Although the days have been getting shorter and cooler, autumn really descended upon us this weekend - it was gray and incessantly rainy and the kind of weekend where you just want to stay indoors, watching movies or reading a book on the couch, while the sweet, spicy smell of something baking wafts through the house. Last week, I had gone through some of my older newspaper clippings and found a recipe for baked apples from the New York Times that I meant to make that same evening. Life, however, kept on getting in the way, and I wasn't able to get around to them until Sunday. No matter - they were wonderful; yielding, tender apples, complex spices, soul- and belly-warming in their flavor and simplicity. This recipe is a real winner - it's staying in my little book for a long time.
I bought four Empire apples and peeled off a strip of skin around the stem of the apple. Then, using a small paring knife, I attempted to core the apples, (mother and father, please skip over the next part) superficially stabbing my palm in the process. Yeah, I'd probably buy an apple corer or melon baller before making these again. Gritting my teeth and holding onto the apples tighter, I was able to wrest the cores and pits from the apples, but it was a bit of a pain-in-the-neck procedure. But don't worry, there was no bleeding... Once the apples were cored and slit six times apiece, I put them in a buttered cake pan.
I put a dab of butter and a splash of maple syrup into each apple cavity. Then I mixed together some brown sugar (one half less than actually called for), chopped pecans, and baking raisins, and divided this mixture between the apples. I poured maple syrup (again, less than called for) into a bowl, added white wine, a cinnamon stick, a piece of ginger and some ground cardamom and cloves (whole cloves and cardamom pods were called for, but I didn't have them, so I eyeballed about an 1/8 of a teaspoon, ground, each), mixed it all together and poured this into the pan around the apples.
The pan went into the oven. Every ten minutes or so, I took the pan out and basted the apples with the liquid (alternately using a brush or a spoon) until the apples were tender. It took a bit over an hour. I let them cool for bit before eating one with a knife and fork. It was delicious - the wine and maple syrup had taken on a complexity that was rounded out by all those spices. The sweet pecans tied the whole thing together - pecans and apples go so well together! Using less brown sugar and maple syrup was a good idea - they were sweet but not cloyingly so. And although I had friends over for dinner last night, I didn't share even a single apple with them (lest you think I am totally greedy, don't worry, they got something else). But these apples are all for me.