6 large (7-10 ounce) baking apples, such as Honeycrisp, Jonathan or Empire
1/2 cup apple juice or sweet apple cider
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 to 1/3 cup golden or dark raisins, optional
6 to 8 tablespoons packed light brown sugar, to taste
1 tablespoon mild honey, maple syrup or dark corn syrup
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, to taste
Makes 6 servings
There is really no more welcome autumn fruit dish than classic baked apples. They perfume the kitchen and mellow during baking, and their juices bubble up and produce a rich, fruity sauce. Add a scoop of ice cream to create a fine seasonal dessert, or serve the apples "plain" along with breakfast, brunch or lunch, or as a snack.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using an apple corer (recommended) or small, sharp paring knife, core the apples. Try to keep the center cylinders narrow, but don't worry about cutting all the way through the bottoms (it is nearly impossible to keep them intact). If necessary, trim the bottoms so the apples stand up. Peel away a 1-inch ring of skin from around top of each apple. Puncture each apple about halfway down and 1/2 inch deep on two or three sides. (These steps aid release of steam, helping apples to stay intact). Place apples upright in a 7-by-11-inch baking dish or other baking dish large enough to hold them. If desired, stuff the apples with raisins, dividing equally among them. Stir together the apple juice, lemon juice and vanilla, and pour it around apples.
Stir together brown sugar, honey (or syrup), butter and cinnamon until well blended. Stuff apples with the sugar mixture, dividing it equally; don't worry if it falls through the center cylinders into the dish.
Bake on the middle oven rack, occasionally spooning over the pan juices, until the apples are tender when pricked with a fork, about 45 to 65 minutes (or sometimes even longer) depending on size and variety. Let cool briefly before serving. Serve apples in individual bowls, dividing the juice among them. Add a scoop of vanilla, caramel, rum-raisin, butter pecan or other favorite ice cream just before serving, if desired.
Beyond the apples mentioned here, there are many worthy regional varieties, too. So, if you have a favorite, by all means, bake that!
Note that the baking time will vary considerably depending on the apple size, type and even the degree of ripeness. Check for doneness by testing the thickest part with a fork.
To speed the process, after 40 minutes in the oven, underdone apples can be transferred to a microwave oven and "baked" under a microwave-safe cover on full power for 5 to 10 minutes longer.
The apples may also be baked ahead if desired: Cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days, then reheat to warm at 325 degrees before serving. Or reheat individual servings in a microwave oven on 50 percent power.
Warning: Don't be tempted to bake at higher than 350 degrees, as the apples are more prone to splitting and collapsing. When time is very short, use my "Hurry-Up Microwave Baked Apples" instead; it's posted on my Web site and works very well.
Award-winning cookbook author Nancy Baggett's latest book is Kneadlessly Simple — Fabulous, Fuss-Free, No-Knead Breads.