So, who else out there is in complete shock (denial?) that Thanksgiving is now less than two weeks away? I know I’m not the only one.
Ever since becoming a mom, time has just been FLYING by. I know it’s a phenomenon that occurs with age, and I definitely felt it before motherhood, but I swear…time just…evaporates now. Yes, everyone tells you that before you have kids, but just so many other things that come with being a parent, you just don’t REALLY know until you’re living it. Hello, cliche!
Halloween totally snuck up on me this year, and now Thanksgiving is doing the same! Which is weird because it’s a day that I look forward to all year long. Like, it can never get here FAST enough. And now! I’m like “no, wait, slow down! I am still not over summer!” I’m only half serious, of course, because it really is one of the best days of the year. It’s a holiday filled with family, football, wonderful memories, and FOOD. What’s not to like? I’m just perplexed at how quickly it’s approaching. Oy.
Somehow, though, I got my act together and made some Thanksgiving-appropriate dishes to share with you all over the next couple weeks. I’m kicking things off with these INCREDIBLE baked apples. They are such a decadent and fun dessert. Perfect for the holidays.
Let me start off by saying that for many years, I was NOT a fan of baked apples. I just found them…boring. I much preferred something in the cookie or brownie arena. Baked fruit? Nah. No thanks. I’ll save my calories for that extra bite of mac and cheese or that extra glass (or two!) of wine.
I’m not sure why, but about a year ago, things changed. Randomly, for no reason at all, I decided to try baked apples out again. People flip over baked apples (at least people I know do), and I figure there has to be a good reason, right? Well, there IS a good reason. And that reason is called STREUSEL.
Oh yes. I’m stuffing my baked apples with a buttery, spiced, and nutty streusel that couldn’t be easier to throw together. It transforms boring ol’ baked apples into something a little more appealing. Something a little more special. They kind of remind me of an apple oatmeal cookie or something. SO GOOD.
And because I’m a ridiculous person, I knew that I needed to take it a step further. Caramel in any form has to be one of my most favorite sweet treats. I can’t get enough of it drizzled over ice cream or whisked into more decadent treats like these and this. See? Ridiculous. In a good way.
So it just make sense that I would want to douse my baked apples with a spiked caramel sauce, right? Right. And so, that’s exactly what I did. I made the easiest (really! it’s so easy!) hard cider caramel and I’ve been freaking out over it ever since. It is my favorite caramel recipe to date. Yup. Throwing down the caramel gauntlet…if that’s a thing. If not, can we make it a thing?
Not only is it delicious, but it is super simple to make (no candy thermometer necessary!) and it is the perfect consistency. Even after cooling, this caramel sauce stays pourable and smooth and lovely. I added a hefty pinch of flaky sea salt to mine because my sweet teeth are a bit salty too. I’m all about that sweet-salty balance. Salty sweets = life. Duh.
Oh! And another thing that makes these perfect for Thanksgiving dessert is that they come in individual servings! Which means that they are already portion controlled. Wait, who am I kidding? That is not at all something to brag about on Thanksgiving. These apples are awesome because you don’t have to share with anyone! Everyone gets their own apple!
Which is a good thing because these are amazingly good. I mean, ridiculously good. You’ll be super happy to have one all to yourself. Heck, make a few extra (they’re so simple, after all) and have at ’em.
Because remember…the most important rule of all: the calorie does not exist on Thanksgiving Day. Fact.
For the Apples:
- 6 large apples (I used honeycrisp)
- ¾ cup flour
- 1 cup old-fashioned oats
- ⅔ cup light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 stick of unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes
- ½ cup toasted pecans, finely chopped
- ½ cup dried cranberries or cherries
- 1 cup apple cider
For the Hard Cider Caramel:
- 1⅓ cups sugar
- ¼ cup water
- ½ cup hard cider
- ½ cup heavy cream
- Flaky sea salt, optional
- Vanilla ice cream, for serving
For the Apples:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Slice a small layer off the bottom of each apple to create an even surface; this helps them stay upright during the baking process. Using a small paring knife (or an apple corer), carefully core the apples by cutting down around the stem roughly two-thirds of the way down so you can scoop out the core/seeds with a small spoon. Make sure you don’t cut all the way through to the bottom of the apple. Place prepared apples in a baking dish.
- Mix together the flour, oats, sugar, and spices in a bowl until well combined. Using a fork or pastry cutter, mix in the cold butter until incorporated (if it clumps together, that is a good thing!). Mix in the nuts and dried fruit.
- Fill the apples with the streusel mixture – you want it overflowing a bit.
- Pour the apple cider into the baking dish. Bake for 40-45 minutes, basting the apples with the apple cider every 10 minutes or so.
For the Hard Cider Caramel:
- While the apples are baking, combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Place over medium-high heat and cook until the mixture begins to caramelize. Swirl the pan frequently and gently and continue to cook until the mixture is amber colored.
- Remove from heat and carefully pour in the hard cider and heavy cream (do this slowly as it is likely to splutter). Return the pan to the heat and stir until the mixture is uniform and melted. Sprinkle in a generous pinch of flaky sea salt, if using. Allow to cool slightly before serving.
- Place the warm apples on a plate or in a shallow bowl, top each with a scoop of ice cream, and drizzle the caramel sauce over top. Enjoy warm!
- The streusel can be made ahead and kept in the fridge until you are ready to use it. The apples can be stuffed and baked ahead as well, although I will say that they hold up best if served right after baking. To reheat, microwave the stuffed apples for a minute or so or until warmed through.
- The caramel can be made completely ahead and kept in the fridge. I just warm it in the microwave for a few seconds until it’s just barely warm. The wonderful thing about this caramel recipe is that it stays pourable even after chilling. I only warm it a bit because that’s how I prefer my caramel.
Caramel recipe adapted lightly from here.