PERFECT FOR ANY OCCASION
I used to ask Allen, “What dessert do you want for …your birthday? …Thanksgiving? …Christmas? …the football tailgate? …the basketball watching party …upcoming holiday?” His answer inevitably was “Apple Bars!” I don’t know why I continued to ask; it was a given for the last 25 years or so.
I decided I needed to honor Allen’s memory with his favorite dessert on his birthday, November 30th. We went for a walk at Peach Mountain, his favorite place to walk. Then we all congregated in my garage (don’t you just love CoVid Parties?) and toasted the man we will never forget. I sent everyone home with Kofta, another of his favorites, in addition to Allen’s Apple Bars as a surprise for our kids/grandkids.
Allen had amazing self-control when he needed it. He was working on a car engine one day, and inadvertently flipped a large screwdriver into his eye. Why did I say inadvertently? Who would do that on purpose?! When the ophthalmologist saw Allen, he stated that Allen just might lose the vision in that eye. But: “…the good news is that eyes are some of the quickest healing tissue in our entire bodies. And one of the best ways to speed healing is by eating oatmeal every day for a month. Vitamin A in oatmeal boosts the immune system and helps with eye inflammation.” Allen didn’t really care for oatmeal but dutifully ate it each morning for a month. And his eye healed completely.
However, when it came to Apple Bars, Allen’s self-control was practically non-existent. I think this is the only dessert that Allen did not want to part with when it came time to give leftovers to take home. Allen never cared for rich, chocolatey desserts. His idea of the perfect dessert was “fruity- not too sweet-crusty-good with coffee-easy to pick up-no need for a fork-kind of dessert.”
In other words, APPLE BARS!
FEEDS A CROWD
One of the reasons I like to make this is because it makes more than 8 servings. I usually cut it into 24 pieces, but the bars are still pick-up-able if you cut it into 20 pieces. This crust is enriched with an egg for flavor and structure, but the baking powder helps keep it light and flaky. The crust is so good, in fact, some people even fight over the corner pieces.
Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and zest in a bowl. Normally, I cut in the butter by hand, using a pastry cutter, until crumbs form. A friend mentioned that she had heard that you can grate the very cold (or even frozen) butter directly into flour mixture for a crust. I was having trouble twisting my wrist due to an injury, so I tried this method, and it worked. Grating was much easier on my wrist because it was a straight up and down movement. However, I don’t think the crust was as quite as flaky as usual, perhaps because the butter was in uniform strings. When I cut it in by hand, the butter creates irregular chunks that melt, steam and create bigger air pockets.
USE COLD WATER WITH THE COLD BUTTER
No matter which method I choose, I always have some water with ice cubes sitting in a large measuring cup as I prep the flour and butter. Then I measure out this very cold water and combine it with lemon juice and egg before stirring it into the flour mixture. I usually use a fork in order to get a nice, neat distribution of moisture. Sometimes a bit more water is needed, as you can see in the photo below. Add more water, a tablespoon at a time, until it can be squeezed together without crumbling. You can see that the mixture was too dry in the first photo, but just right in the second photo.
Divide the dough in half, wrap in waxed paper and chill while preparing the apples.
MORE THAN ONE TYPE OF APPLE IS BEST
I always use more than one type of apple for this, but I usually start with Ida Red apples and add in another tart apple like Jonathan, Cortland, or MacIntosh. Sometimes I add in a few sweeter apples like Braeburn, Honeycrisp or Fuji if I have them on hand. But I taste them first so I can decrease the sugar if they are really sweet. I also add additional lemon zest and juice if I think the apple combination is too sweet. I love a good Granny Smith apple, but not for pies. They never seem to soften enough at the same time as the other apples I use, so the pies ended up with a combination of under-and over-cooked apples.
Also, I save the lemon halves to put in a big bowl with some water when I start peeling and coring the apples. I just keep tossing them in and turning them as I add more apples until all are peeled. Then I drain the apples, and quickly slice them. This method seems to help prevent browning of the slices.
USE A ROLLING PIN TO TRANSFER DOUGH
Sprinkle all the dry ingredients on top of the pile of sliced apples and stir it all together. Then take out one of the dough halves and roll it out to a rectangle large enough to cover a jelly roll pan. Since a jelly roll pan is 10 x 15 inches, the pastry should be rolled out to at least 13 x 18 inches. This dough rolls easily and can be patched with a little water if needed. Roll the pastry up and around the rolling pin because it is too cumbersome to pick up by hand for placement in the pan. Unroll the pastry over top of the pan, gently push edges/corners in place, and trim edges all around.
Chill the bottom pastry while rolling out the top piece to the slightly larger. Remove the chilled bottom crust, spread the apples all over and brush the edge of bottom pastry with water. I usually check the size of the crust simply by laying the pan on top. Then I can roll it out a bit more if needed. Roll the top pastry over top. Trim the top layer so it is just long enough to tuck under the bottom pastry edges, about 1/2 inch extra. Gently push the edges together and crimp all around.
GET CREATIVE WITH MESSAGES AND DESIGNS
Brush water lightly over top and sprinkle with sugar before baking. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Now I use a paring knife to cut a design and message on the top of the Apple Bars. I usually stuck with simple designs like a cake or candle with a Happy Birthday, Allen message. Sometimes I “carved” a simple turkey into the pastry, but a pumpkin would do. Hearts are easy, too. You can also use cookie cutters, if desired.
ALLEN’S APPLE BARS
- 3 Cups Flour
- 1 Cup Butter
- 3 Tablespoons Sugar
- 1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
- 1 Teaspoon Freshly Grated Lemon Zest
- 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
- 1 Large Egg
- 6 Tablespoons Cold Water (or more, if needed)
- 10 Medium Apples, peeled and sliced (Use almost any baking apple such as Jonathan or Macintosh, but have found that Granny Smith apples don’t soften enough for my family’s taste)
- 1 Cup Sugar
- 4 Tablespoons Flour
- 1 Tablespoon Cinnamon
- Additional water, sugar
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and zest. Slice pieces of butter into flour mixture, then cut in with a pastry cutter until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir together lemon juice, egg and water; add to flour mixture. Stir lightly just until holding together. Add additional water if needed. Chill until apples are prepped.
When peeling and coring apples, sprinkle with additional lemon juice to prevent browning. Mix the 1 cup sugar with the 4 tablespoons flour and the cinnamon; stir into apples to combine. Roll out half of dough to fill a 10 x 15-inch jellyroll pan. Fill dough with apple filling. Roll out remaining dough, brush edge of bottom dough with water, then lay top dough over. Trim top dough slightly larger than bottom, tuck it under bottom dough and crimp edges to seal. Prick all over with a fork or cut message into the top: “Happy Birthday, Allen”, “Happy Thanksgiving”. You can also cut in a design like a Christmas Tree, Stars, or Hearts. Brush lightly with water, and sprinkle sugar evenly over top.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. Cool. Cut into squares to serve.