How to Make Baked Apples Without a Recipe

November  2, 2015

All you need are a bunch of apples and some kitchen staples to make the coziest dessert of orchard season. That's why we're revisiting this baked apples post—because you can serve them for breakfast, serve baked apples for dessert, and hope that autumn never ends.

The concept of food-cum-serving vessel is, in my humble opinion, generally not a good idea. 

  • Exhibit A: The bread bowl. Soggy, inconquerable, and inevitably messy.
  • Exhibit B: The stuffed pepper. Soggy, flavor-leached, and droopy. 
  • Exhibit C: The zucchini boat. Soggy, not at all nautical, and—as much as I wish it were a mythic creature—very real.

But I make an exception for baked apples. Yes, the apples lose their characteristic crispness. Gone is the crunch we're seeking when we turn to the Pink Lady or the Honeycrisp. Yet this texture is reincarnated in the apples' stuffing, where chewy oats and crunchy nuts come together in a beautiful union. It's nothing like the saggy stuffed pepper or the chili-filled bread bowl, which (to me, at least) are a practice in sog-on-sog. And the apples don't lose any of their flavor, either. Bake them in apple cider or apple juice and you'll come away with the most apple-y apples you've ever tasted. 

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More: The best part about apple picking is hot apple cider donuts. You can make them at home.

While I would be a fool to challenge Her Majesty The Apple Pie, who reigns supreme over all other apple desserts, baked apples are a solid choice when you don't feel like stressing out over sticky pie dough. Baked apples will take you directly to the best part of eating an apple crisp -- when the chunky topping and the soft, sweet apple insides come together as one, sharing the space on your spoon in a polyphony of textures and flavors. This process is, of course, facilitated by ice cream.

Here's how to get therein only 6 steps (including eating):

1. Compile your ingredients. Apples are, of course, the most important element. I used some beautiful specimens (Macouns, Jonamacs, and Spartans, specifically) from a local orchard that had been leftover from a photoshoot. Most sturdy baking apples, whether you've picked them yourself or shuttled them home from the grocery store, will work just fine (more advice here!).

You'll also need all the ingredients you'd put in a typical crumble: cold butter, flour, oats, sugar, cinnamon, nuts, and dried fruit. Dig out some liquid sweetener (I used maple syrup) and some type of baking liquid (I used apple cider, but you could go with apple juice, another type of fruit juice, or even water). 


2. Now ready your apples. Leave the skins on (they'll act as floodgates for the gooey apple insides), but remove the stem and the core. You can use a melon baller, a paring knife, or an aggressive spoon. You want a big enough cavity that you'll be able to get a good amount of stuff in the apple, but be sure to leave some of apple flesh, too. It's really the balance that makes baked apples a thing of wonder. 

More: We've got everything that you could want for apple picking seasonfrom pie plates to bushel and peck basketsall in one place.


3. Use your crisp and crumble skills to make the filling. Pour your dry ingredients into a mixing bowl—I dumped in roughly equal parts flour and rolled oats (a good two handfuls of each), a generous amount of brown sugar, and a large pinch of cinnamon. If you'd like, use whole-wheat flour, or brown sugar, or different spices. This can be anything you want it to be (try using your favorite granola recipe!). Add the cold butter (I cubed a stick and put it in the freezer to chill as I cored the apples). 

Use your hands to incorporate the butter and the dry ingredients. You might listen to all the very smart people who have opinions on what ratio of butter to dry ingredients you should use, or you might be more like me and just estimate a reasonable amount. When I started mushing the butter into the dry ingredients, using my hands to warm up the frozen chunks, I got a pebbly mixture. Since it wasn't too sandy and it didn't resemble butter with some oats stuck to it, I knew I had estimated well. Don't be afraid of some little stones of butter. Those are going to make your apples delicious.


Once you're satisfied with the texture of your crumb filling, mix in some bonus ingredients like nuts, dried fruit, candied ginger, or shredded coconut. I went with walnuts and raisins, but I think pecans and dried cherries would also be an excellent choice.



4. Stuff the apples. Set your crumble aside—just for a moment!—and return to the apples. Place them in a large baking dish and fill each one with a bit of maple syrup, honey, or another liquid sweetener of your choice. This will keep the filling nice and moist and leave you with a little surprise of sweetness when you reach the bottom.

Fill every apple with the oat and butter mixture. If you have leftover crumb mixture, do not under any circumstances throw it away. Cut up any fruit you have on hand, toss it with lemon juice and cinnamon-sugar, pour it into a baking dish, top with the rest of the mixture, and send it into the oven when your apples go in. Bonus fruit crisp for you!


5. It's (almost) time to bake. When you're finished filling all of the apples, pour some liquid into the bottom of the baking dish. This liquid will steam in the oven, helping to gently cook the apples. You can use water, but a fruit juice will add another layer of flavor. Some people use orange or apple juice, but I used apple cider for its tart, purely apple flavor; it resulted in the most apple-tasting apples of all time.

