Sunday, November 1, 2009
There's really nothing simpler than baked apples. It's one of those things where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. Basic ingredients go into the oven - apples, brown sugar, a few nuts and spices, and individually portioned, fragrant comfort food comes out. These babies make a lovely but unexpected brunch item and taste best served warm or at room temperature.
Peel a strip from the center of the apple, and completely remove the core. Any firm-fleshed apples will work; if you'd use them in a pie, you can bake them freestanding. If the apples won't stand up on their own, trim a bit from the bottom to create a level surface. Arrange them snugly in a baking dish. Stir together a mixture of brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, chopped toasted pecans, raisins, and a sprinkle of salt. Plan for about 2 tablespoons of filling per apple. Adjust the levels of cinnamon and nutmeg to your tastes - I used 2 teaspoons of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground nutmeg for 8 apples. Pack the center of each apple with the brown sugar mixture. Sprinkle any extra over the tops of the apples. Add 1/4 cup of water to the bottom of the baking dish. Cook the apples in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes, basting the apples often. The water becomes like loose caramel as it mixes with the brown sugar filling, and basting allows the flavors to really go throughout the apples from the core and also from the exposed strip on the sides. The apples are done when a fork can easily pierce the flesh.
Of course, this isn't really a recipe since I haven't provided any specific amounts, but it is nearly foolproof, and I encourage you to try it now, while apples are at their peak. The variations are endless: Change out the cinnamon and nutmeg for cardamom; use cranberries and orange zest in the filling; try white wine instead of water. Any way you bake them, the apples will be soft, sweet, and very autumnal.