Baked apples or pecheni yabalki are a classic dessert that is known in a large number of countries but that is very popular in Bulgaria. Baked apples are as delicious as easy to prepare.
There aren’t a lot of desserts that are typically Bulgarian. Most Bulgarian desserts are known throughout the region such as baklava (Баклава) or have been imported like crème caramel (Крем Карамел) although it has become a classic of Bulgarian tables.
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away” – Welch proverb, 1860s
History of apples
For example, although the forbidden fruit that Eve eats in the Book of Genesis is not identified, it has mostly been represented as an apple. Actually, one of the reasons for this interpretation is that the word “apple” was used as a generic term for all foreign fruits, other than berries, until the 17th century.
There is also some confusion between the Latin words mālum (apple) and mălum (evil). The tree of the forbidden fruit is called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” in the Book of Genesis, and the Latin for “good and evil” is bonum et malum.
Where do apples originally come from?
The current worldwide production of apples is about 80 million tons, with China accounting for 49% of the total. It is therefore not surprising that the apple tree first originated not too far in Central Asia.
Today, you can actually still find the ancestor of the wild apple tree (Malus sieversii) in the region, mainly in southern Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Xinjiang, China. Behind China, other current large producers include the United States, Turkey, Poland and Italy.
There are currently more than 7,500 known cultivars of apples, that are cultivated for various uses, including cooking, eating raw and producing cider. Varieties that are cultivated for raw consumption are called dessert or table apples.
Apples can also be canned or juiced. The juice can even be fermented to produce hard cider and vinegar. The cider can then be used to make alcoholic beverages such as American applejack, French Calvados and German Apfelwein. Other apple byproducts include apple seed oil and pectin, which is often used in the making of jams and jellies.
What is the origin of baked apples?
The first record of a recipe for baking apples is believed to date from the 1685 edition of London cookbook “The Accomplisht Cook“. The recipe called for peeled, cored and quartered apples that were baked in claret wine, citron, candied oranges, and sugar.
The first version of whole baked apples appeared in the 1784 edition of another London cookbook called “The Art of Cookery, made plain and easy”.
In the United States, New England has been known for its baked apple recipes. It is therefore not a surprise to find the first whole baked apple recipe published in 1832, in the Boston edition of “The Cook’s Oracle“. Eventually, recipes with maple syrup started showing up in cookbooks in the mid 1940’s reminiscing about New England cooking.
As you can imagine, apples have been baked for probably as long as apples have been eaten, and it is therefore not a surprise to find this recipe, like the stuffed pepper recipe, in a number of countries throughout Europe and North America, and probably even beyond.
The Bulgarian version, pecheni yabalki, uses ingredients that are often found in baked apple recipes, including brown sugar and cinnamon, but the addition of walnuts make the recipe a little more unique.
There isn’t really one recipe for pecheni yabalki. Some only use honey, others just sugar. Some will add raisins soaked in brandy or water. But the one common ingredient is walnut.
For my son Elior’s birthday, we went to Julian, California, a quaint little city in the mountains an hour east of San Diego. Julian happens to be famous for its apples and apple pies. And since it was the beginning of apple season, we went apple picking. I came back with so many apples and pears that I was happy to find an apple-based recipe for our Bulgarian month!
I served those pecheni yabalki warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side covered with a drizzle of the rich sauce on top.
- 4 apples
- 2 tablespoons butter , softened
- 6 tablespoons brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons chopped walnuts
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon honey
Preheat oven to 350F/180C.
- Core the apples.
- In a bowl, mix butter and sugar, then add walnuts and cinnamon. Place the cored apples in a baking dish. Fill the apples with the mixture.
- Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until soft.
- Drizzle honey on top of the apples. Serve hot with vanilla ice cream.