Monday, November 10, 2008

Apple Pie Bars

My favorite farmer's market closed for the winter last week, so I decided to stock up on the last inexpensive apples I'd get this season. I bought a variety of different kinds, Granny Smiths, Golden Delicious, and Jonagolds, to experiment and see what I liked best for baking (it should come as no surprise that Golden Delicious won).

Apple desserts are my favorite kind- my tastebuds don't go for supersweet, frosting-laden cakes or chewy cookies (though I love to bake both!) I wanted to try something new, like an apple tart, but I succumbed to my number 1 favorite dessert, Apple Pie Bars. They have three delicious parts: a cookie-like layer, a layer of warm, cooked apples, and a crisp brown sugar/cinnamon streusel topping. The recipe comes from Carole Walter's Great Cookies (aka the best book ever!), and I make it with absolutely no changes- it's perfect as it is!

Although the recipe requires three separate steps, it's fairly straightforward and depending on how quickly you work, can be finished in a little over an hour. Here's the recipe:

For the apples:
6 Golden Delicious, peeled, cored, sliced 1/4in thick
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp honey (Maple syrup works equally well if you don't have honey)

For the crust:
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg

For the streusel topping:
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 stick butter, cubed
1 cup medium chopped toasted pecans (I omit these)

Cooking the apples:
Combine all ingredients in a pan, and cover for 2-3 minutes to let the apples release their juices. Then, uncover, and cook until the juices have evaporated and the apples are soft and golden brown. This will take approx 15 minutes (try not to eat half the apples like I always do!) When they're done, they'll look like this: (a bit blurry but you get the idea)

For the crust:
Preheat oven to 375.
Line a 9 x 13 x 2 baking dish with foil, and grease it with butter.
Strain together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes.
Add the egg, and mix just until blended.
Add the dry ingredients in two additions, mixing just until incorporated.
The dough will be very soft. At this point, I take big spoonfuls of it and dump them strategically in all the corners and center of the pan, and then flatten them towards each other using my hands or the bottom of a glass.
Bake for 15-18 minutes, until just golden and coming away from the sides of the pan.
Turn the oven down to 350.
Make streusel while the crust bakes.

For the streusel:
Combine flour, sugars, cinnamon, and salt on low speed in mixer.
Add butter and mix until mixture is crumbly and barely holds together when squeezed.
Stir in pecans, if using.

Or, my lazy way: Mix it all with your hands! I only have one mixer and am too lazy to clean it again to make streusel. It's just as easy to do it by hand.

The mixture, when properly combined, will look like this:

When crust is done, immediately spoon apples over it, and sprinkle with streusel.
Reduce oven temp to 350 and bake for 20-25 minutes, until streusel topping is light brown and crisp.

The entire thing looks like this:

Unfortunately, my mom took the bars to work before I had a chance to snap a picture of them cut. But trust me, these are delicious! They are always a huge crowd pleaser, because they combine apple pie, coffee cake, and cookies. Yum!

Difficulty Rating: 1.

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