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Baked Stuffed Apples: A Rustic Recipe Revived

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Baked Stuffed Apples: A Rustic Recipe Revived

Marie Viljoen January 22, 2024

It’s winter in Brooklyn (at last). Crackly, ice-sheeted sidewalks mean baked apples, perfumed with fir sugar and cinnamon, slicked with a little maple syrup, dabbed with butter, and braced by lemon juice.

I grew up with baked apples. They were a regular winter treat in the cold center of South Africa, where my mom baked them in the same Pyrex dish that held, on rainy days, rolled-up, snuggled, cinnamon-scented crêpes. The apples came to the table molten. Wisps of escaping steam were a warning my father never heeded. He’d take a typically confident mouthful and shout, “They’re hot,” in wounded surprise. They are hot. Straight from the oven, the tender, fruit-filled baked apples seethe with heat. The trick is to wait. Let them settle for five minutes before serving. While they do, their delicious cooking juices turn to golden jelly. Then, they are ready for your spoon, and for a soothing cloud of whipped cream.

Here’s how to bake them whole. They can be a nourishing snack for one, or a rustically sumptuous dessert for six.

Photography by Marie Viljoen.

Above: Pillowy and tender, spiced baked apples are instant comfort.
Above: Local apples are in season from fall (fresh-picked) through spring (stored).

The aroma rising from a dish of baked apples is instant comfort. Their flavor and fluffiness feed our feelings in a healthier way than many comfort foods can. Apple skin and dried fruits are packed with fiber, as well as (depending on the dried fruit you choose as a filling) minerals—like iron and antioxidants—in raisins and dried figs and plums, especially. Even cinnamon is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant.

And apples are in season for a long, long time.

If you live in an apple-growing region, local farmers markets offer a much broader selection of apples than many supermarkets do. Regardless of source, some apples are better for baking whole than others, holding their shape through an hour of oven heat. Still, even an imploded pome tastes pretty good; it’s just better as a midnight snack than the showpiece after dinner.

Above: Macoun apples are excellent for baking, as they stay intact during baking.
Above: Sweetly tart Braeburn apples hold their shape well.

Some of the best apples for baking are Braeburn, Cortland, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, and Winesap. Yes, sometimes an apple may split in the slow heat of the oven, but there is something very appealing in that rupture. The contrast of caramelized skin and tender flesh is seductive.

Above: Pink Lady apples are lightly tart after baking.
Above: Making the case for an apple corer?

There is only one fiddly aspect to stuffing and baking apples whole: removing the core. My mother used an apple corer, and I’m beginning to see its appeal. I use a skinny, sharp knife, slicing down and around, and wiggling out the apple’s seedy, fibrous heart.

Above: Assembling the stuffing—dried figs, organic sugar, lemon juice.

Once the apples are cored, all that remains is to add your filling to their hollows. The basic formula is easy and economical: dried fruit, spices, some additional sweetness, some fat, and some acid. The most obvious dried fruit would be raisins; the most obvious spice, cinnamon; the sweetness, sugar; the fat, butter; and the acid, lemon. In the steaming heat of the baking apple, the raisins plump up, while the spice, sugar, butter, and lemon meld to form a richly syrupy glaze. It’s unimprovable, really, but cooks are creative, and the method begs for improvisation.

Apples: Ready to bake, scented with fir.
Above: Dried figs are honey-sweet and very high in fiber.

Baked Apple Stuffing Variations:

  • Fruit: Almost any dried fruit can stand in for the raisins. I like to use the hoshigaki (air-dried persimmons) that I make over winter, as well as dried figs, sour cherries, prunes, apricots, and dates.
  • Spice/Aromatics: Cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, citrus zest, citrusy native spicebush, or fir needles
  • Sweetness: Sugar, maple syrup, jaggery, honey
  • Fat: For vegans, avocado oil is a good substitute for butter
  • Acid: Lemon, pomegranate molasses, tamarind water, sumac water or molasses (for foragers), other sour citrus

Spicebush from Integration Acres is $5 for 1 ounce

Sun-dried figs from Ziba Foods are $9 for 5.3 ounces

Above: A quarter tablespoon of butter per apple is enough to create a caramelized sauce in the dish.
Above: Rest baked apples for 5 minutes before serving.

Stuffed, Baked Apples

Serves 6 (or 2, for several days)

The saucy combination of lemon and sugar with butter ensures that each mouthful delivers mild apple goodness, sweet dried fruit, and that rich, coating syrup. (For measuring the butter, I use a cold stick, and cut where the markings on the wrapper denote a tablespoon. I halve each tablespoon, and halve that slice again, for easy insertion.)

  • 6 ‘Pink Crisp’ or other baking-friendly apple
  • 1 cup dried fruit, cut into small pieces (eg. raisins, currants, apricots, figs, cherries, hoshigaki)
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1¼ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground fir needles
  • 3 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1½ Tablespoons butter
  • 1 Tablespoon maple syrup

Alternate spices: Ground cardamom seeds (¼ teaspoon), allspice, spicebush, or orange zest

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter a baking dish or line one with baking parchment.

Wash and dry the apples. Using a slender sharp knife (or a corer), cut down deeply around each apple’s core, working your way in from the stem-end. Turn the apple over and repeat from the bottom, turning the knife to remove any remaining fibrous bits and seeds.

In a small bowl combine the dried fruit, sugar, and spices. Toss well.

Fill the apples three-quarters of the way with the fruit mixture. To each apple add ¼ tablespoon butter. Press it down into the cavity. Top the butter with any remaining fruit mixture. Pour the lemon juice into each apple. Finish with a drizzle of the maple syrup. Add 1cup of water ot the baking dish and transfer to the oven.

Bake for 1 hour. At the 45-minute mark, spoon or baste any liquid in the bottom of the baking dish over and into the apples. Add another ¼ cup of water to the dish.

When the apples are tender, verging on collapse, remove from the oven and rest for 5 minutes. Serve naked, or with Greek yogurt or whipped cream.

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