Tue Jul 30, 2013
So my first competition of the year is finally upon me this weekend, and that means you only have to endure one more neurotic post of me over analyzing what I did last year and how to make things better this time around. Like the barbecue chicken pizza I broke down a couple weeks ago, these pecan stuffed apples with caramel sauce were pretty labor intensive and kept me prepping and cooking for a while with no real idea if all the work would pay off. With another dessert category in my forthcoming comp, I thought it would be good for me to see why I thought this entry was pretty kick ass, but maybe wasn't the right recipe or idea for the battle.
The upcoming dessert category I'm currently planning for is open ended (which just makes it all the more confounding), but at the Hudson Valley Ribfest, there was an apple requirement tied to it. I had to use the apples provided, and it wasn't outlined before hand the variety of apple I would receive. That called for a recipe that would be apple agnostic—it had to work no matter if they were sweet or tart, red or green, tender or crisp.
I ended up making a recipe that played up the sugar a lot to try to swoon the judges' sweet teeth to my beck and call, no matter the type of apple. This path to candy land started with a brown sugar and butter glaze which was brushed onto split apples whose cores were removed to later hold a pecan stuffing.
Once brushed with the glaze, the apples were grilled directly over a very hot fire. This set the glaze and gave a nice sweet coating and slight crunch to the naked and still crisp apples.
Then, off the grill, each apple got its stuffing. Again, playing up the sweet, this was a brown sugar heavy mixture that included pecans for a nutty crunch, cinnamon and nutmeg for a depth of spice, and butter for added richness.
After stuffing, the apples were placed back on the grill, but this time over indirect heat. I wanted to cook the apples more slowly now to get them to a point where they were softened, but retained a slight crispness that makes an apple an apple.
Finally they were boxed up for the judges and finished with a drizzle of a caramel sauce. It seems like you can never go too far with the sweetness in competition and carmel sauce delivered that while providing another level of rich and creamy flavor as well.
Like the pizza before, this was good enough to warranty a call—9th place—but not enough for a trophy or money. As the dessert category was due, I watched other teams turn in elaborate tarts, pies, and cakes (all done on the grill), which left me with little hope for my comparatively simplistic entry. Still, I think this is a pretty killer dessert. The pecan stuffing, with it's slight Christmas spice, goes incredibly well with the fruity apple. It does take a bit of prep and time to get from start to finish, but I think you can taste every step, with each building a layer of flavor that makes the dessert all the more delicious. Even with that being so, I'm scaling back ambitions for my upcoming competition and will be cooking up something a lot more simple, but I think will be more universally pleasing, in hope that less work and investment may actually be an appropriate path to the top.
Pecan Stuffed Apples with Caramel Sauce
- Prep Time:
- 1 Hour
- Cook Time:
- 25 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 1 Hour 25 Minutes
- 4 servings
- For the Caramel Sauce
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon corn syrup
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 cup heavy cream, warmed
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Kosher salt
- For the Stuffing
- 1 cup finely chopped pecans
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
- For the Glaze
- 3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 4 golden delicious apples
- 2 tablespoons fresh juice from 1 lemon
- To make the caramel sauce: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk together sugar, corn syrup, and water until sugar is completely dissolved. Stop whisking and allow sugar to boil until it turns a dark amber color. Remove from heat and slowly stir in heavy cream. Stir in butter. Let cool for 3 minutes, then stir in vanilla. Season to taste with salt. Use immediately or transfer to an airtight container and store in refrigerator for up to a month, reheating before use.
- To make the stuffing: In a medium bowl, mix together pecans, 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and 2 tablespoons melted butter. Set aside.
- To make the glaze Combine 2 tablespoons butter, remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk until sugar is just melted, then remove from heat.
- Halve apples and, using a melon baller, scoop out core and flesh to create a cavity, leaving a 1/2-3/4-inch of flesh remaining. Brush apples with lemon juice to prevent browning.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Brush flesh side of apples with glaze. Place apples over hot side of grill, flesh side down, and cook until apples brown and develop grill marks, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer apples to a cutting board or platter, flesh side up.
- Stuff each apple with 1/8 of the pecan stuffing. Place apples on cool side of grill, cover, and cook until apples are tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
- Transfer apples to a platter, drizzle with caramel sauce, and serve.