We love apples any which way they come. Fresh or sauced, wrapped in pastry or topped with crumble. Served up savory with pork chops or sweetened into dessert.
But baked apples must be one of our most favorite preparations, because it preserves the fruit’s beautiful shape and color. Few fruits are quite as autumnal, lovely, and varied in size and color as apples. And we love celebrating that natural beauty and showing it off for dessert.
I have to say, I’m not a fan of baked apples that lean toward the puritanical — the middle of the fruit barely hollowed out and unable to hold much more than the tiniest bit of butter and sugar. Instead, I make the holes nice and big, and pack them with a crumbly filling that has oats and flour to help soak up the butter and apple’s juices.
Lately I’ve been adding granola to the mix, instead of just oats, to give the filling even more texture and flavor in one step.
Another trick: Cut the apples in half, top to bottom, to make apple cups, so you can really pack on the crumble. Use a melon baller to scoop out the core. Then use it to carve out chunks of apple, which you can mix back in with the filling. The apple bits will cook faster, and if you snack on a few you’ll have even more room for filling.
Topped with a drizzle of caramel and a dollop of creme fraiche, whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, they’re like individual apple crisps, in one of nature’s prettiest packages.
Crumble-Filled Baked Caramel Apples
Makes 8 servings
If you don’t want to make this many servings, just make half and freeze the leftover crumble for next time. For this photo, we had the cutest little heritage apples so we hollowed out the middle with a paring knife and left them whole. But the directions below are for larger apples, since that’s what you’ll find at most stores.
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup granola of your choice (I like using one with rosemary and raisins)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened
4 large apples (I like to use those with a pretty skin and sweet-tart flavor, like Honeycrisp, Fuji or Gala)
Vanilla ice cream, creme fraiche or sweetened whipped cream
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
To make the crumble: In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, salt cinnamon and granola. Add the butter and mix it in with your hands until the mixture evenly moist and clumpy.
To prepare the apples: Cut the apples in half from top to bottom. Use a melon baller or sharp-edged spoon to carve out the core and discard. Use the tool to remove more chunks of apple to make room for the crumble.
Place the apples in a baking dish and sprinkle a little of the crumble into each one. Add some of the apple bits to each, then mound with filling on top (squeeze it as you add it, to encourage it to form clumps). Freeze any leftover crumble for another day.
Place the baking dish in the center rack of the oven and bake for 35-45 minutes. The timing all depends on how big the apples are and how much apple you cut out of them. If some apples are cooking faster than others, remove them and keep cooking the stragglers. The apples are ready when the topping is browned and a knife slides easily through the flesh.
To serve: Drizzle the warm apples with caramel sauce and top with a scoop of ice cream or a dollop of creme fraiche or whipped cream.