From America's Test Kitchen Season 11: Fall Favorites
This homey (and typically dowdy) dessert is often plagued with a mushy texture and one-dimensional, cloyingly sweet flavor. We wanted baked apples that were tender and firm with a filling that perfectly complemented their sweet, tart flavor.
We knew picking the right variety of apple was paramount to our success and, after extensive testing, we arrived at a surprising winner: Granny Smith was the best apple for the job, with its firm flesh and tart, fruity flavor. To ensure that our fruit avoided even the occasional collapse, we peeled the apples after cutting off the top. The skin traps steam from the extra moisture released by the breakdown of the apples’ interior cells, and removing it allows the steam to escape and the apple to retain its tender-firm texture. Sautéing our apples cut side down intensified their flavor. Our filling base of tangy dried cranberries, brown sugar, and pecans benefited from some finessing by way of cinnamon, orange zest, and a pat of creamy butter. To punch up the flavor even more, we intensified the nuttiness with chewy rolled oats, and diced apple was an obvious addition. A melon baller helped us to scoop out a spacious cavity that accommodated plenty of filling. We then capped off the filled apples with the tops we had previously lopped off. Once in the oven, the apples were basted with an apple cider and maple syrup sauce and emerged full of flavor—and far from frumpy.
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.