To Help You Simplify or Embellish—
Instead of the traditional pie, my plan was to make an apple galette for Thanksgiving. I love the way that more free-form creation shows off the flaky pastry crust, delicately crisp throughout and delivering up a condensed layer of pure fruit essence folded inside. And since one of our guests is gluten intolerant, I knew it would be easy enough to make a baked apple for him alongside. But when our son and this friend arrived, we decided to go for a walk with our dog instead of diving right into the galette baking project. And by the time we got home on that beautiful day, everyone was eager to sit down and get started with our Thanksgiving Bread Salad instead of mixing and rolling out dough. All of us happy to have the more quickly made baked apples for dessert instead of pastry this time...
"Baked Apples", continued:
...It’s taken me many years to realize that even the best-laid plans are just a place to start from before we find out what might actually get to happen. As it turned out, our initial guest list had kept growing smaller as other dear friends and family called with regrets that seasonal ailments had grounded them at home. Although so sorry they couldn’t join us, the resulting flexibility in having only our small gathering to coordinate made it possible to take time out for that autumn leaves scuffling session instead of staying on task to meet an appointed dinner hour. It also offered me the chance to use baked apples in yet another way.
Naturally both sweet and tart, visually pleasing and so easy to make, I usually serve baked apples instead of cranberry sauce with the turkey. But this year we were having duck on the day. Instead. And a dried cranberry and fruit chutney to layer with the “leftover” turkey I had roasted for sandwiches (and soup) the days after. So apples got moved into the dessert slot, and even though the galette would have been lovely, there was nothing lacking about this tender, bare fruit. If anything, it provided a more welcome and refreshing finish after all the richness we’d already consumed.
Although I’m referencing our Thanksgiving menu here, baked apples can both simplify and dress up your dishes throughout the whole holiday season. Besides the turkey accompaniment and dessert options, you could use them to round out your roast pork, goose or chicken. Take advantage of them to jazz up a fruit and cheese course, or cut up the leftovers to put in your hot oatmeal the next morning. That’s what we did for breakfast on Friday. Instead. In place of. As an alternative. To substitute for. So many options. Try them all on! You’ll see how easily they fit. Even after an extended weekend of feasting.
Casual Recipe for Baked Apples
fresh or dried cranberries
crystallized ginger [minced]
cinnamon [a pinch]
candied orange peel [minced] or marmalade
whipped cream or creme fraiche [to garnish for a dessert]
- If using dried cranberries, first soak them in a spoonful or two of Grand Marnier (rum, brandy, orange juice or warm water) to plump.
- Remove the apple stems, cut the apples in half horizontally, and scoop out their cores.
- Coat the exposed flesh with lemon juice to prevent browning. Then brush with melted butter and sprinkle lightly with sugar.
- Mix together the cranberries, ginger to taste, cinnamon, and a little of the possible candied orange peel or marmalade. You will only need one rounded spoonful of this mixture per apple half.
- Mound the cranberry mixture inside each core hollow. Drizzle a little melted butter on top and sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake at 350-400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until tender but not mushy or splitting apart.
- Can be served hot or at room temperature to best suit your overall timing.
and Play with:
Apples: When they're just picked here in Petaluma, each year I like to stock up on good keepers from both Olympia's Orchard (Kathy Tresch) and Green String Farm. This time I used Kathy's Gold Rush and a no-name red heirloom from Green String. Both were stellar. Other great baking apple varieties include: Braeburn, Cortland, Gala, Golden (not red) Delicious, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Jonathan, Jonagold, Rome Beauty, and Winesap—listed alphabetically rather than preferentially.
Cranberries & Dried Fruit: Fresh cranberries are easy and available this time of year. But if you don't have a use for the entire bag, then opt for frozen or dried. Dried fruit needs to be at least partially rehydrated to keep it from turning rock hard and tasteless when baked. Cranberries offer a bright red color, but you could also combine or substitute them with dried cherries, apricots, prunes, currants or raisins. Cut larger fruits into a small dice.
Ginger & Spice: Little bits of crystallized ginger offer that surprise flavor bite, but you could substitute ground ginger. And other sweet spices like allspice, clove, cardamom and/or nutmeg could easily find their place in this mix. So select from your favorite flavor families to make this your own.
Grand Marnier: I adore Grand Marnier, and students often tease me about it. ("What, no Grand Marnier in this recipe?") I really think it makes most fruits taste more like themselves. Brings out their best. But if you love rum or port or calvados or have a special brandy or liqueur on hand instead, then go for it! You can add a little even with the fresh cranberries.
Orange Options: Okay. Another favorite flavor and texture of mine is either homemade or best quality candied orange peel. I am partial to the Agrimontana strips, which you can easily buy online if they're not available in a specialty store in your area. Marmalade could serve a similar purpose here, as would a good fruit chutney. Since this year I'd already made a dried fruit chutney with many of the above ingredients in it, I just used that alone for the filling and it's more solid stickiness allowed me to make a higher mound. As you can see, almost anything goes, so make it work for you.
Garnishes: If you're serving this with savory dishes, a little chopped parsley or fresh herb sprig adds a nice touch of green. When it comes to dessert, I highly recommend the dollop of cream. This year I enhanced mine with caramelized sugar, vanilla and Grand Marnier, of course. You might want to entertain a sprinkling of toasted nuts, an aromatic mint or lemon verbena sprig, or a plate of crisp gingersnap cookies to pass around on the side.
Bon Appetit! Kay