‘Tis the season to indulge in all things rich, boozy, and sweet, but when you need a break from all the complex deliciousness of holiday foods, baked apples make a comforting seasonal treat.
I was inspired to make this dessert by my sister-in law Joy, an excellent cook, who made it for us a few weekends ago. When I walked into her house, the kitchen smelled like apple pie, but Joy was making baked apples. She served them up with plenty of the delicious pan juice, and I couldn’t get over how satisfying and creamy they tasted. I topped mine with a dollop of almond butter, and the combination of flavors tasted remarkably like apple pie.
My sis-in-law cooked her apples with brown sugar, butter, spices, and apple cider. I decided to simplify the dish even further, leaving out the sugar and butter, and depending solely on apple cider, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and allspice for taste. Apples are at their peak of flavor at this time of year, and certain varieties like Honeycrisp and Fuji are bursting with so much natural sweetness that adding sugar is often unnecessary. Plus, if you or someone you love is diabetic, this is a seasonal dessert that can be enjoyed without guilt. If you’re using a variety of apple that’s more tart, however, like Granny Smiths or Winesaps, then throw a few spoonfuls of brown sugar into the mix.
Many people like to stuff baked apples with toasted nuts, rolled oats, and dried fruit, along with sugar and butter, to make a sweet and fragrant filling. If you want to stuff your apples, don’t remove the whole core, but instead leave an inch intact at the bottom, and fill the apples before baking. The apples taste just dandy on their own, but toppings can include vanilla ice cream, honey-sweetened Greek yogurt, almond butter, a drizzle of maple syrup, or a sprinkling of toasted nuts. Good luck with this simple dessert, and enjoy all the decadence of the holiday season!
4 sweet apples (a little less than 1/2 pound each)
1 1/4 cups apple cider
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1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 375°F. Core the apples, and peel a wide strip around the top.
Place the apples in a baking dish. Whisk together the cider, vanilla, cinnamon, allspice, and salt, and pour the mixture over the apples.
Bake the apples until they are very tender, basting them every 20 minutes with the pan juice. The apples are done when the skin bursts, and you can easily cut into the flesh with a spoon. Depending on whether you use soft or crisp apples, they will take anywhere from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours to become tender, with crisp apples taking the longest. Cool the apples slightly, and serve topped with the pan juice.