Baked apples fill the air with holiday aromas

November 20, 2020

As you plan your Thanksgiving Day menu, you can’t forget dessert. Whether your traditions favor apple, pumpkin or pecan, there’s usually a pie in the picture. This year, I thought I would avoid the extra calories found in those flaky crusts, but keep the same spices and flavors by making baked apples.

There are dozens of recipes for baked apples, the easiest of which don’t peel the skin and don’t require chopping or slicing the fruit into pieces (although you can find many that do). The basic approach to baked apples is to select perfectly round, very firm apples that won’t disintegrate as they bake. Good choices are Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Honeycrisp, or the Fuji variety in the photo.

To prepare the apples, simply rinse them and remove the cores. You can find apple-corers for sale in the gadget aisle of kitchen stores, but the task can be accomplished with a sharp paring knife and a spoon. First cut into the top of the apple in a circle to pop out the stem. Then use the knife to cut into the inside flesh to remove the seeds. Depending on how much room you want for filling, you can make the opening wider by scraping with a spoon.

The next step is to make sure your apples will stay upright when they’re in the oven. If they wobble, you can slice a tiny bit off the bottom to straighten the base. To make the filling, you’ll need to choose the texture and flavors you want to showcase. Some of the ingredients that I always include are chopped nuts, brown sugar, butter and lots of cinnamon.

Additional options that can cause consternation in some quarters are raisins and dried cranberries. I find these dried fruits too chewy and feel they don’t work well with the tender apples. For some body in the filling, rolled oats are a better choice than flour. Another decadent touch is to roll the cored apples in melted butter and then in sugar before adding the filling.

Baking pans for the apples need to be at least two inches deep and large enough to hold them in a single layer without touching each other. The final decision in this readily adaptable recipe is what liquid goes into the pan – apple cider, orange juice, lemon juice or some combination, always finished off with a splash of brandy. To keep the nuts from burning, you’ll need to bake these in a slow oven.

About halfway through the hour they take to bake, your kitchen will be filled with amazing aromas of sweet apple and comforting cinnamon. Once they’re tender, but not mushy, remove them from the oven and allow them too cool slightly. They’re delicious served with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream. And you can assemble them early in the day to have them ready to bake while everyone sits down to turkey dinner.

Baked Apples

4 firm apples*
1/4 C butter, melted
2 T sugar
1/4 C rolled oats
1/4 C packed brown sugar
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
2 T chopped walnuts or pecans
1 C apple juice or orange juice
2 T brandy

Preheat oven to 300 F. Core the apples with a paring knife or apple corer, making a cavity to hold the filling. Place the melted butter in a shallow bowl and spread 2 T sugar on a piece of waxed paper. Roll the cored apples in the butter to thinly coat, then through the sugar to add a coating. Set the apples in a 8-inch-square baking pan in a single layer. Transfer the melted butter to a small mixing bowl and add rolled oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and nuts. Stir to combine. Spoon filling into the center of the apples, mounding slightly at the top. Pour juice and brandy into the baking pan. Bake until tender, but not falling apart, between 45 and 60 minutes. Allow to cool slightly. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream. *Note: Fuji and Granny Smith work well.

Common apple varieties and how best to use them

Braeburn: All-purpose apple; spicy-sweet flavor
Cortland: Add to salads and bake in pies; sweet and tart
Empire: Enjoy fresh out of hand; crisp and juicy
Fuji: Lasts months under refrigeration; sweet and crisp
Gala: Snackers’ favorite; very sweet
Golden Delicious: Best choice for applesauce and pies, add fresh to salads
Granny Smith: Very tart flavor and crisp texture, not good for applesauce
Honeycrisp: Stores well, juicy with mild honey flavor
Jonathan: Eat fresh or make into applesauce; not best for baking
Jonagold: Bakes well, slightly tart, juicy yellow flesh
McIntosh: Very juicy, smooth texture, bruises easily
Pink Lady: Sweet tartness, ideal for baking and fresh eating
Red Delicious: Best when eaten fresh, loses flavor when cooked
Rome Beauty: Bland taste, mealy texture, better for cooking than fresh
York: Great for pies, hold their shape and flavor

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