Honey & Pecan Baked Apples
I know it’s not quite the done thing these days, however throughout my childhood, we always had a ‘pudding’ of some sort to finish dinner; it just wasn’t considered complete without one. And they were such wonderful puddings too – things like mulberries from our neighbour’s tree with cream and a dusting of icing sugar, golden syrup steamed pudding studded with raisins, lovely eggy baked custards, and fruit crumbles of every sort – simple, honest dishes and things I love to this day. But for me, mum’s baked apples were best of all; honey-sweet and bursting with nuts and dried fruit. Invariably I would scald my tongue as I would eat them before they’d cooled down, but it didn’t matter as they were so good.
60g pitted dates, coarsely chopped
60g roasted pecans, coarsely chopped (hazelnuts are rather good too)
¼ cup (90g) clear honey
¼ cup (60ml) cream, sour cream or crème fraiche
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 pink lady, fuji, or royal gala apples
2 cups (500ml) good-quality apple juice
1 ½ tablespoons clear honey, extra
good thick cream or Greek-style yoghurt, to serve
cinnamon sticks, optional, to serve
In a small bowl, stir together the dates, raisins, pecans, honey, cream, cinnamon, lemon zest and vanilla. Set the bowl aside.
Trim the finest sliver off the base of the apples if necessary, so they sit up straight without wobbling about. Now, core the apples. You can use an apple corer or one of those little gadgets that is used to make melon or potato balls. (I must admit mine has been languishing in my kitchen drawer for at least 25 years and is mainly used for coring – I don’t think it has caught sight of a melon in decades!) Core each apple from the stalk end, widening the hole out quite a bit at the top so it will hold plenty of the filling. Make the finest, most shallow slit around the middle of the apples with a sharp knife to help stop the apple bursting as it bakes (not all apples do this, but some are more prone to it than others so it’s a good idea to be on the safe side.)
Stand the apples in a small gratin or shallow baking dish that fits them fairly snugly. Divide the filling evenly among them, pressing it into the hollow and mounding it up generously on top. Trickle the apple juice around them.
Put the dish in the oven and bake the apples for about 50 minutes or until they’re fairly tender (I like them to still have a bit of ‘body’) basting them once or twice with the juices. This is only a rough guide to the timing, as it may vary considerably depending on the variety and size of the apples you use, and the thickness of the dish they are baked in. To check if they’re ready, pierce one with a fine skewer – it should go in fairly easily. If at any time the tops start to look a bit burnt, sit a sheet of baking paper loosely over them.
When the apples are ready, remove them from the oven. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a shallow dish then put them aside in a warm spot. Strain the liquid left in the cooking dish into a medium-sized saucepan and add the extra 1 ½ tablespoons of honey. Stir until the honey has dissolved, then bring the liquid to the boil over high heat. Continue to boil it until it’s somewhat reduced and syrupy – this may take 15 minutes or so depending on the size of your pan.
To serve the apples, sit one on each plate and trickle some of the reduced juice over the top. They are lovely with a little thick cream or Greek-style yoghurt. (As you can see, I had a little ‘play’ with these, and stuck a cinnamon stick in each one to dress them up a bit, but it’s not at all necessary.)