Big Little Recipes

Brown-Sugared Apples & Cream Is the Easiest Dessert to Make Right Now

No-cook for dessert emergencies—or baked for cozy nights.

October 23, 2018

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big, BIG everything else: flavor, ideas, wow factor. Psst: We don't count water, salt, pepper, and certain fats (say, olive oil to dress greens or sauté onions), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re making the easiest apple dessert in town.

When I was little, I loved helping my grandma make apple pie. I'd down Juicy Juice as I watched her turn on the oven, measure ingredients, flour the countertop. She always gave me the best tasks, like eating dough scraps and extra fruit filling, then rewarded my efforts with ketchupy spaghetti for lunch. In retrospect, this all sounds like a recipe for a sick kid.

But it was a winning combo to me. Raw pie dough tastes good, even if it usually leads to a stomachache. And save for the flour clumps, there’s nothing not to love about sugared, spiced, syrupy apples. The ketchupy spaghetti was just icing on the cake.

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But we’re here to talk about apples.

Photo by Rocky Luten

Between toddlerhood and now, I grew up, and apples did too. I started tasting a slice or two for seasoning, then waiting until the pie (or galette or cake) was baked and cooled, sliced and plated, before eating.

Then, several years ago, I went to my boyfriend’s aunt’s house for Christmas. One of his family’s signature recipes is “apple salad,” which is as much a salad as midwestern cookie salad, which is to say: It’s not salad at all. It’s sliced apples, mixed with canned fruit, swimming in sweetened cream. I had never seen raw apples as dessert anywhere before, let alone at a big holiday. But there they were: easier than pie and delicious as ever.

This recipe takes that permission—for apple desserts to be fresh and bright, quick and easy—and runs with it. Just pretend you’re making apple pie: Peel and slice apples. Toss with sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Now stop. Instead of incorporating a thickener, like flour or starch, you just pour cream on top, sprinkle a little more cinnamon, and grab a spoon.

I’ve listed measurements below but honestly, this tastes better if you measure less and eyeball more. It maybe sounds too easy to be worth writing about but, in a way, that’s the whole point of Big Little Recipes—celebrating that a few ingredients can turn into your new favorite thing. And this is mine.

If the weather is particularly cold, you can add one more step: the broiler. A few minutes under there turns the cream bubbly and browned, and the apples tender and cozy. As I developed the recipe, taste testers reliably favored one method over the other. I like raw best, because it reminds me of being little, ketchup-covered, and wide-eyed. But the adventure is yours to choose.

What’s the easiest apple dessert you’ve ever made or seen? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Maria November 16, 2018
This sounds like the one of those desserts that people ohh and ahh over at how wonderful it is and that you are such a good cook...but is oh so simple. I love it. Going to try it tonight.

I am going to sub toasted sugar for brown sugar, though. The caramel notes make me think it would be a great combination.
Hollis R. October 25, 2018
much as i hate peeling apples, i would do it for this. however, i'd do the hot version, with a nice shredded sharp cheddar on top to melt into the fruit. perhaps i'd use silan instead of brown sugar? not sure yet.
Emma L. October 25, 2018
Mm, love the idea of adding cheddar!
judy March 30, 2019
I never peel my apples. All the nutrients are in the skin. And recipes come out great. The addition of cheddar sounds great. Silan? not sure what that is. I'll have to check it out.