Marsala, a fortified wine from Italy, gives the custard a scrumptious lift. Medium-sized apples work best for holding the ingredients in, and if you prefer a dessert with no alcohol, substitute unfiltered apple cider for the marsala and red wine.
4 to 6 large dates, pitted
16 walnut halves
1 tsp roughly grated orange peel
1/8 tsp freshly grated ginger
Large pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
5 tbsp fine fresh breadcrumbs
2 tsp Marsala wine
6 Russets, Golden Delicious, Cortland, McIntosh or other medium-sized baking apples
1-1/2 cups red wine
2 tbsp liquid wildflower honey
1 tbsp unsalted butter
Unsalted butter to grease baking dish
2 cups homogenized milk
1/2 vanilla bean (cut in half lengthwise) or 1 tsp vanilla extract
5 egg yolks
3 tbsp sugar
1-1/2 tbsp Marsala wine
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Step 2: Chop the dates and walnuts into 1/4" pieces. Place in a medium-sized bowl and add the orange zest, ginger, nutmeg and breadcrumbs. Toss. Sprinkle in the Marsala. Gently mix together.
Step 3: Cut a small slice off the bottom of each apple so it can stand upright. Using a melon baller or a sharp small spoon and starting at the bottom, core out the middle of the apple almost to the top, making sure to get out all the seeds. Peel the skin off the top third of the apple. Stuff each apple firmly from the bottom with the date and walnut mixture. Put the apples, peeled-side-up, in a buttered baking dish small enough so that they almost touch.
Step 4: In a small saucepan, warm the red wine, honey and butter just long enough to melt the honey, then pour the mixture over the apples. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until soft, basting the apples every 10 minutes or so. Let rest 10-20 minutes before serving. Serve each apple atop a generous puddle of room-temperature Marsala Custard (see below).
Step 1: Bring the milk and vanilla bean to a simmer. Remove from stove.
Step 2: In a bowl large enough to accommodate the milk, gently whisk the egg yolks and sugar for about 1 minute. While continuing to whisk the egg mixture, slowly pour in 1/4 cup of the warm milk. Continue until all the milk is used.
Step 3: Place ice in a large bowl until half full and rest a bowl in it large enough to accommodate all the custard. Set aside. Pour the egg and milk mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon for about 6-9 minutes or until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of very loose whipped cream. To tell if the custard is ready, lift the spoon out of the liquid and draw your finger down the back of it. It's ready when the line doesn't fill in. Stir in the Marsala.
Step 4: Pour the custard into the bowl resting in the ice to stop the custard from continuing to cook. Remove the vanilla bean. Scrape out the seeds and whisk them into the custard. For a smoother, velvety texture, pour the custard through a sieve after cooking. Bear in mind you may lose some of the vanilla seeds.
Cook's Tip: Making custard for the first time can be intimidating. There is less chance of the mixture "scrambling" if you use a double boiler. Make sure the water in the lower pot doesn't come in contact with the top pot of the double boiler. Follow the same procedure as cooking directly on the heat. The custard may take a bit longer to thicken.
See more recipes from Linda Haynes.
Reprinted with permission from Linda Haynes' The Ace Bakery Cookbook (2003 Whitecap Books).