual Delicious. I rarely get Granny Smiths because I think they are too tart. I think Macs are too watery for cooking.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: dfrostnh

                                      Whereabouts in NH is your orchard store? Sounds like a great place!

                                    2. This time of year my refrigerator is stocked with Macouns. When I am not eating them out of hand we occasionally bake them in pies or use them in tarte tatin. Macouns are a cross between McIntosh and Jersey Black apples. They have crisp, snow white flesh that never seems to brown. They taste super sweet and have explosive juciness. If you can resist eating them all at once try baking with them and you will be hooked.

                                      1. My head is spinning from all the different apples you have all mentioned - apples I have never encountered before! Heaven would be having one each of all these wonderful sounding apples so I could sample them all at once, take notes and photos - and thus finally know what I need to know about apples. Having JUST pictures is fine, but until you taste the differences, you just don't KNOW. Plus, some apples are best for eating, but not so great for cooking, and vice versa. That is why I'm going to try to follow the general advice and use several different apples. Whew! Trust me to over-complicate what must be the simplest dessert of all time. No, that would not be apple crisp, that would be - an apple.
                                        Thanks everybody!

                                        1. I love using golden delicious, galas are good too. We tend to like the soft, sweet apples in our crisp/pies, although I've been know to mix in the random apple, pink lady, fuji, even (gasp) red delicious). As for quinces, I would only put one in just to get the fragrance, I've found it can be overwhelming to put more. I also like to put dried cranberries or cherries and candied ginger in my crisp (not pies, I like straight apple there). Also, I use melted butter in the crisp topping, along with chopped macadamia nuts.

                                          1. I always thought Northern Spy was the best for baking. Just got back from my Mom's, upstate NY, and got a big bag each of Winesaps and Jonagolds, my two favorite eating apples. Never thught of using Winesap for baking, I'm going to have to try that, maybe mixed with some Northern Spys. (Someone up there once told me there are 2,500 varieties of apples in the world, I believe it)

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: coll

                                              "(Someone up there once told me there are 2,500 varieties of apples in the world, I believe it)"


                                              Two favorite "Apple Types" websites so I can see pics and get an idea on taste/how to use them:



                                              1. re: LindaWhit

                                                Wow, he must have said 25,000: I know I couldn't comprehend so many types either way. Thanks for some great info.

                                            2. I just wanted to say thanks for the suggestions here. My family had our Thanksgiving dinner this past weekend and I always make the pie. I usually stick with Cortlands or Empire and only used one type of apples. I read this before making my pie and used three different types of apples. I had never done that before and will never go back.

                                              I used a mix of Cortlands, Empire and Braeburns. I hadn't had Braeburns before but saw them recommended here so I tossed them in. I usually make a ton of apples with sugar and cinnamon for the family to snack on. We did a little taste test and the Braeburns won. The next day when we had the pie, everyone commented that the mix of different apples was nice--gave it a good balance of flavors.
                                              Thanks Chowhounds.

                                              1. Hey, Niki, I'm coming across this nearly a year after you started it, so I hope you'll see this. If you're still curious about apple varieties, you should get yourself up to Boonville in Mendocino County this weekend. The Mendocino County Fair and Apple Show has a wonderful apple tasting booth with about 30 varieties of apples. Of course, the vendors hope you'll buy some, but there's no obligation. Today I tasted a King of Tompkins County apple, which I had never heard of before, but which was wonderful! The Mendocino County Fair is a great home-grown country fair, and I bet you'd enjoy it. The fair is in downtown Boonville, right on Highway 128, 2 hours north of the Golden Gate Bridge. The apple tasting booth is manned by folks from the commercial apple growers of Anderson Valley, including some of the Gowan family -- the family credited with saving the Sierra Beauty apple from extinction.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: magicmommy

                                                  Northern Spy apples always hold their shape when cooked, which is why I like them for a pie or a crisp. Any apple that's considered an eating apple usually ends up mushy, in my experience, but is great to add one if you want that saucy quality. Just looking around a farmers market, and talking to the producers, I've found so many really good ideas of varieties and uses.


                                                2. Bringing this old thread back from the dead. Note the start date. I think a few of the original contributors are still posting here.

                                                  I made an apple crisp this week, using a recipe from JOC latest edition. I used all Braeburns and followed the recipe. So easy and so, so good.

                                                  I was curious about apple crisp "lore" and what others do with this dish. I don't seem to have too much else in my cookbooks. This thread has lots of good ideas. And I who often mix beans freely in bean dishes, and apples and pears in Waldorf, have never thought to mix apples in pies and crisps!

                                                  An apple crisp is an easy, homey and satisfying dessert for fall or winter. I wonder if others are making them right now?

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: sueatmo

                                                    Serious Eats took on the apple pie thing a few years back.

                                                    Part 1 concerns apple selection:

                                                    Part 2 gets into the pie filling:

                                                    Part "3" concerns the pie crust:

                                                    In short - Golden Delicious apples, pre-heated apple filling, and foolproof pie crust.

                                                    1. re: CDouglas

                                                      There's no way I'd use Golden Delicious apples in any pie I ever made. Everyone has their own taste. Mine is *not* for Golden Delicious apples. Perhaps they're better right off a tree, but those in most supermarkets are quite inferior to what I prefer in an apple.

                                                    2. re: sueatmo

                                                      My family has never been big on dessert, if you don't count apple crisp. My mom makes one every 2 weeks. I love picking at the topping hot out of the oven. I don't think I've ever had a crisp with no oats. I think thats what makes it. She like to put almond slivers in it. Ill pass. She also mixes in a couple spoonful of mincemeat which is nice for a change or at christmas. Even some raisins are good. I have to say I like mine plain with a apple mix, skins on, no thickener, just a big spoonful of sugar on apples w/spice served with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.