|Choose apples that are firm and just a bit tart.|
Why can't they make Granny Smith apples in red?
My favorite quote about baked apples comes from the original Joy Of Cooking cookbook:
"Apples are baked in a hot oven,
in a moderate oven and in a very slow one
with results that seem to be equally satisfactory
to cooks and their victims."
This is quite true. No two recipes for baked apples is the same when it comes to oven temperature or ingredients. But there is one constant: use apples that are firm and a bit tart. This recipe calls for fresh nutmeg and it really does make a difference. A huge difference for the better.
The recipe that follows was inspired after reading a recipe that called for "unfiltered apple cider." I'm sure it's wonderful. But that means I have to try to find it, buy it and I will be left with a quart. So I used leftover tea. Earl Grey tea, to be specific. And I was quite happy with the results. You could also use an apple or cinnamon-flavored tea. Or you could just use water, like "the old days." (The Joy of Cooking recommends "1 tablespoon water for each apple.")
- 4 cooking apples, washed and dried
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh-ground nutmeg (maybe a tad more)
- 1 cup brewed tea mixed with 1 tablespoon brown sugar (if using unfiltered apple juice, omit the brown sugar)
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 lemon, peeled with a vegetable peeler into 4 long strips
- 2 tablespoon melted butter (optional)
Preheat oven to 350-400 F.*
In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon. Add the fresh-grated nutmeg. In another small bowl or glass, combine the tea with the brown sugar and vanilla.
Using a melon baller, scoop out the core of each apple being very careful not to cut open the bottom. If you do, the filling will ooze out when the apple is baked. Now peel the top 1/4 of each apple. If desired, brush the peeled, outer part of the apple with melted butter and roll in some additional white sugar.
Stand the apples upright in a glass baking dish. Taking a piece of lemon zest, push it down into the hollow core. Now, begin filling each apple with sugar-spice mixture. Put a pat of butter on each apple.
Pour the liquid around the apples and spoon a bit inside the sugar-packed core. Place in oven and cook anywhere from 30-60 minutes. Cooking time will depend on your apples. Softer apples will take less time, crisp ones longer. Check after 30 minutes. If desired, cover with foil and baste apples a few times during cooking. The apples will be done when the tip of a sharp knife easily pierces the thickest part of the apple. Remove each apple to a bowl. Drizzle with some of the liquid.
As you cut into the apple, the sugar mixture will spill out revealing the lemon zest. The tannins of the tea provide a nice balance with the sugary center.
NOTES: If desired, remove apples from pan when done and add the liquid to a small pan. Add a bit of butter and, if needed, a bit of sugar and reduce until syrupy. If using the apple juice, omit this step.
*A slow oven may result in the sugar not fully melting. A hot oven can cause the apples to "explode." For this recipe, I used Rome apples that were softer than I would have liked and it took a good 45 minutes for them to cook at 350 degrees. I cooked them for 30 minutes covered with foil and then removed it to finish them. Sometimes I do just the opposite and cook them uncovered and then put foil on the last 15-20 minutes.