Andrew of Spittoon Extra has picked a very fun and timely theme for this month’s Sugar High Friday: Apples and alcohol. Timely because the markets are overflowing with all sorts of apples in their round-cheeked, rosy-skinned glory, and fun because, well, spirits always make things a little more fun.
I also found the perfect recipe to celebrate apples and the increasingly nippy weather. (Apologies to those who are already moving from autumn’s soft shivers to winter’s frosty grip: we have just had our first weekend where you wake up to a brilliant, hard-etched blue shell of a sky outside the window and realize, as you throw back the covers to jump out of bed, that you’re not emerging into any toasty beams of morning sunlight, but instead the air hitting your sleep-warmed body is rather…cold, and you’re scrambling for slippers and a robe before your mind can even register that it’s no longer summer anymore.) When I get home now from work, it’s not to a sunlit or even grey-fogged afternoon, with sunset still hours off; now it’s purple and crimson sky fading to black, myriad lights already coruscating in a city half shadowed. At this moment, my apartment seems cozier than ever, and the best thing I can imagine is to fill it up with the murmur of music and the smell of something in the oven.
This recipe, from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course, certainly fits the last bill: the scent of baking apples, caramelizing brown sugar, and toasting nuts is as heavenly a paean to fall as I can imagine. It’s amazingly satisfying, too, for surprisingly little work. Apples, carefully hollowed out, are filled with a mixture of sugar, nuts, dried fruit, and butter, and placed in the oven to bake into little cups of fall bliss. Fleming’s recipes doesn’t use any spices, instead relying on the brown sugar and butter to infuse the apple with sweet caramel flavor, but I think a sprinkling some cinnamon, nutmeg, or allspice would go wonderfully with the recipe. The toasted pecans and almonds add crunchy interest, and the dried cherries a vivid sweet punctuation to the dessert. Again, this recipe seems ripe for adaption: walnuts, dried cranberries or dried figs spring to mind as lovely substitutions.
When baking apples, pick firmer ones that will hold up in the oven – you don’t want them to turn to mush. Fleming suggests Cortland; McIntosh, Empire, and Gala work well too. Of course, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious are old standbys, but if you can find some other varieties try them out: many of them have their own distinctive, lovely flavors. I used Pippin apples, which are crisp and slightly less tart than Granny Smith, and turn nicely tender but not mushy in the oven.
So where’s the alcohol? In a Calvados caramel sauce made to drizzled over and around the oven-hot apples. The apple brandy adds a smooth richness to the sweet caramel and turns the baked apple from simple treat to luxe dessert. I realized when I was thinking of how to plate my apples, that with all the different colors, shapes, and textures of the components, it was almost like a modern art piece. So I present to you: Autumn Whimsy in Apple and Caramel. I like to think of it as a colorful little ode to fall.
By the way, I found out about this after I’d already made the apples, so I couldn’t incorporate it into SHF, but if you are looking for a really nice combination of apples and alcohol, I would recommend Lindemans Pomme apple lambic: I’m normally not a big beer drinker, but this is like a sweet fizzy cider. Maybe too sweet for regular beer drinkers, but for someone with a sweet tooth, it’s quite a tasty way to imbibe.
Baked Apples with Dried Fruits and Nuts
adapted from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course
makes 6 servings
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
3 Tablespoons dried cherries, roughly chopped
2 Tablespoons sliced almonds, roughly chopped and toasted
2 Tablespoons pecans, roughly chopped and toasted
6 large, firm baking apples, cored but not peeled
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup apple cider
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Combine the brown sugar, cherries, and nuts in a small bowl.
Place the apples in a baking dish large enough to hold them all comfortably. Fill the apple cavities with the sugar mixture (When the apples bake, the mixture will melt and sink slightly, so you might want to reserve some to top the apples when you pull them out).
Break the butter into six equal pieces and place one of top of the filling of each apple.
Pour the cider into the bottom of the baking dish.
Bake apples for about 25 to 30 minutes, basting the apples every 5 to 7 minutes with cider. The apples should become tender but not mushy.
When the apples are ready, remove from the oven and carefully move to a plate or individual dishes before serving with the Calvados caramel sauce.
Calvados Caramel Sauce
adapted from Emily Luchetti’s A Passion for Ice Cream
makes about 3/4 cup
1/2 cup sugar
1/8 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tablespoon Calvados or apple brandy
pinch of salt
1/2 oz (1 Tablespoon) unsalted butter, softened
Combine sugar and water in a heavy saucepan and cook over medium heat on stove until sugar dissolves.
Turn heat to high and cook sugar until it is golden brown in color. Remove saucepan from heat and pour in the cream slowly – the caramel will bubble and sputter so don’t dump in the cream too quickly.
Stir the mixture until the cream is incorporated – if it starts to harden place back on heat briefly to make the caramel melt.
Add in the butter and stir until completely incorporated.
Let cool and refrigerate until ready to use. You can reheat it if it firms up too much.