Nothing signifies the holiday season more to me than the smells, especially the baking kind — cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, browned butter and caramel. In my dreams there would be an apple pie warming in the oven every night until Christmas. Instead, it’s Chinese takeout before getting back to business, hunched over our laptops until our brains begin to melt.
But there’s one way to fill the house with the autumnal aromas of spice and fruit — with ten times less effort. These roasted apples. They’re outrageously simple yet elegant in their own way. You don’t need to peel or even core them. They come out of the oven with a pudding-like texture and a brown-butter sauce shot through with bourbon. Pair them with cinnamon ice cream or pumpkin gelato like we did, and you may swear off making apple pie forever.
These would also make a superb dessert for a potluck Thanksgiving. Make them ahead of time and reheat when you get to the party. Don’t say a word about how little effort you actually put into them. It will be our little secret.
Recipe: Roast apples with bourbon-butter sauce
You’ll want to use real vanilla bean here. They’re a bit expensive but they’re so much more aromatic than vanilla extract. Trust me, you’ll appreciate the difference.
6-8 baking apples, such as Jonathan, Braeburn, Empire, Rome, Macintosh or Pink Lady (or Granny Apple if you can’t find any of these)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 heaping teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons bourbon or brandy (optional)
1 vanilla bean
4 tablespoons (half stick) unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut apples in half from stem to base. Core them if you want an easier time of eating them; otherwise leave them intact for a lovely presentation. Toss apples in a large bowl with sugars, spices, salt and bourbon. Set aside.
Melt butter in a large cast iron pan over medium heat. Split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrap the seeds and pulp into the butter. Add the empty vanilla pod to the pan. Continue cooking until the butter turns light brown and smells nutty — be careful not to let it burn (adjust heat if necessary). Discard vanilla pod.
Add the apples to the pan, cut side up, in a single layer. Pour remaining sugar mixture evenly over the apples. Bake for 30-45 minutes, basting them every 10 minutes with the juices. They’re done when the centers are tender and caramelized. If you want a firmer texture, take them out closer to the half hour.
Serve immediately with ice cream or creme fraiche. Or let them cool and reheat later.