Apple season is underway in the Willamette Valley, which makes it an apple lover’s paradise. For those bent on exploring new horizons, the movement toward recovering long forgotten heritage varieties is reintroducing a new realm of excellent choices. Like grape selection in wine making, apples have their own profiles and attributes. Depending on your inclination, it seems there is a specific apple out there for every need.
After sampling a range of local apples recently, I came away with a far deeper appreciation for the nuances that make each variety unique. Some are great for baking while others are delicious raw or out of hand. Tart, crisp, juicy, doesn’t even begin to define their best qualities.
With all this activity, I’m caught up eating my share of different apples. But when it came to considering a choice for a baked apple project recently, I went with the granddaddy of them all, the McIntosh. It has been a long time since I’ve played with them, and with my new perspective, I’ve gained an even deeper appreciation.
The McIntosh is referred to as a cultivar, which means that it has been used to create newer varieties like Golden and Red Delicious, the Jonathan, Cortland, and Empire. All of these have been a favorite of mine at one time or another. No wonder the McIntosh is considered the gold standard.
When it comes to the gold standard, Apple Inc. liked the name so much for their personal computer line they misspelled it to Macintosh to not complete with another trademark at the time using the McIntosh name.
Just like Steve Jobs’ aesthetics for his Apple, visually the McIntosh is sexy. Round and voluptuous, its color is often a deep vibrant red layered on bright, near chartreuse-green. A bite into a McIntosh gives you plenty of crunch and juiciness, and there’s a well balanced sweet to tart ratio with no huge acid hit in the mouth, plus a delightful spiciness that I found intriguing. The flesh is creamy white―it’s a sexy piece of beauty. Some would say the skin is thicker than most; but I certainly wouldn’t toss it. There’s plenty of apple flavor (and nutrition) in the skin, plus it offers a lovely contrast to the flesh for an overall pleasant mouth feel.
Which makes the McIntosh perfect for baked apples.
About this time, I discovered Tall Clover Farm, a delightfully written blog/website by Tom Conway, who is also cultivating unique apple varieties on Vashon Island, off-shore Seattle. He offers an idea for baked apples, along similar lines as I was mulling over.
Rather than a sugar-and-spice filling, he uses a dialed-down mixture of toasted nuts, dried fruit, all bound together with a bit marmalade or other jam. A light dusting of cinnamon-sugar is sprinkled over the top to enhance the apple’s spiciness, along with a dab of butter and a quick drizzle of syrup for added moisture. A pastry round finishes it all, adding a jaunty touch of crunch and charm. Brilliant, just enough to enhance the apple and not detract from its essential beauty.
For my little toppers, I made a small amount of pastry (half batch), using a standard method and added a bit of egg yolk and a dash of sugar for richness. The rest of the yolk was combined with milk and brushed on top of the pastry before baking. Later, in my excitement I realized I forgot to vent the toppers to release unnecessary moisture ―as you would with a top pie crust. Certainly not critical, but a nice touch.
Baked Apple with Pie Crust Topper
Inspired by Apple Dumplings with Pie Crust Caps, @ Tall Clover Farm by Tom Conway
4 McIntosh apples, core removed, skin peeled about half way down
Half recipe standard pie crust
1/3 cup walnuts, toasted
1/3 cup golden raisins
2 Tbsp marmalade or jam of choice
2 Tbsp granulated sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp butter, divided
¼ cup honey, agave, maple syrup, divided
- Prepare the pastry, divide in 4 small disks and let it chill.
- For filling, combine ingredients and set aside. In a small bowl combine the cinnamon-sugar.
- For apple prep: cut off the top of each evenly, core each apple, retaining the bottom of each. Peel half way down; for clean edge, score the apple and remove ragged excess to that point.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush pie plate with butter and set aside.
- Distribute filling evenly in the centers of the 4 apples. Dot the filling lightly with butter and drizzle apples with honey or agave and sprinkle tops with half of the cinnamon-sugar.
- On floured work surface, roll out the pastry into 4 rounds and cut with fluted biscuit cutter. Make a decorative cut-out or cut slits in each for venting. Place one on top of each apple.
- Brush each with egg wash of a bit of egg yolk and milk or water. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar (optional). Place apples in baking dish, add about ½ cup water along with the remainder of the butter and honey.
- Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes, remove and baste apple flesh with baking liquid. Return to oven, reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 25-30 minutes longer, basting 2 or 3 times more. Bake until crusts are golden brown and apples are tender when pierced. Serve warm with ice cream or custard sauce Yield: 4.