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Baked Apples with Vanilla-Bourbon Sauce

2 tablespoons chopped pecans
6 large baking apples (preferably Pink Lady or Golden Delicious)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1 vanilla bean
slivered peel of 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup bourbon
2 tablespoons butter

First, be sure to cut a strip around the top of the apple. If you
don't, as the flesh begins to swell from the cooking, the skin will
crack and slip. Also, don't let the bourbon run dry (a good motto
on any occasion).

If it scorches, it will ruin the flavor of the sauce. Serve the
apples with creme fraiche or vanilla ice cream. Toast pecans in
small ungreased pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until
fragrant, about 5 minutes. Do not scorch. Remove to small mixing
bowl.

While pecans are toasting, core apples to within 1/2-inch of bottom,
leaving bottom intact to act as cup to hold flavorings. Trim thin
band of peel from around top of each apple and place apples in
large baking pan. Add granulated and brown sugars to bowl with
toasted nuts and stir to combine well. Cut vanilla bean into 6
segments and place 1 segment in center of each apple. Spoon liberal
amount of sugar-nut combination of mixture over top of each apple
and in pan as well.

Scatter slivered lemon peel around apples and pour 3/4 cup bourbon
into pan.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees until apples are
almost done, about 45 minutes. Check occasionally and add more
bourbon if necessary to keep bottom of pan moist. Remove foil,
increase heat to 450 degrees and bake until sharp knife inserts
easily into apple, 10 to 15 minutes more.

Remove from oven and divide apples among 6 dessert plates. Remove
lemon peel and, while pan is still hot, stir butter into reduced
bourbon in bottom until it melts into smooth sauce. Spoon sauce
and any bits of nuts remaining in pan over apples.

6 servings.

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