The holiday season is upon us soon enough, which means the inevitable cookie swap looms. This year, we've decided to hit the bars instead. The red-headed stepchild of the cookie family, dessert bars have a special place in our hearts: easier to make than cookies, but even more delicious.
A buttery shortbread crust is topped with two types of sautéed apples before getting loaded with a crumble. Garten likes the combination of tart Granny Smiths with sweet Golden Delicious apples, but advises that you can use whichever variety you like.
As for the dough, it doesn't get any easier than using the same mixture for the crust as the crumble. The addition of walnuts and cinnamon to the crumble adds the perfect crunch to these tender bars. Garten’s dough-making pro tip: "Many cooks think that 'at room temperature' means to leave the butter out for 30 minutes before using, but, in fact, I leave butter at room temperature overnight to be sure it's truly 'at room temperature' before [I] use it."
In addition to offering an alternative to the same old cookie, bars have another perk: They travel well. Simply wrap up the baking pan and cut the bars when you get to your destination. As for optimal portion size, Garten advises, "I cut the bars in fairly large three-by-three-inch squares if I'm serving them on a plate with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. If I'm serving them on a platter of small petits fours to pick up with your fingers, I'll cut them in smaller bite-size pieces."
Ina Garten's Apple Pie Bars
Recipe from 'Cooking for Jeffrey,' by Ina Garten
Yield: 12 bars
Prep Time: 15 minutes, plus chilling and cooling time
Cook Time: 55 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 10 minutes, plus chilling and cooling time
For the Crust:
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ cup chopped walnuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
For the Apple Filling:
1½ pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, quartered, cored, and sliced ⅛ inch thick (3 large)
1½ pounds Golden Delicious apples, peeled, quartered, cored, and sliced ⅛ inch thick (3 large)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. For the crust, place the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed for 2 minutes, until light and creamy. Sift the flour and salt together and, with the mixer on low, slowly add to the butter-sugar mixture, beating until combined. Scatter two-thirds of the dough in clumps in a 9 × 13-inch baking pan and press it lightly with floured hands on the bottom and ½ inch up the sides. Refrigerate for 20 minutes. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the crust is golden brown, and set aside to cool.
3. Meanwhile, put the mixing bowl with the remaining dough back on the mixer, add the walnuts and cinnamon, and mix on low speed to combine. Set aside.
4. Reduce the oven to 350 degrees.
5. For the filling, combine the Granny Smith and Golden Delicious apples and lemon juice in a very large bowl. Add the granulated sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg and mix well. Melt the butter in a large (10-inch-diameter) pot, add the apples, and simmer over medium to medium-low heat, stirring often, for 12 to 15 minutes, until the apples are tender and the liquid has mostly evaporated. Spread the apples evenly over the crust, leaving a ½-inch border.
6. Pinch medium pieces of the remaining dough with your fingers and drop them evenly on top of the apples (they will not be covered). Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the topping is browned. Cool completely and cut into bars.
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