Why it works:
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.
- 7large (about 6 ounces each) Granny Smith apples
- 6tablespoons unsalted butter , softened
- 1/4cup packed brown sugar
- 1/3cup dried cranberries , coarsely chopped
- 1/3cup coarsely chopped pecans , toasted
- 3tablespoons old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1teaspoon finely grated zest from 1 orange
- 1/2teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch table salt
- 1/3cup maple syrup
- 1/3cup plus 2 tablespoons apple cider
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.
America’s Test Kitchen