Coconut Caramelized Apples with Five-Spice Powder

I think this delicious and versatile topping made of firm and slightly tart Prima apples stewed in a perfect mixture of mellowly sweet coconut sugar, coconut milk, and five-spice powder, reflects my current state of mind, i.e. confused in a good way.

Geographically, I am now back in the heart of the Midwestern United States after a long vacation in Bangkok. Physically, my body clock is completely re-calibrated and in sync with the Central Standard Time. Mentally, I’m ready and excited to welcome the next chapter of my life — whatever that may entail. Emotionally, though, I’m still straddling two worlds.

I miss my grandpa’s warm embrace and my cousins’ giggles. I miss friends’ daily text messages asking where they could take me to dinner that night. Doggone it, I even miss the jing-joks. Also, is it me or does time pass more slowly in the western hemisphere?

I blame the autumn. It turns me into a melancholic rambler.

With the memories of Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Thailand, still fresh on my mind, my annual visit to an apple orchard this year, less than a week after I’d arrived back in Chicago, felt somewhat … strange. Can you blame me? We’re talking about going from paddle boats to John Deere tractors here.

I can’t say which of the two places/activities I like better, though. Both hold a special place in my heart. Every fall, I go apple-picking. You see, I spent more than half of my life eating imported apples — old, mealy, and heavily waxed — flown across the globe to Bangkok; I would be an idiot if I don’t take advantage of the availability of a wide variety of apples here in the United States.

Have you eaten apples that have been freshly picked off the trees? There’s nothing like it.

Likewise, every time I’m in Thailand, I always visit one of the floating markets for nostalgic foods which are becoming harder and harder to find in supermarkets. This one in Ratchaburi is more special than others mainly because this is where you can find delicious coconut nectar juice and coconut sugar. See bags of coconut sugar in the picture below?

The lady on the boat perhaps had no clue some of her homemade coconut sugar, freshly made out of coconuts from her coconut grove, would make it all the way across the ocean to Chicago.

In a desperate attempt to merge the two worlds, I came up with this versatile caramelized apple concoction which can be used as a topping for pancakes or yogurt, a mix-in for a plain muffin batter to create apple spice muffins which would be perfect for the fall, or a baked-in topping for used a bread filling. So many possibilities.

Coconut Caramelized Apples with Five-Spice Powder
Makes about 2 cups (16 ounces)
Printable Version

4 ounces of palm, coconut, or unrefined cane sugar (panela or piloncillo)
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/3 cup coconut milk
6 medium Prima (or Cortland or Jonathan) apples, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
Two pieces of star anise
Two sticks of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of prepared five-spice powder

  • Melt the sugar along with the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan over low heat.
  • Once the mixture melts and starts to brown, add the salt and coconut milk.
  • Stir in the cubed apples and the spices.
  • Increase the heat to medium and continue to cook the apples until they become soft but still retain their shape.
  • Take the pan off the heat and let the mixture cool.
  • Use as a cake or ice cream topping.
  • Keep the caramelized apples in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.
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