My dad taught me practically everything I know about cooking.
Rule number one: garlic, rosemary, and lemon belong on a whole roasted chicken. Rule number two: fresh sage and white cheddar cheese are best friends. The list goes on and on, but when it comes to final courses—there’s one guideline I’ll never forget.
When you can’t figure out what to have for dessert, reach for an apple.
This might sound odd, but the majority of the sweet tooth-laced memories from my childhood are made up of apples.
In one form or another, everyone in my family adored apples.
My dad would sit in his worn green chair, gaze fixed on the news, swiftly carving off chunks of sweet Honeycrisp apples and popping them into his mouth. I would stretch out nearby on the purple sofa—submerging crisp wedges of Pink Lady apples into a sticky mountain of peanut butter.
For my mom and older sister, true apple gratification came from decadent desserts.
Growing up, my sister Sarah’s birthday celebrations always concluded with my dad’s homemade apple pie. She would stand nearby as he sprinkled on the crumbly streusel-like topping—snatching any morsel that missed and hit the cutting board.
She eventually moved out of the house, went to college, and found her way to Hawaii where she’s now resided for almost fifteen years.
On our annual vacations to visit Sarah in her tropical paradise, the trek is never complete without a detour to one of our favorite restaurants, Sansei, and that meal is never complete without a Granny Smith Apple Tart.
During our first trip to Sansei, my mom and Sarah were immediately hypnotized by the description of the tart on the dessert menu. Not long after—the four of us were simultaneously placed into a homemade warm caramel trance.
The puff pastry (topped with a glistening halo of vanilla bean ice cream) brimmed with the perfume of toasted brown sugar and baked apples. Sarah licked the plate. We ordered two more. It was at that moment that the tart joined our family as the grand finale for what would become our yearly Sansei ceremony.
It’s also part of my inspiration for this recipe.
Although I always looked forward to Sarah’s birthday pie and that infamous apple tart, I never had the desire to construct a pastry crust in my own kitchen.
And thus—these baked apples were born. Instead of whipping up an authentic (and tricky) caramel, I use cornstarch to thicken the dark brown sugar base. This creates a thick, molasses-like sauce that the soft apples sink into.
The chai spices like earthy nutmeg and prickly black pepper enhance the apples with even more depth and complexity, and the delicate vanilla bean gelato melts over the fruit like they were meant to be together all along.
Even after my sister moved out of the house, I would watch as my dad continued to turn towards apples for quick desserts. A drizzle of honey here and a dusting of cinnamon there and before I knew it—the whole house would be filled with the warm, tranquil aroma of apple pie.
Who needs air fresheners?
- 4 medium apples (2 sweet like honey-crisp and 2 tart like granny smith)
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons apple cider (or apple juice)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- Pinch coarse salt
- 1-pint vanilla bean gelato
- Preheat the oven to 400° and set out a 9×13-inch baking dish, 2-quart casserole dish, or pie dish.
- Peel, core, and quarter the apples. Slice them into even-sized lengthwise pieces about 1-inch thick and place them into the dish.
- Add the lemon juice, butter, apple cider, vanilla, brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper, cornstarch, and salt to the apples. Toss to combine and then loosely cover the dish with foil.
- Bake for 30 minutes, uncover the dish, toss the apples, and continue baking until caramelized and fork-tender, about 10-15 more minutes.
- Allow the apples to cool slightly and then serve with even portions of the vanilla bean gelato.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 372Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 34mgSodium: 52mgCarbohydrates: 43gFiber: 3gSugar: 35gProtein: 1g
- This dish can be made vegan by substituting coconut oil for the butter.
- For an individual twist on this recipe, slide puff pastry squares into muffin tins and top with the pre-baked apples. Bake until the pastry is golden and the apples are soft.
- Save any leftover apples and layer them with Greek yogurt and granola for a mind-blowingly delicious parfait.
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Peel, Core, and Chop the Apples
Preheat the oven to 400° and set out a 9×13-inch baking dish, 2-quart casserole dish, or pie dish.
Peel, core, and quarter the apples. Slice them into even-size lengthwise pieces about 1-inch thick and place them into the dish. You can also toss them with the spices in a large mixing bowl.
Step 2 – Toss the Apples and Spices
Add the lemon juice, butter, apple cider, vanilla, brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper, cornstarch, and salt to the apples. Toss to combine and then loosely cover the dish with foil.
Step 3 – Bake the Apples
Bake for 30 minutes, uncover the dish, toss the apples, and continue baking until caramelized and fork tender, about 10-15 more minutes.
The cornstarch will have thickened the liquid into a rich sauce.
Step 4 – Cool the Apples and Serve with the Gelato
Allow the apples to cool slightly and then serve with even portions of the vanilla bean gelato.
An Apple Pie a Day Keeps the Doctor Away.
That statistic may not be completely accurate. I’m not a doctor. I just play one on TV.
And if there’s one prescription I recommend, it’s dark brown sugar and spices scattered over apples. Three times a day. Don’t be afraid to swap in pears for a twist on this caramelized creation.
Looking for other sweet course concoctions where apples are the star? Give these recipes a shot: