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Published Nov 28, 2013

We have started an unofficial tradition of sharing both a clay project and an food recipe at Thanksgiving-time. So today I am posting an article from the Potters Kitchen section of the September/October 2013 issue Pottery Making Illustrated, which also happens to be a good fall project.

In this post, Sumi von Dassow demonstrates how to make an apple baker, and also gives instruction on how to bake the apples once it's done.- Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

Fall is apple harvest season. If you have a tree, you’re either getting no apples at all or you are harvesting bushels. Last year I picked 800 pounds of apples; this year due to late frosts, there will be none!

But whether you’re picking your own apples or buying them from the grocery store or farmer’s market, you’ll want to try some new things with them. Pies, crisps, and crumbles are classics with endless variations, but what if you want a quick easy dessert for one or two people? Then maybe it’s time for a baked apple. If you enjoy the flavor of apple pie but you don’t want to go to all that trouble, you need an apple baker.

Nobody ever guesses what an apple baker is without being told. Upon seeing one, most people think it’s a ring holder. An apple baker is a small bowl with a spike of clay protruding up from the center. A cored apple (with or without the peel) is set into the apple baker upright over the spike, sprinkled with sugar and seasonings, and baked. The apple can be baked in a microwave oven, a conventional oven, or even potentially on a grill on gentle heat. Apple bakers should be made of vitrified stoneware, especially if you want to use them in the microwave.

Throwing Off the Hump

I throw my apple bakers off the hump. This means I put a large chunk of clay on the wheel and make several apple bakers from it. There’s less wedging, and less time and motion wasted putting a fresh bat on the wheel for each apple baker. The only challenge involved in throwing off the hump is removing the wet pot cleanly from the hump—and since I always trim the foot, it doesn’t matter if some of them get cut off a little crooked.

To get started, wedge five or six pounds of clay and get it roughly centered on the wheel—it just needs to be centered enough to not totally throw you off as you work off the top of the hump. Now wrap your hands around a door-knob-sized portion of clay at the top of your cone and get just that amount perfectly centered. The first thing beginners worry about when they throw off the hump is, “how do I keep from making my opening too deep?” I like to make a groove at the base of the centered door-knob and set my pinky fingers into this groove. When I push my thumbs into the door knob to open it up, the anatomy of my hands makes it impossible to push my thumbs down too far. Tip: If you’re new to throwing off the hump, try this little exercise to reassure yourself: hold your hands out in front of you, thumbs up. Curve the fingers of both hands in, as if you are wrapping your hands around a lump of clay. Now bend your thumbs down in front of your palms, as if you are pushing them into the invisible lump of clay. If you don’t turn your hands, your thumb tips can’t push below your pinky fingers. Just keep this alignment when you open up the centered clay at the top of the hump, and you’ll be fine.

Forming the Spike

To get that spike in the middle of the baker, separate your thumbs as you push them into your centered  clay door knob. If you separate your thumbs too much and end up with too big of a spike, just pull it up between your finger and thumb to thin it out. If it gets too tall, pinch the top off. Once you’ve pushed your thumbs down deep enough into the door knob shape, widen the floor of the apple baker to about four inches across. Now take your pinky fingers out of the groove, since all you have to do is pull up the walls and finish the rim.

I like to flute the rim with my fingertips to make it a bit more dynamic. Flute one side at 12 o’clock, then flute the opposite side at 6 o’clock. The next two flutes will be at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock. Then you can easily make four more flutes between the first four. The diameter at the rim should be about 4½ inches across and the wall should be about 2 to 2½ inches high. Make sure the spike in the center is no higher than the walls, or you’ll have difficulty trimming the baker later.

Cutting Off the Hump

To cut the apple baker off the hump, use the point of a wooden tool to deepen the groove where your pinky fingers rested earlier. Use the tool to push the extra clay away from the base of the baker so you have a flat surface at the top of the hump. Now wrap a cutting wire in this groove three-quarters of the way around the base of the baker. Holding one end of the wire in each hand, slowly rotate the wheel and pull just your right hand towards yourself. This should cut the pot cleanly off the hump, leaving the bottom flat. Dry your hands and use two fingers of each hand to gent ly lift the pot from the hump and place it on a ware board. Repeat the process, until you use the last of the clay.

Trimming, Glazing, and Using

I trim a foot onto my apple bakers, and I trim a depression in the center of the foot, below where the spike is. This helps prevent S cracks in the center, where the clay isn’t well compressed. It also allows the finished apple bakers to stack nicely.
Be sure to use a stable liner glaze inside the apple bakers. A glossy or semi-matte glaze will be easier to clean and sound more pleasant when a spoon is scraped across it than a very matte glaze.

To use your apple baker, use a long narrow knife to core an apple and place it in the baker over the spike. Use a crisp baking apple such as Braeburn or Granny Smith rather than a Red Delicious apple. You can peel it or partially peel it if you like. Add a couple of spoonfuls of water, a spoonful or two of brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and butter or lemon juice and pour all of this over the top of the apple. Bake in the oven at 350°F for 30 minutes or microwave on high for 4–8 minutes, until the apple can be easily pierced with a fork. Serve immediately, right in the baker, topped with ice cream or whipped cream.

Sumi von Dassow is an artist, instructor, and regular contributor to Pottery Making Illustrated. She lives in Golden, Colorado. 

For more great wheel throwing tips, be sure to download your free copy of Five Great Pottery Wheel Throwing Techniques: Tips on Throwing Complex Pottery Forms Using Basic Throwing Skills.