Sunday, October 28, 2012

Baked Apples

It's apple season; and the apples we've been getting most weeks in our box have been delicious.  Usually, I eat them whole or chop them into a salad.  But this week, I decided to make baked apples as a light dessert to a rich meal.

One of the things I truly love about baked apples is the infinite variations there are to this simple and healthy dish.  You can bake apples entirely plain, of course, but it's much more fun to dig out the core and fill them with a sweet and crunchy filling that enhances their sweet-tart flavor and soft texture.

Dried fruit, such as cherries, cranberries, and raisins are great, as is candied ginger; and walnuts, pecans, and/or oatmeal give the filling a nice crunch.  Personally, I like to use brown sugar to sweeten the mixture, but you can use maple syrup, honey, granulated sugar, a combination of these, or none at all if you prefer.  A little finely grated lemon or orange zest will add some zing.  And don't forget the spices.  Cinnamon is practically required, but nutmeg, allspice, and ground cloves add even more depth of flavor.

You can eat baked apples hot or cold.  I like to pour a little cream and maple syrup on them.  Leftovers are great for breakfast.  If the apples are large, you can serve half an apple instead of a whole.  Just cut them down the middle lengthwise to attractively reveal the filling.

One more thing:  The baking time depends on the apple's variety, size, and your taste.  Denser and larger apples need to be baked longer.  Also, the softer you prefer your baked apples, the longer they will need to bake.  I baked the large, dense apples from our box for 50 minutes at 350 degrees F and they were still relatively firm.  Some varieties, such as McIntosh, become quite soft the longer they are baked.

To start:  Wash and dry the apples.  With a sharp paring knife or a melon-baller, cut or scoop out the stem, core, and seeds, making a well, but being careful not to cut all the way through the bottom of the apples.

For each large apple, mix together:

1 T brown sugar
1 T chopped toasted walnuts
1 T chopped dried cherries
1/8 t cinnamon
A little finely grated lemon peel
A pinch grated nutmeg

Mix until combined and pack into the cavity that you scooped out of the apple.

Pack apples snugly in a buttered glass or non-reactive baking dish.  Add a little apple cider or water to the bottom of the baking dish (about 1/2 inch).  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees F until done, 30-60 minutes.  If the apples won't stand straight, you can take a small slice off the bottom to create a flat surface.  Just be careful not to cut open the cavity on the bottom, or the filling might spill out of the bottom when baking.

Friday's bounty included:

From Jaime Farms:  Red leaf lettuce, broccoli, kale, and cauliflower;

From Jimenez Family Farm:  Tomatoes, bell peppers, rainbow chard, cilantro, basil, and winter squash;

From K and K Ranch:  Grapes and apples; and

From Weiser Family Farm:  Russian banana potatoes, beets, carrots, garlic, and Lucerne Valley onions.



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