Spiced Brown-Butter Apples

These butter-roasted apples are seasoned with Chinese five-spice. The clove, cinnamon, star anise, fennel, and Szechuan pepper in the blend add warmth and complexity.

Spice Roasted Apples Recipe
Photo: Greg Dupree
Active Time:
15 mins
Total Time:
55 mins

The beauty of this recipe is that there's no fussy pastry or batter to weigh things down — or to give me an excuse not to whip this up on a weeknight. I often include a mix of varieties when I make this recipe, and I've yet to find one that doesn't work. It's also a great way to learn firsthand how various apples behave in the kitchen. So the next time you stop by your local farm stand or market, grab a handful of different varieties and use this recipe to give them a taste test. It’s all in the name of research, after all.

Good cooking starts at the market, and cultivating a curiosity about ingredients before you put them into your shopping basket can have more impact on your cooking than any amount of technique or kitchen wizardry. Take apples, for instance — the most prosaic of fruits. Not only are they the third most widely grown fruit on the planet (after grapes and bananas), but, thanks to their ability to store and travel well, fresh apples are available year-round in nearly every market.

You don't have to be an orchardist to realize that not all apples are the same. Even at the most bare-bones grocery, you'll find a range of shapes, colors, and sizes. But if you visit an orchard or a farmer's market during apple season (an unrivaled activity for a fall weekend), you'll discover a dizzying array of varieties in hues from bright cherry red to russet gold, from golf ball to softball size, and many with lyrical names, like Belle de Boskoop, Reinette, and Ambrosia.

No matter where (or when) you shop, it helps to know a thing or two about apple varieties to make the best selection for your recipe. It would be simple if we could divide apples neatly into "cooking" apples and "eating" apples, but in truth most varieties are good for both. It's more a matter of what kind of cooking — or eating — you're after. A more useful distinction may be that drier, firmer apples (like Granny Smith and Northern Spy) tend to hold their shape best after cooking, while juicier, more tender varieties (like McIntosh and Macoun) are more likely to soften into a compote-like consistency.

The question of which apples to use will depend on the results you're after, and which apple flavors you prefer (see the cheat sheet below, but note that Red Delicious may be the only variety not worth cooking). Many pie pros suggest using a mix of firm and tender apples to create a filling with a perfect balance of chunky and juicy texture. You also want to choose apples with some level of tartness, or a mix of sweet and tart fruit for deeper, more complex flavor. The same goes for crisps and cobblers. If you're making a classic whole baked apple or a French tarte Tatin, you'll want to select apples that won't collapse as they cook (Golden Delicious and Granny Smith are good candidates). — Molly Stevens

Apple Cheat Sheet: Firm apples that their hold their shape after cooking: Honeycrisp, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Northern Spy, Pink Lady (aka Cripps Pink), Rome- Tender apples that tend to collapse when cooked: Cortland, Empire, Gala, Fuji, Macoun, McIntosh

Apple Cooking Tips: Always sample a slice of raw apple before cooking. Ideally, you'll taste a balance of tartness and sweetness. If the fruit is overly tart, balance with additional sugar (or by combining with sweeter varieties); if too sweet, add lemon juice (or cider vinegar). Avoid over-sweetening apple desserts; doing so weighs them down and destroys the nuanced flavor of the fruit. Apple peels often have the most flavor. Unless the peel is ruddy and tough, consider leaving the fruit unpeeled.


  • 6 small Pink Lady apples (2 to 2 1/2 pounds), halved lengthwise

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon for greasing baking dish

  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • 1/4 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg

  • 1/4 teaspoon Chinese five-spice

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans

  • Vanilla ice cream or heavy cream, for serving


  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Rub 1 tablespoon butter on bottom and sides of a 13- by 9-inch baking dish.

  2. Scoop out and discard core and seeds from each apple half using a melon baller or teaspoon. Slice a very thin sliver from opposite side of apple so apple lays flat. Arrange the apples, cored sides up, snugly in prepared baking dish.

  3. Melt remaining 1/4 cup butter in small skillet or saucepan over medium. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, and Chinese five-spice, and heat until fragrant and just beginning to brown, about 1 minute. Whisk in brown sugar, lemon juice, and salt. Spoon butter mixture evenly into hollows of apples. Use the back of spoon to spread a thin layer onto cut surfaces of apples.

  4. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil, and bake in preheated oven until apples start to soften, 30 to 40 minutes. Uncover dish, and scatter pecans over apples. Baste with juices from bottom of pan. Increase oven temperature to 400°F, and bake until apples are nicely browned and very tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a drizzle of heavy cream.

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