High Country Baking: Apple streusel bars
Eagle County CO, Colorado
Editor’s Note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
These Apple Streusel Bars are deceptive little things … they have a homey, unassuming look, but their taste is lovely and refined. They are reminiscent of apple pie, and have all of its appeal, but my testers describe them as more delicate and sophisticated … more like a pastry than a pie.
In spite of their quiet elegance, they aren’t at all uppity. They can be made ahead, (if covered well, they sit contentedly in the refrigerator for about four days), they’ll go anywhere with ease (just transport them wrapped, in the pan), and they span the seasons smoothly, at home on a holiday dessert buffet or ending a summer picnic.
The bars can be served at any time of day as cookies or they can be cut into larger portions, warmed, and topped with ice cream and commercial caramel sauce for a very pretty and delicious dessert.
Make in an 8-by-8 inch baking pan
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Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet
4 baking apples (Granny Smith, Golden Delicious, Gala)
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 tablespoon of honey
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of flour
1/8 teaspoon of baking powder
1/4 cup of packed light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon of salt
8 tablespoons of cold unsalted butter (one stick)
1/2 of a large egg (Whisk egg to combine yolk and white; measure out about one and a half tablespoons; this equals half an egg.)
1/2 cup of flour
2 tablespoons of granulated sugar
2 tablespoons of packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
A pinch of salt
4 tablespoons of cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup of toasted, chopped pecans
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Line the baking pan with Reynold’s Release foil or with regular aluminum foil, letting it hang over the edges of the pan on two opposing sides to use as handles when you remove the bars from the pan. If using regular aluminum foil, grease it well.
Prepare the apples: Peel core, and slice them into sections one quarter of an inch thick. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the brown sugar, lemon juice, and honey and stir to combine. Add the apple slices and coat them well. Cover the pan for several minutes, until the apples release their juices. Uncover the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until there is no liquid left in the pan and the apples are a golden brown. Remove the pan from the heat and let the cooked apples cool.
Make the crust: Place the flour, baking powder, light brown sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Cut the butter into sixteen pieces, add to the bowl and pulse until the mix has the texture of course meal. Add the half of an egg and pulse until large, moist curds develop and the dough holds together when you squeeze it; stop before the dough forms a ball. Dump the dough into the lined pan and press it into a level, even crust. Bake until the crust begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, is set, and turns light golden (start checking at about 15 minutes).
Make the streusel: Wipe out the bowl of the food process with a paper towel. Place the flour, granulated sugar, light brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in it and pulse to combine. Cut the butter into eight pieces, add it, and pulse until the mixture is crumbly, with clumps about the size of cottage cheese. Pour this mixture into a bowl, add the chopped, toasted pecans, and mix with your hands (throw it gently into the air, like you’re fluffing something) until well combined.
As soon as the crust is done, remove it from the oven and quickly spread the cooked apples over it in an even layer. Sprinkle the streusel over the apples and gently press to keep it in place. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees, return the pan to the oven, and bake until the topping is crisp and golden. Start checking after about 20 minutes in the oven. Remove and let cool completely. Once cooled, cover the pan with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate it for a few hours, or overnight, before lifting the whole pastry from the pan by the foil handles and cutting into bars. If you’re not using the bars immediately, store them uncut in the refrigerator and cut into bars as you need them. Serve the bars at room temperature or warmed.
This is a variation of a recipe from Carole Walter’s “Great Cookies.”
Vera Dawson lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact Dawson with your comments about this column and/or your baking questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.