Cover the casserole dish with aluminum foil and send your apples into a hot oven (350 to 400° F). Check them after 40 minutes and take them out when a few are starting to fall apart (these ones are best described as "slack-jawed" with "gaping maws"), the crumb is golden, and the apples are cooked all of the way through.


6. Dish out the baked apples and eat them with ice cream. Feed them to guests and let them marvel at your creativity and dessert expertise, or keep them to yourself and hope that apple season never ends.

Photos by James Ransom

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  • Joyce Bongiorno
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I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Joyce B. January 20, 2016
My Mother used to fill them with candy cinnamon red hots and served them with a hot vanilla sauce. It was a great after school snack.
mrslarkin November 5, 2015
Do you think this can be made in a slow cooker? Asking for a friend.
Melissa November 2, 2015
These sound delish! But can I make up a big pan of them and sore them in the freezer? Sounds like a wonderful idea for breakfast and a lot healthier than some of the cereals out there. Thanks for the hockey morning ideas.
Ali S. November 2, 2015
I often make a pan and store them in the fridge for the week (then eat them for breakfast with yogurt)—can't speak to the freezer, though!
Geoff I. October 6, 2015
My grandmother made the most wonderful baked apples. She used the recipe from the old Great Northern railroad which was famous for its baked apples. The Great Northern used Rome Beauty apples the size of small pumpkins. Grandma stuffed the core with brown sugar, raisins and chopped nuts. Little bit of water. Then she topped hers off with fresh cream from a Jersey cow named Heidi who lived across the road. simple, simple, but it's what they serve in heaven.
AntoniaJames November 2, 2015
Geoff, yes, seriously yes, cream takes a baked apple to a whole new level - even when the cream is not from a Jersey named Heidi. This time of year, it's why I always have heavy cream in the fridge. (It's also indispensable for any fruit betty.) ;o)
Sharon September 25, 2015
Will have to try this recipe. Thanksgiving is coming and this would be a lovely side or dessert. Thank you
Grandori October 19, 2014
This is the most wonderfully written non-recipe I've ever seen! I'm now off to market to purchase fresh, fall apples. Thank you
helen October 18, 2014
I use craisins, pecans, brown sugar, cinnamon and a chopped up apple for the filling (1 chopped apple for 6 apples, 1/3 cup craisins, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 2 teaspoons Vietnamese cinnamon, 1/3 cup pecans). For the fluid outside the apples i use 1/2 cup apple cider and 1/2 cup maple syrup and 1/4 cup spiced rum. I use winesaps (yum). Just made them yesterday. So darn good!
helen October 18, 2014
Whoops! and butter, can't forget the butter. About 1/2 stick.
lunule October 18, 2014
Thanks for the liquid idea! I was wondering what tipple would work with apples. Maybe a dollop of clotted cream or vanilla ice cream too?
helen October 18, 2014
Yes! I have upon occasion made a spiced rum whipped cream although the rum in the cream can drown out the apples a bit. My mother loves them with clotted cream.
lunule October 19, 2014
Helen that sounds good too...but I can imagine how the rum + whipped cream could overpower the apple flavor. I like the idea of a splash in with the baked apples. I am looking forward to experimenting!
AntoniaJames November 2, 2015
helen, I love the idea of rum, diluted just a bit with water, as the baking liquid. ;o)
lunule October 18, 2014
Love, love, love baked apples! I will have to try with liquid as you suggest. I have been loading up a baking pan with cored and halved apples that I top with raisins, butter, walnuts, and turbinado sugar that I store with a Mexican vanilla bean in the jar. Bake at 350 until the kitchen smells amazing and eat for dessert and then with vanilla yogurt and granola the next day for breakfast. I really love the brown cow version with cream on the top but it is quite rich so I use just a bit.
Haley S. October 14, 2014
Love this not recipe - mainly because I got rave reviews last night for making it. People assume it's way more complicated than it is!
CarlaCooks October 8, 2014
I saw somewhere (can't remember where) that you can score the apples around their circumference. It ensures that the apples will burst through their skin only there and helps the apples keep their shape. Does anyone do this? Does it actually work?
Haley S. October 14, 2014
CarlaCooks - I might try that next time as I did have a few apples that burst due to too much conversation happening in the kitchen and not enough attention paid to the oven!
helen October 18, 2014
Yes scoring will work but you can also peel the apple cut the bottom to make it flat (just a small slice off the bottom) and cut through the stem end about 1/4 inch. I put the top back on when baking and it prevents the top from overcooking before the inside of the apple is done.
AntoniaJames October 6, 2014
Even easier: Nekisia Davis' "Genius" granola mixed with a touch of coconut oil, for vegan, or tiny cubes of butter. Our favorite here! Topped with Greek yogurt lightly sweetened with honey or maple syrup. ;o)