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Baked apples - so many ways

"All millionaires love a baked apple" Ronald Firbank

This all started with a purchase of a big bag of i'Mperfect apples from Coles by David; his apparent disappointment at not getting a bundt cake the other day, and a container of leftover syrup in the fridge. I can no longer remember what the syrup contains or what it was for. I just know that it was delicious and it won't have gone off because it's basically pure sugar. I think it had something to do with apples.

I'm also feeling lazy - the rest of the dinner is just leftover lasagne - so I thought of baked apples, but maybe not whole ones like this example from Nigel Slater - Baked apples, quince paste and vine fruits. No, gorgeous though they are, perhaps I'll go for halved and filled with syrup poured over. In a way there is not a lot to say about baked apples, but I've had a few rambling thoughts on this and that as I investigated so here I go.

One of the first things I found that all those cooks went on about was what kind of apple to use. And since most of my favourite cooks are English, and also because I'm English too, the names of the apples they talked about were not ones that you can get here. Indeed I had not heard of some of them. And truth to tell I don't even know what the apples are that we bought today. Their type is not named on the bag - for, alas they came in a plastic bag that I can no longer recycle. So that's a black mark. Is it compensated for by the fact that these are imperfect apples that might otherwise have been fed to pigs or ploughed back into the ground? Let's call it a stalemate. They look a bit like Pink Ladies or maybe they are Royal Gala. I hope the former, because Ottolenghi mentioned Pink Ladies - although not for baked apples. This is what Elizabeth David has to say on the subject:

"I have never very greatly appreciated cooked apple dishes, but from the French I learned two valuable lessons about them. First choose hard sweet apples whenever possible instead of the sour cooking variety which are used for English apple dishes. And secondly, if the apples are to be eaten hot, cook them in butter instead of in water. The scent of apples cooking in butter is alone more than worth the extra expense." Elizabeth David

I'll come back to the butter. No perhaps not. Because what else is there to say about butter and apples? She's right - that's all there is to it.

When I was a child we often had baked apples. And I still have an apple corer to sort of prove it. Ours were made with those dreaded sour cooking Bramley apples, although it's not really the sourness that is the problem, because there's always sugar. No the problem is that the flesh sort of collapses into mush and the skin remains fairly tough, so they're a bit difficult to eat. Still I loved them and still would if I ever had them. You have to cut into the peel all round the apple or else they will burst all over the pan. We children used to help out by stuffing them with sultanas and things and then pouring golden syrup over the top.

So even though I had no intention of going the whole apple route I did look into them a bit, to see what people did that might be a little bit interesting. Nigel Slater mixed his fruit with melted quince paste, which I thought was rather a nifty idea because I have a whole lot of plum paste that Monika gave me and so I could use that. Nigel said you could use plum paste too.

Then there's this slightly more out there version by Ravneet Gill in that the apples are stuffed with dates which themselves have been stuffed with sugar. The final touches are that the apples are cooked in a tin into which has been poured earl grey tea, and it's served with some no churn ice-cream flavoured with honey. Not sure about the earl grey tea but I quite like the idea of the dates.

My final variation on the traditional is from Gourmet Traveller. Here the flavouring is orangey with some vermouth as well but the main difference is that the apple is sliced across and then reassembled so that you get a fancy looking dish at the end. I'm guessing that it also allows the flavour of the syrup to drench every slice of the apple. I'm also guessing that it might be rather difficult to eat. A knife and fork might be better than a spoon here I think. And just to show how fashionable they are, Gourmet Traveller recommends serving with mascarpone.

All of which confirms me in my original idea of cutting the apples in half before stuffing and baking them. I could have sworn that I had seen a Nigel Slater recipe somewhere that did this but I couldn't find it - but then I found that our own Recipe Tin Eats lady had a recipe for Magic caramel self-saucing baked apples. And by watching her video I saw that an in ice-cream scoop was ideal for scooping out the cores, and also for putting your filling mix on top of the apples. Pile them high as she says and it will all overflow and make that self-saucing caramel. Very uninterestingly though she merely pours water mixed with cornstarch over the apples. But then I guess she has plenty of tasty things in the stuffing - like walnuts.

