Vail baking: A warm dessert for a cool evening
Vail, CO Colorado
We don’t need a calendar to tell us that autumn is here in Colorado’s Vail Valley. In the high country, the colorful leaves, crisp air, and morning frosts speak for themselves. And, their message to me is loud and clear: it’s time to turn from desserts that are light, cool, and refreshing to ones that are warm, cozy, and satisfying. These bourbon-toffee apples are just that…simple, unpretentious, and delectable … made to savor on a cool evening or before an open fire. Honestly, what could represent fall better?
Like the season, their appeal comes from contrasts…the play between the sweet pan juices and the apple’s acidity and the warm fruit, crunchy nuts, and cool, creamy ice cream. The varying tastes and textures really work.
In my opinion, all baked apples are good. But, this one stands out because of the sauce. While it’s difficult to pick out the bourbon, toffee, and molasses, they add a wonderful complexity to the apple cider and ginger, resulting in a sauce so tasty that one of my testers licked the plate!
Serve this dessert warm or don’t serve it at all. You can, however, make it earlier in the day and re-heat it. Stick the apples, under a foil cover, back in a 300-degree oven until they are quite warm, re-heat the sauce on the stove, and you’re good to go.
Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet
• Four baking apples (I use Golden Delicious)
• 1/2 cup of toasted pecans
• 6 tablespoons of toffee bits (like those packaged by Heath or Skor)
• 2 tablespoons of bourbon
• 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter plus more to grease the dish
• 1 1/2 cups of apple cider
• 3 tablespoons of mild-flavored molasses
• 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger
• Vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt
Step One: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Select a baking dish (preferably glass or ceramic) that holds the apples so they are close together but not touching. Butter the bottom of the dish and part way up the sides. Chop half of the pecans (one fourth cup) into one-fourth to one-half inch pieces.
Step Two: Peel and core the apples, leaving the bottom of the apples intact. (To core them, I cut around the core with a paring knife, stopping before I reach the bottom, and use a melon baller or small, pointed spoon to scrape out the stem, core, and seeds.) Place them in the prepared dish, and fill each apple’s cavity with a tablespoon of toffee bits, a half-tablespoon of bourbon, and a half-tablespoon of unsalted butter, cut into tiny pieces. Scatter the rest of the toffee bits around the bottom of the pan. In a bowl, use a whisk to combine the apple cider, molasses, granulated sugar, and ground ginger. Pour this over the apples and into the baking dish.
Step Three: Bake the apples, basting them with the pan juices about every ten minutes, until they are very tender but not mushy. The amount of time this will take depends upon the type, ripeness, and size of the apples you’re using. It usually takes about an hour and a half in my oven for small Golden Delicious apples to bake completely. Test for doneness with a thin skewer or long toothpick; a fork doesn’t give an accurate reading. If the juices start to evaporate and/or thicken before the apples are done, place a sheet of aluminum foil over the pan.
Step Four: When fully baked, remove the apples from the oven, place each apple in a bowl or on a small plate with a high rim, and stuff each cavity with about a tablespoon of the toasted, chopped pecans. Pour the juices from the pan into a small saucepan and boil them until they thicken enough to coat a spoon. Dollop a scoop of ice cream next to or on each apple, sprinkle about a tablespoon of the unchopped pecans on each plate, pour the thickened juices over top, and serve. Both the apples and the sauce can be made several hours ahead and re-heated.
This recipe is inspired by one in Bon Appetit.
Vera Dawson lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact Vera Dawson with your comments about this column and/or your baking questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.