Now that the holidays are over, the “real” winter appears to be settling in around our corner of the world. Not just in the weather-related sense, but also in a more subtle way where the sudden lack of the all-encompassing fog of overly flamboyant Christmas-themed foodstuffs, -decorations, -music, -media coverage and the like leaves you with a sense of… focus? Awareness?
I’m actually not quite sure how to put it, but I suppose you guys will get what I mean in a blink or two, at least in the foody kind of context. See, one of the “flavors” being pulled out of storage for the occasion over here is “Baked Apple”. Baked Apple flavored sweets, chocolates, teas, versions of mulled wine and ciders, fillings for meat and Baked-Apple-Spiced veggies to go along with the lot. Basically everything is available in a Baked-Apple-Flavored version come December, which is totally awesome if you like the stuff as much as I do. But now that the Christmas Cloud has lifted I can’t help but note the fact that… despite the overbearing presence of Baked-Apple-Something-Elses, there hadn’t been a single “real” Baked Apple in sight anywhere! How did I, fan of apples in all forms and sizes, not notice that earlier? Talk about sleepwalking though the holiday haze…
I absolutely love baked apples – I have done so since my first encounter with them during my early childhood days. I distinctly remember being towed along on several vacations to southern France – too young to remember much of these trips besides the delicious food, the wild horses of the region, the town’s resident dogs, the poor pastor of the nearby church trying to explain to me that playing tennis against the church walls was kind of frowned upon during Sunday morning service (and me suddenly and very conveniently being perfectly incapable of understanding a single word of french) and the ginormic wood-fired open-hearth fireplace in the kitchen of the house we were staying at. And, of course, the tinfoil-wrapped goodies that were coming out of that fireplace after dinner every night. A bit of sugar, cinnamon and a few nuts on top of the apples, a second skin of tinfoil, and after what felt like an eternity to my kid-tummy, the delicious, soft and fragrant globes were ready to make my day! The grown-ups did something funky with a yellow liquid and a lighter once they unwrapped their apples (Torturing the poor apples! They should have just given them to me instead…) but to me the simple apple, cinnamon and sugar combo was all I ever wished for in a dessert. Still floats my boat, for that matter! Now, I know a basic Baked Apple recipe isn’t exactly the ground-breaking, culinary-world-rocking thing to write home (let alone a whole post) about but, given my oven-less kitchen and the piles of apples going through that kitchen on a daily basis, you didn’t really expect a “Basic” recipe, did you~? So here we go, one easy~breezy wintery comfort dessert for two in two versions:
The Marzipan & Berry Stuffed Baked Apples
2 large sweet and juicy Apples – pick your favorites and take note whether they’re the cooking apple-type that turns soft when exposed to heat or the table-apple type that’ll keep a firm’ish texture, like Braeburns (which I always use for exactly that reason).
2-3 Tsp Lemon Juice
6-8 Walnuts, shelled and lightly toasted
2 Tbsp High-Quality Marzipan – the higher the almond content, the better
1 Pinch of Cinnamon
1 Pinch of Allspice
1 Pinch of freshly Ground Tonka Bean
1 Pinch of Salt
1 Pinch of Nutmeg
2 Drops of Vanilla Extract
1 Tbsp Cranberries or Dried Black Cherries, finely chopped
2 Tbsp White Port
3 Tbsp Apple Juice
2 Tbsp Maple Syrup
Opt: Leftover Bits of Gingerbread or Belgian Spice Cookies
2 Sprigs of Lemon Balm
Opt: 2-4 Tbsp Natural Yoghurt
Opt: Brown Sugar and a Crème Brûlée Torch
Opt: Calvados or Cointreaux and a Crème Brûlée Torch
Ok, I know there are some but not too many in the same unfortunate oven-situation as I am, so to keep the fuss at a Baked-Apple-worthy minimum, I experimented around a bit and am now in the position to provide you guys with the path of least resistance for both an oven- and a pan-related strategy to fix up a pair of wintery goodies. I actually took them for a spin into a summery direction as well but that’s another story for another time~ Both Versions start with…
The Walnut-Cherry-Marzipan Filling
1) Place the cinnamon, allspice, tonka bean, salt, nutmeg, vanilla extract, dried berries and 1 tbsp each of white port and maple syrup in a mixing bowl and give everything a good stir.
2) Warm up the marzipan between your palms for a few seconds, then flake it into the bowl holding your “marinade”.
3) Finely chop up half of your walnut pieces and gently knead the flakes into the marzipan, incorporating the sticky, spicy liquids into the mix as you go.
