I don't know where you are, but where I am, people are stocking up on wood for their fireplaces and shopping for long wooly scarves they can wrap around their necks a couple of times before tying them in stylish knots. I'm in Paris and it's beginning to feel like winter here. In fact, it's beginning to look like winter, since the clocks were turned back last Sunday and it's dark by 6 p.m.
Because I can't make a fire in my fireplace, I did the next best thing—I put apples in the oven. It didn't do much to warm the place, but it certainly made everything smell great.
Baked apples, or pommes au four, as they're known here, are less a recipe than a construction—I didn't include a "Playing Around" section this week, since the whole recipe is an exercise in playing around. While I do nothing more than core the apples and stuff the centers with dried fruits and nuts, honey, and butter, I've had meringue-topped baked apples (once the apples are baked, you crown them with meringue, then run them under the broiler to brown) and apples topped with streusel—both nice ideas and ways to turn this nursery sweet into something fit for company.
Here in Paris, the apple man told me to use Canada or Boskoop apples, but you can use almost any kind of apple. Galas work well, but I'm kind of partial to big red apples, like old-fashioned Rome Beauties. If your apples are bigger or smaller than "regular" apples, you might need a little more or a little less filling, but, since the filling isn't cooked, it's easy to make adjustments.
One word of advice: Cut a little circle around the tummy of each apple to keep it from expanding and bursting. I tucked the apples into the oven forgetting that little cut, and one of them popped—not tragic, but not pretty.
- 4 apples, such as Gala, Rome Beauties, or Cortlands (or your favorite apple)
- Slice of lemon
- 1/2 cup assorted coarsely chopped dried fruit, such as raisins, figs, prunes, dates, apricots or cherries (this time I used 1 Medjool date, 2 prunes and 2 tablespoons raisins; there are no rules, so you can use as many fruits as you want or stick to just
- 2 tablespoons nuts, coarsely chopped (I used walnuts)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
- Pinch fleur de sel (optional)
- Pinch cinnamon (optional)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2/3 cup apple cider (or water)
- Plain or vanilla yogurt, heavy cream, crème fraîche or vanilla ice cream, for topping (optional)
Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350°F. Have an ovenproof baking dish at hand. You want a dish that can hold the apples comfortably but snugly—a 9- or 10-inch deep-dish Pyrex pie pan works well.
Core the apples, making sure not to cut through the bottoms, and peel the apples down to the halfway mark; don’t toss away the peels. Now do what I didn't do: Make a very shallow cut around the apples at the point where the peel begins. Rub the cut parts of the apples with lemon.
Working in a small bowl, mix together the dried fruits, nuts and honey; add the salt and cinnamon, if you’re using them. Cut 8 teaspoons of butter and put a teaspoon-chunk inside each apple. Divide the fruit-and-nut mixture among the apples then top with another teaspoon-chunk of butter.
Arrange the apples in the pan, pour in the cider (or water), cut the remaining butter into bits and scatter the bits over the cider, then toss in the peels (if they’re very long, just cut them into manageable strips).
Slide the pan into the oven and bake the apples, basting them every 15 minutes, for 50 to 75 minutes, or until the apples are tender. (I can’t give you a more precise estimate of the time because it will depend on the size and type of your apples—so check early and often.) Don’t go for al dente—the apples should be spoon tender.