Flash in the Pan: Grown-up Fig and Walnut Baked Apples
Posted Feb 10 2009 10:19am
[ Sometimes, you just want to eat something now. I've decided to offer a mini-post every once in a while, for a dish that comes together incredibly quickly or else is so easy to make that no recipe is required. Here's today's "Flash in the Pan." (For other FitP recipes, see "Categories" at right).]
It’s astonishing to me how our tastes can change so dramatically as we age. Remember those things you loved as a kid which elicit apathy now? As a tot, I loved The Monkees. In my teens it was historical romances. In my twenties, I wore dark eye shadow and painted eyeliner across the base of my lashes. In my thirties, I dressed in black almost every day for three or four years in a row.
There’s no doubt my palate has changed over time as well. Foods I loved to eat as a child–saltwater taffy, Cap’n Crunch cereal, mellowcreme pumpkins or (a dinnertime favorite) a hillock of mashed potatoes with nuggets of hamburger cut up and hidden under it–all seem slightly repulsive to me now. Then again, many of the foods I abhored then are ones I adore today; to wit, parsnips, cilantro, and–as of two days ago–baked apples.
When I decided back in January to attempt a “cleaner” diet for a while so that I might reverse some of the holiday era choc-o-rama indulgences, I turned to a cookbook I’ve had for some time but have never really used: The Detox Cookbook and Health Plan, by Maggie Pannell. Hiding at the back, on the very last page, was a rather fetching photo of a lone baked apple, stuffed to the brim with chopped figs and walnuts.
Apple? Baked? I could feel myself recoiling, thinking, “Nawwww. . . . “ I mean, who eats baked apples? They’re granny food. They’re ulcer food. They’re nothing-else-is-in-the-house-so-I-have-to-make-do-with-this-dull-fruit food. Now, don’t get me wrong; I love raw apples and try to have one every day. But I’ve always found the concept of a baked apple to be rather meh.
Besides, apples are so common, so quotidien, so humdrum that they’re suffering from overexposure, like cupcake wedding cakes or Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons or Pamela Anderson’s cleavage. I mean, aren’t apples like the perma-date of fruits–pleasant, enjoyable, always there–but just not exciting enough to seek out for something exceptional? When I think of apples, all the old, hackneyed language comes to mind: Apple of my eye. One bad apple. An apple a day. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Apple Paltrow-Martin.
I was also flooded with memories of baked apples from my childhood, and why I never liked them back then: plain, dowdy, as wrinkled as your frowsy neighbor’s housecoat. And yet, that photo beckoned to me. I found the final push I needed when I went grocery shopping a couple of days ago: I often buy marked-down packages of apples to cut up and serve The Girls along with their regular dinner. That day, I found three packs of six apples each, at 99 cents a pack. Usually, these bargain-basement fruits and veggies sport more than a few little bruises; but these packages were perfect–smooth, rosy, unblemished; pristine. Seriously, I couldn’t find a single nick or mark on any of the apples! It was a sign.
I went home and baked these apples. The recipe was ridiculously easy, with only 4 ingredients. And while they baked, I got dinner ready and even fed The Girls (they got the unbaked fruit).
I guess my tastes have matured now that I’m an adult. I loved these–they were stupendous. I’d say these apples are like the homely, bespectacled secretary in the 1950s movie who suddenly tears off her glasses, pulls the hairpin holding her bun and shakes her head, and then– mon dieu!–she’s beautiful! I now am officially smitten with baked apples. Baked apples are my hero!
I used Gala apples (that’s what was on sale) and the outcome was perfect. The contrast between the sweet, pliable stewed figs with their popping crunch, and the perfectly creamy, tart apple flesh was delightfully unexpected. And as the glaze baked and thickened up, it acquired a deep, intense orange flavor as well as a deep caramel hue, contributing a glossy, sticky exterior glaze to the skins.
I think I’d better try to eat baked apples at least a few times a week through the winter. I plan to have them as often as I can. I mean, who knows when my tastes might change again?
Baked Apples with Figs and Walnuts in a Citrus Glaze
This is an elegant weekday dessert, that’s a comforting winter treat. And for pennies a serving, you really can’t go wrong.
4 medium firm, juicy apples, such as Gala or Granny Smith
4 dried figs (I used organic Turkish)
4 Tbsp (60 ml) walnut pieces
juice of 2 oranges
Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Line a large square or rectangular pan with parchment, or spray with nonstick spray.
Wash and core the apples. Don’t worry if you cut right through to the bottom when you core them.
Place the apples upright in the pan, and divide the figs and walnuts evenly among them, stuffing the core area of each apple. If any fig or walnut pieces remain, scatter them on the bottom of the pan.
Pour the orange juice evenly over the apples. Cover the apples with foil (or a tight-fitting lid, if your pan has one). Bake in preheated oven 40-50 minutes, until the apples seem to be softening and the skins begin to wrinkle just a bit.
Uncover the pan and continue to bake 10-20 more minutes, basting occasionally with the juices, until the apples are soft and wrinkly and the orange juice has reduced to a thick glaze. Allow to cool 10 minutes before removing carefully from the pan and placing gingerly on a plate. Garnish with any extra fig and walnut pieces and any thick juices still in the pan. Makes 4 servings.