I love this time of year. Days are cool and nights are crisp, leaves turn to vivid shades of yellow, orange and red and newly harvested apples are arriving at the grocery store.
Although available year round, apples have a season just like other fruits and vegetables. Fall is apple season. Apples that aren't sold right away go into storage and are sold throughout the year. Compare apples sold in the summer to ones sold in the fall. You'll be able to see and taste the difference.
Baked apples are wonderful year round, but they're especially delicious made with apples fresh from the orchard. Start by selecting all-purpose or baking apples -- they retain their shape and don't turn mushy when baked -- that are firm and free of bruises and blemishes. Although I use a combination of apples when I bake a pie, I stick with one variety -- Rome -- for baked apples. You'll also get good results with Empire, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith or McIntosh apples.
Unlike apples that are baked whole, this recipe uses sliced apples. This reduces the cooking time and puts the finished dish on the table in less than 30 minutes. I use an apple wedger to core and slice each apple into eight equal pieces.
If you don't have one of these handy gadgets, slice the apples as close to the same size as possible to ensure even coooking. Toss the apples with lemon juice to prevent them from turning brown and place them -- this is important -- cut side down in a baking dish.
The remaining ingredients are heated and poured over the sliced apples. The apples are baked for 10 minutes and then turned over, cut side up. This is easy to do since all the apples are turned the same way at the beginning of the cooking process.
Continue baking until the apples are tender, about 8 to 10 more minutes. I test the apples with the tip of a knife. If the apples aren't tender, I bake them a few more minutes.
I like to serve baked apples as a side dish with sauteed pork chops. They can also be served warm as a dessert with a scoop of ice cream, if desired.