You can of course make it even easier by simply baking slices of apple in the oven. And this is truly where the butter stars. I remember doing this once in France in a rare week when it was just David and I. I carefully sliced all of the apples, and carefully arranged them in a heavily buttered pan. I think I scattered them with orange and lemon zest as well as sugar and more butter before pouring over orange and lemon juice. The smell was delicious but alas when I took them out of the oven I dropped them on the floor! Disaster, although I suspect we just scooped them up and ate them. I also have to say that the bulk of recipes you find for sliced apples tend to be pan-fried. And like the baked whole or halved apples you can douse them whatever you fancy. Lots of sugar and lots of butter though. Well I suppose you can substitute maple syrup or honey for the sugar.

And here comes another ramble which is not quite on the topic - what we used to call apple dumplings and what the French call bourdelots, or bourdaines or douillons - apples stuffed and wrapped in pastry before baking. An English version from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall on the left and an almost genuine French version from My French Kitchen on the right. Calvados is often involved in the French version.

I found an interesting tarted up version of this from Ravneet Gill called Baked apples with kadaifi - which is that Greek pastry that looks like thin strands of spaghetti and which does look rather impressive, but not nearly as impressive as something called apple roses which I suspect is a TikTok or Instagram thing. Gorgeous looking and probably pretty tasty too. I found the video below which will show you that it's amazingly simple. Well that's what it looks like anyway, but probably isn't. It's actually fairly plain - the only other flavouring is apricot jam in this case, but I'm guessing you could improvise with a whole lot of things. The video is very short. Have a look.

Oh the wonders of YouTube and the imagination of the young.

That's sort of it but I haven't quite finished. First of all the quote I began with "All millionaires love a baked apple" was just too striking not to include, but what does it mean? I suppose it means that even if you are super rich you can enjoy the plain and simple things of life. I tried to find out more - the context for a start. But all I could find was that the author Ronald Firbank was a British novelist who died young and was often compared to Oscar Wilde. He was even gay. The quote is from one of his novels. Here he is looking very public school and English. With a bow tie like Keith Floyd, who, incidentally, I found had a recipe for those French apple dumplings in his book Floyd on France.

I sort of implied at the beginning of this post that we very rarely eat dessert. I'm not quite sure why because I think when we were young we did, even if it wasn't anything fancy - baked apples being one of the options. Somehow we have become somewhat puritanical in our old age, or at least lazy. So tonight I'm going to venture into baked apples again - halved and topped with something that will include some kind of dried fruit and plum paste. Plus butter.

However when I was looking for suitable pictures and recipes with which to illustrate my ramblings I came across two other apple desserts that I am definitely going to try sometime.

First, from Jamie Oliver, who doesn't really do apples in a big way, and when he does it's usually in a savoury dish. Rather like Elizabeth David. But this Apple pepper pot cake looks absolutely scrumptious. We love apple cakes and I have made several although I always come back to one made from a very old recipe torn out of a very old Family Circle magazine. It has an apple purée in the middle and toasted muesli in the cake mix.

This one is from Jamie. It's an upside down cake and amongst the ingredients are molasses, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and cider. Next time I need to make a cake I will give this a go.

And of course I can't leave without something Ottolenghi. And here it is - it's called Pastis Gascon and he says it's French although it uses filo pastry which I don't think is very French. Armagnac, prunes, apples, marzipan, lemon and butter. Yes you have to have butter when you have apples. What's not to love? Will give that a go sometime soon too.

Both of these are technically baked apples - well there's apples and they're baked, but I have indeed strayed a long way away from simple old baked apples. Looking forward to a dessert for once though. With real cream and/or ice-cream.


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