I love fall food. Pumpkins, potatoes, squash, apples—this is my favorite time of year to browse through the produce section. Summer produce is bright and lovely, but fragile and quick to spoil. Fall produce is hardy. It’s built to survive the winter in a cold, dark place. Even fall desserts have a certain stick-to-itiveness that I admire.
Although I wish the weather in south Texas would cool down a bit sooner than it does, the heat won’t keep me from making these terrific baked apples this weekend. When you’re baking apples, size matters—pick four apples that are relatively the same in height and girth, so they’ll bake at the same rate. Be sure to choose a variety that holds up under heat. Any variety you’d use for an apple pie will be fine, but softer apples (like Red Delicious, for instance) are better left for snacking. Baking turns them to mush. Stick with Jonathan, Jonagold, Granny Smith, Braeburn, or Rome apples. All of them will keep their shape and offer a slightly tart contrast to the sweet granola and sauce. (If you’re not a fan of tart apples, stay away from the Granny Smiths altogether. They’re my favorite baking apple, but they’re not for everyone.)
The granola stuffing can be store bought or homemade, whatever you have on hand, but try to avoid granola varieties that include raisins—unless you prefer raisins to the dried cherries this recipe calls for. In that case, just leave out the cherries. If the granola is in large clumps, break them up by smacking them with the back of a spoon before you stuff the apples. That will ensure the granola filling soaks up the apple juice evenly—otherwise, you’ll end up with chunks that are mushy on the outside and crunchy on the inside.
Stuffed Baked Apples in Vanilla Sauce
For the Baked Apples:
4 medium baking apples
½ cup apple juice
½ cup granola
3 T. dried cherries
1 T. packed brown sugar
1 T. butter, melted
½ tsp. cinnamon
For the Vanilla Sauce:
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
½ c. whipping cream (or half and half, whole milk, or evaporated milk)
1 stick of butter
1 tsp. vanilla
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Using a paring knife, cut a thin slice from the top of each apple, removing the peel. Core the apples to within a half inch of the bottom, using the paring knife, a melon baller or a grapefruit spoon. Don't worry about making this center hollow even or symmetrical; the only thing to worry about is removing the core and seeds completely. Put the apples in a baking dish and pour the apple juice around them.
In a medium bowl, combine the granola, cherries, brown sugar, melted butter and cinnamon. Stir to coat the granola with the butter, then divide the filling evenly among the apples. Bake until the apples are easily pierced with a fork, about 20 minutes.
While the apples are baking, make the vanilla sauce. In a small saucepan, combine the granulated sugar, brown sugar, cream and butter. Stir over medium heat until the butter melts and the mixture comes to a full boil. (This shouldn't take more than ten minutes, probably less.) Stir in the vanilla.
Set each apple on a plate to serve and drizzle it with the vanilla sauce.