Best Baked Apples

From America's Test Kitchen Season 11: Fall Favorites

Why this recipe works:

Choosing the right apples—Granny Smiths—was the first step to developing a baked apple recipe with good texture and flavor. Peeling the apples kept them from getting mushy in the oven, while sautéing their top edges before stuffing them with a dried fruit and nut filling gave the apples… read more

Choosing the right apples—Granny Smiths—was the first step to developing a baked apple recipe with good texture and flavor. Peeling the apples kept them from getting mushy in the oven, while sautéing their top edges before stuffing them with a dried fruit and nut filling gave the apples themselves an intense flavor. As the final step, we used the slices we had lopped off the tops of the apples as a natural covering during baking, so the filling wouldn’t burn.

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Serves 6

If you don’t have an ovenproof skillet, transfer the browned apples to a 13- by 9-inch baking dish and bake as directed. The recipe calls for 7 apples; 6 are left whole and 1 is diced and added to the filling. Serve the apples with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Ingredients

  • 7 large (about 6 ounces each) Granny Smith apples
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted
  • 3 tablespoons old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated zest from 1 orange
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch table salt
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons apple cider

Instructions

  1. 1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Peel, core, and cut 1 apple into 1/4-inch dice. Combine 5 tablespoons of butter, brown sugar, cranberries, pecans, oats, orange zest, cinnamon, diced apple, and salt in large bowl; set aside.

    2. Shave thin slice off bottom (blossom end) of remaining 6 apples to allow them to sit flat. Cut top 1/2 inch off stem end of apples and reserve. Peel apples and use melon baller or small measuring spoon to remove 1½-inch diameter core, being careful not to cut through bottom of apple.

    3. Melt remaining tablespoon butter in 12-inch nonstick ovensafe skillet over medium heat. Once foaming subsides, add apples, stem-side down, and cook until cut surface is golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip apples, reduce heat to low, and spoon filling inside, mounding excess filling over cavities; top with reserved apple caps. Add maple syrup and 1/3 cup cider to skillet. Transfer skillet to oven, and bake until skewer inserted into apples meets little resistance, 35 to 40 minutes, basting every 10 minutes with maple syrup mixture in skillet.

    4. Transfer apples to serving platter. Stir up to 2 tablespoons remaining cider into sauce in skillet to adjust consistency. Pour sauce over apples and serve.

Technique

Firm Baked Apples Packed with Flavor

1. PEEL Removing entire peel prevents blowouts and keeps flesh firm.

2. CARAMELIZE Sautéing apples in butter before baking contributes rich flavor.

3. CAP AND BAKE Capping apples with sliced-off tops shields filling from burning in oven.

Technique

The Big Dig

Most recipes for baked apples call for tiny cavities, which hold a paltry amount of filling. Once we solved the structural problems and baked up a sturdier apple, we found we could increase the diameter to an accommodating 1 1/2 inches.

PRIME SPACE

Technique

Preventing Apple Blowouts

While developing our recipe for baked apples, we couldn’t ignore a persistent problem: apples that “blew out” and collapsed in the oven. Could removing the skin solve the issue?

EXPERIMENT

We prepared two batches of six baked Granny Smith apples each, one skin-on, the other skin-off, using our placeholder filling and sauce (raisins, toasted pecans, and brown sugar for the filling; apple cider for the sauce). Then we baked each batch in a 13- by 9-inch baking dish in a 375-degree oven until the apples could be pierced easily with a knife.

RESULTS

To our surprise, all the skin-off apples held their shape, without a single blowout. Within the skin-on batch, half of the apples collapsed.

EXPLANATION

In nature, the peel protects an apple; in the oven, it traps moisture that’s been transformed into steam. As the steam attempts to escape, its outward pressure ruptures cells and eventually bursts through the apple’s skin, causing blowouts. Removing all the skin allows the steam to escape without damaging the fruit’s structure.

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