Shut your pie hole! Seasonal desserts to bake with apples instead of pie

Plus, a recipe for Madras curry apple doughnut muffins

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published December 11, 2021 5:59PM (EST)

Boy cutting apples for apple pie (Getty Images/Kinga Krzeminska)
Boy cutting apples for apple pie (Getty Images/Kinga Krzeminska)

For years, apple pie has been revered as a signature fall dessert and Thanksgiving staple across households nationwide. The delectable delicacy, common within the states, originated in England over 630 years ago. In the year 1381, the first recipe for English apple pie was written and publicized. The ingredients list was both measly and vague, only calling for "good" apples, "good" spices, figs, raisins, pears, saffron and coffyn (an early European pie crust).  

Unbeknownst to these pioneering bakers, the dessert would later receive national acclaim for its celebration of fall's most prized produce — apples. This commonplace fruit offers a refreshingly sweet taste amidst a beautiful mesh of crisp and fleshy textures. Apples are also incredibly versatile and although they've been primarily coupled with classic apple pie, they can also stand-out in an assortment of baked goods — cakes, turnovers, donuts and plenty more.

RELATED: 11 best apples for apple pies (and tarts and galettes)

Here at Salon, we love a good slice (or two) of warm apple pie. This season, we're excited to expand our baking endeavors and try new apple-themed recipes.

To help instill our love for baking with apples, we spoke with Kierin Baldwin, chef-instructor of Pastry & Baking Arts at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE). Baldwin offers tips for choosing the perfect apples to bake with and shares her recipe for madras curry apple doughnut muffins.  

The key to a perfect baking apple is its texture

The list of apple varieties is plentiful and nearly endless — just step into the produce section of your local supermarket to see for yourself. There are Fujis, Braeburns, Pink Ladies and Honeycrisps, just to name a few. So when it comes to baking, which apples are the best kinds to use?

"The thing you want to be conscious of when you're baking with apples is how much moisture is still in the apple," says Baldwin. "There are some apples that will break down as you cook them and basically, over time, they'll turn into applesauce."

Soft apples, such as McIntosh and Golden Delicious, are more prone to becoming mushy when coated in sugar and exposed to high temperatures. These apples are better suited for compotes and preserves, Baldwin advises.   

Crisp and firm apples, like Honeycrisp, Granny Smith and traditional Thai apples, are better suited for baking. These apples have a waxy exterior and are less likely to break down during the baking process.

Regardless of the specific kinds of apples you choose to use, Baldwin also recommends peeling the skin before baking. She stresses that this tip is essential.

"In general, apple peel tends not to soften when you bake it," Baldwin says. "Even if it [the peel] gets a lot of sugar, it will kind of be chewier than it was when the apple was raw."

What to bake with apples

The classic apple crisp and cobbler are Baldwin's go-to recipes for rich flavors and simplicity. A more elevated version of both desserts is the traditional Brown Betty, Baldwin suggests. This baked dish has alternating layers of sweetened crumbs or bread cubes and baked apples. It's full of buttery goodness and is peak comfort food when topped off with fresh whipped cream, vanilla ice cream or lemon syrup.    

"These are all super rustic, very comforting kind of homemade desserts," Baldwin adds.

For lovers of fancy and quirky names, Baldwin recommends trying apple buckle — the love child of an apple cake and streusel. There's also the apple pandowdy, an old-fashioned delight that's akin to a haphazard and partially baked pie. Pandowdy includes splotches of irregularly shaped dough set atop a sugary apple filling.

Baldwin's final suggestion is an Amish classic, the apple grunt. This Pennsylvania Dutch cake is best made with crisp red apples and pairs nicely with apple cider.

These autumnal desserts feature the classic combination of seasonal flavors: apples, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg. If you're keen on experimenting with unconventional flavors, Baldwin recommends pairing apples with ginger and even curry powder. Baldwin's favorite blend of Madras curry powder has turmeric, chili, salt, cumin seed, fennel seeds, black pepper, garlic, ginger, fenugreek, cinnamon, cloves, anise and mustard.  

Baldwin's Madras curry powder is a star-stellar addition in her personal recipe for madras curry apple doughnut muffins. This recipe, found below, is a must-try for this fall season!


Recipe: Madras Curry Apple Doughnut Muffins
Courtesy of Kierin Baldwin, chef-instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education

Makes approximately 24 muffins


Doughnut Muffin Batter

  • 500 grams of peeled and cored apples
  • 550 grams of flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 180 grams of dark brown sugar
  • 300 grams of granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 180 grams of vegetable oil
  • 180 grams of sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar

Curry sugar

  • 225 grams of unsalted butter
  • 200 grams of granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoon of Madras curry powder (Baldwin recommends Sun Brand Madras curry powder)
  • 1 tablespoon of ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tablespoon of fine sea salt


  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F. (Or 325°F if your oven has a convection setting)
  2. Prep a muffin tin by placing muffin liners in the cups.
  3. Grate the apples using the larger holes on a box grater and set aside. (If they brown slightly while they sit it's not a problem. It will be unnoticeable in the finished muffins.)
  4. Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt and set aside.
  5. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugars and vanilla, then add the oil and sour cream. Whisk the vinegar into the wet ingredients last.
  6. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet mixture until it is mostly combined but still somewhat lumpy, then fold in the grated apples until everything is just blended.
  7. Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin tins, filling each cup approximately 3/4 full. Bake the muffins until they spring back when pressed gently in the center, approximately 24-28 minutes in a standard oven. (It will take less time in a convection oven.)
  8. While the muffins bake, melt the butter gently just until it is liquid. Put the sugar, spices and salt in a bowl and whisk them together.
  9. Once the muffins come out of the oven, allow them to rest in the pan until just cool enough to handle but still quite warm, approximately 15 minutes. As soon as you can touch them, gently lift each one out of its cup and then, holding it by the bottom half in the paper liner, dunk the top into the melted butter and then sprinkle generously with the curry sugar. Allow the doughnut muffins to cool completely and then store them in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days.
  10. If you want to have a seriously decadent muffin, bake them without the paper liners directly in a muffin tin separated with nonstick pan spray and then dunk the whole muffin in butter and dredge it in the curry sugar. You will need to double the melted butter and the curry sugar blend. Any extra curry sugar can be saved in an airtight container for 3 months if it is still clean after coating the muffins.


More dessert recipes we love: 

By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


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