Friday, February 21, 2014

Apple Toffee Bars

Bar cookies are the easiest to make and never fail to deliver a great chewy texture.  The idea for this type of pastry probably started in the late 1800s with recipes for brownies and fig newtons.  I especially love bar cookies that reveal a wonderful layer of fruit for added flavor and moisture.  They become not quite cookies anymore but rather more like delicious little bites of pie.  Apples are an obvious perfect candidate for this treatment.

I like to use Fuji apples in my pastry kitchen.  They're crisp and sweet and hold up well to baking.  Introduced to market in the early 1960s by growers in Fujisaki, Japan, the Fuji is a hybrid of Red Delicious and the old Virginia Ralls Genet.  They've really gained in popularity in the United States with new types being grown in Washington, California, Michigan and New York.

These squares have the feel of winter comfort food.  You might also think of them as comparable to slices of Dutch Apple Pie.  I've simmered the apples in an easy brown sugar toffee sauce for extra pleasure.  A little flour, some oats, a dash of cinnamon and vanilla combine with cold butter to form an easy dough that gets prepped in a food processor.  In a few minutes, you can have a kitchen filled with an incredible aroma.  Just the thing to brighten your day.

On another note: Many thanks to all who nominated Pastry Studio in the preliminary round of Best Sweets & Baking Blogs at The Kitchn.  You're the best.  Nominations end midnight EST on Friday, February 21. Then voting on the ten finalists begins Saturday, February 22 - midnight EST on Wednesday, February 26.  Winners will be announced Friday, February 28.  If you haven't visited The Kitchn, do check it out.  They've got lots of great kitchen ideas, tips and recipes.

Bench notes:
- I used Fuji apples for the filling but Braeburns and Galas would also be great.
- The dough will be crumbly and not smooth but it should hold together when pinched. You want to press 2/3 of it into the bottom of the pan, add a layer of filling and then sprinkle the remaining crumbs over the top.
- I baked these in an 8" square pyrex baking dish so my bars may have baked a bit faster since glass is a more efficient conductor of heat.  If using a metal pan, bake until you have a nice golden brown color on the topping.
- Store in an airtight container.
- If you're a bar cookie aficionado, try Cherry Crumb Bars and Fig & Chocolate Oatmeal Bars.

Apple Toffee Bars
Makes 12 - 16 bars

3 medium sized apples (about 1 lb, 4 oz)
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (2 3/4 oz) dark brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 oz (3 tablespoons) butter
1/4 cup (2 oz) heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
salt, to taste

1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) flour
1 1/4 cups (3 3/4 oz) old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (2 3/4 oz) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) dark brown sugar, packed
6 oz (12 tablespoons) cold butter
2 tablespoons (1 oz) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease an 8" square baking pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment long enough to form an overhang along two sides of the pan.

Peel and core the apples and cut into 1/2" cubes.  Set aside.

Place the brown sugar and butter in a pan large enough to hold the chopped apples in a single layer.  Bring it to a slow boil over medium low heat, whisking constantly.  Take off the heat and add the cream, vanilla, lemon juice and salt, to taste.  Add the chopped apples and toss to coat evenly with the sauce.  Return the pan to medium low heat and cook, stirring frequently, until most of the sauce is absorbed and the apples are a bit tender.  Take off the heat and set aside.

Combine the flour, oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and both sugars in the bowl of a food processor.  Process until ingredients are combined and the oats are chopped a bit but not ground completely.

Cut the cold butter into 1/2" pieces and add to the dry ingredients along with the milk and vanilla.  Process until the mixture starts to collect in soft clumps.  It should look a bit loose and crumbly but hold together when pinched.

Press about 2/3 of the dough into the prepared pan to form the bottom layer.  Distribute the apple filling evenly over the surface, leaving a 1/2" border on all sides.  Top with the remaining dough crumbles and press gently along the edges to seal.

Bake until golden brown, about 35 - 40 minutes.  Place the pan on a wire rack to cool completely.  Gently lift out of the pan using the parchment overhang to assist.  Cut into bars.


Beth said...

Hurray for you for being so high on the list. You are in good company and frankly, I find more on your site that a) looks worthy of trying and b) requires easy-to-find ingredients. Keep up the fantastic work.

pastry studio said...

Beth, I'm pretty taken by surprise at the outcome and sooooo grateful for the confidence of my readers. I do really try and keep the flavors and ingredients in my recipes simple and accessible to a broad range of bakers. Thanks very much for your encouraging words.

Kate said...

This recipe sounds delicious. I remember a pineapple bar along these lines that I was addicted to in school.
Congratulations on the nomination and your blog. I've never heard of the winning blog but am glad to see you keep company with the other 2 top nominations. Your's is the site I read weekly and am always glad when Friday rolls around. Your pastries are often the subject talk amongst my baking friends. After reviewing the winners I can testify that my reading habits won't change.. you are #1 on my list ;)

pastry studio said...

Kate, you've made my day with the sweetest comment. Please give your pastry friends a big hug from me!

I swear, you all make this so worthwhile.

The Devil's Food Advocate said...

Rooting for you to win the "Homie" for the sweets and baking category; it would be so well-deserved :)

pastry studio said...

Thank you so much, DFA!

Anonymous said...

I have just now started following you because of the "Homie" contest. I checked out your blog and saw the Apple Bars and you had me hooked. I made the Apple Bars today and they are OUTSTANDING.
Good Luck and so happy to find you.

pastry studio said...

And I'm very happy to find you! Thanks for stopping by and for your feedback on the Apple Bars. Hard to go wrong with these ingredients.

Lily (A Rhubarb Rhapsody) said...

These bars looks so wonderful, layer upon delicious layer. Wish I had some apples in the fruit bowl!

Jenni said...

I found you because I was a fellow nominee, and I'm so glad I did. I love that you teach and provide excellent information and really sound recipes. Glad Pastry Studio did so well. It is heartening when a blog displays so much substance along with the style.

pastry studio said...

Jenni, thank you so much for your very kind remarks and right back at you! And congrats on your nomination as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed your post on Pate de Fruits. It's been a while since I've made them and I have an idea that I've been wanting to test. Your post is very helpful.

Very best to you.