4) Just in case you’re going through these steps during or shortly after the holiday season, here’s one hell of a chance to use up some leftover gingerbread or belgian spice cookies! Simply crumble them up and fold them into the mix for a bit of a crunch or additional wintery spice~
5) Cover the bowl with a sheet of clingfilm and set it aside for the time being.
6) Pick up a second bowl and add the remaining port, maple syrup and the apple juice.
7) Give the lot a quick stir and stash this bowl away for a moment as well.
Enter the apples – This is where the paths for the oven-version and the pan-version split.
The Oven Version
1) Preheat your oven to 180°C.
2) Set the apples upright onto your cutting board. If you’re looking at a particularly wonky or wobbly specimen, use a very sharp knife to even out the bottom in order to make it stand still and upright.
3) Core them top to bottom with the help of a sharp knife or an apple-coring device.
4) Rub the newly dug tunnel through the apples with a bit of lemon juice to keep the cutting surfaces from browning.
5) Grab two square sheets of aluminum foil and place the cored apples right smack in the center of each individual sheet.
6) Neatly fold, smooth and tuck the foil around the apple until the second skin reaches about 2/3 of the way up the apple.
7) Place the half-clad fruit in an oven-proof tray or dish and retrieve the bowl holding the filling.
8) Divide the filling in two portions and stuff it into the apples in small batches, neatly pushing each addition down the tunnel until the tightly packed filling starts peeking out of the tunnel in a small, volcano’ish hill on top of the apple.
9) Make sure the filling peeks out just a bit – to prevent major seepage later on – and pop a walnut half on top.
10) Drizzle the apples with the maple-syrup & port mixture and tightly close up the tinfoil skin, twisting it up on top of the parcels to literally seal the deal.
11) Slide the tray onto the middle rack of your oven and bake the apples at 180°C for about 20-30 mins depending on the size and type of apple – until a careful and light squeeze of an apple-parcel tells you they’re juicy and tender.
12) Obviously the squeeze test won’t tell you much for firm apples like Braeburns, but so far I’ve never missed the yummy-mark by going with 25’ish mins for a regular-sized apple.
The Pan Version
1) Pick up your apples, tip them over to the side and horizontally slice each of them into two equal’ish halves.
2) Place each of the halves on individual sheets of aluminum foil with the cutting surfaces facing up.
3) Brush the surfaces with a bit of lemon juice, then put your knife or apple-corer to work, tunneling through the center of the apple halves to remove each and every bit of core, seed or stem.
4) Again, rub every newly exposed surface with lemon juice to prevent the apple from browning.
5) Drop a few walnut crumbs or small chunks of apple onto the bottom of each tunnel to minimize the points of contact between the filling and direct heat – the tinfoil really doesn’t count. Just for the record, the filling doesn’t burn or turn bad or anything, but the hotter it gets, the more its consistency changes towards “creamy” while staying “crunchy” on top – eating though that might be an odd experience for some people.
6) Like with the whole apples, fold the foil sheets upwards, fitting them to the shape of the apple halves until you’ve reached about 2/3 up the sides of the fruit pieces. Bend the rims of the foil to the sides to allow you enough space to comfortably maneuver the apples and their filling around until it’s time to close up the packages.
7) Just like described in the oven-version above, grab your filling, divide it into similar sized portions and close up the tunnels through your apples with it before lidding them with walnut halves and drizzling them with the syrup & port glaze.
8) Fold up the aluminum skin and, leaving just a bit of steaming-space at the top where the other half would normally be, tightly twist the silver skin closed, locking all of the fragrant goodies inside.
9) Have an extra eye on the tinfoil skin this time and close up any tears or suspicious-looking spots with another layer if necessary.
10) Place the parcels in a heavy-based pan with a tight-fitting lid and turn the heat to 1/3 of your stoves max power.
11) Pop on the lid and low-and-slow-steam-bake the apples for 30-40 mins.
1) Once the apples are out of the heat and cooling down just enough for you to keep your fingers intact when opening the aluminum foil tops, you could…
2) Stir together some yoghurt and a bit of maple syrup, season the mix with a dash of cinnamon and allspice or orange zest and serve it with the apples as a fresh counter balance.
3) You could also sprinkle the apples – after half-undressing them, of course – with brown sugar and caramelize them up with the torch.
4) Or, do as the apple-torturing adults I mentioned above did: drizzle the apples with hooch and flambé them at the table after turning down the lights!
5) Whichever way you pick, once you can safely handle the foil, open the tops and fold the foil back down the sides until only the bottom ¼ is still covered – don’t take off the foil entirely, there’s a lot of deliciously spoonable stuff trapped inside!
6) Pop the tinfoil-saucered apples onto serving dishes, garnish them with the remaining nuts and a couple of lemon balm leaves and, options or not, dig in while the fruit are still hot!