Granny Smith apples work well if you like a tart fruit to balance the sweetness of the filling. For a slightly softer, juicer baked apple, use Braeburns or Galas.The filling for these apples can be modified in many ways: substitute raisins or dried cherries for the dried cranberries; add crystallized ginger for a subtle twist; or add chopped nuts or pumpkin seeds for more crunch. The apples will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.
Core the apples using a small paring knife or apple corer, taking care not to pierce the bottom of the apple or the filling will leak out. (You can check by filling the apple with water.) Enlarge the sides of the cavity with a small spoon (a grapefruit spoon is handy) so there's ample room for the filling. Remove the skin from the top shoulder of the apple, paring off about one-third of the skin from the stem end.
Combine the sugar, spices, and cranberries in a small bowl. Divide the mixture between the 4 apples, packing firmly.
Transfer the apples to a small baking pan or pie plate. Pour the cider into the pan. If not using cider, add just enough water to film the bottom of the pan.
Pour 1 tablespoon of maple syrup into the center of each apple to moisten the filling. Place a piece of the butter on top of each apple.
Bake until apples are tender when pricked with a sharp knife, 40 to 50 minutes. Cooking time will vary depending on the size and variety of the apples.
Remove from the oven and cool 10 minutes in the pan. If there's any syrup left in the pan, spoon it over the apples. Serve warm or cold.