High Country Baking column: Apple shortbread squares with rum sauce

The combination of baked apples, tender shortbread, oat-cinnamon topping and rum sauce is guaranteed to warm your tummy.
Vera Dawson | Special to the Daily |

Editor’s note: High altitudes 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 that make baking in the mountains successful.

Numb fingers, frost on your face and a smile that stretches from ear to ear: all signs of a good day in the snow. This dessert may be its perfect ending; it’ll warm you like a fire in the fireplace.

The combination of baked apples, tender shortbread, oat-cinnamon topping and rum sauce is guaranteed to create a rapid thaw; it’s a great example of homey, satisfying, life-is-good food.

The filled shortbread can be made the day before serving and the rum sauce can be made two days before you’re going to use it.

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Apple Shortbread Squares with Rum Sauce

Adjusted for altitudes of 8,000 feet and above. Make in an 8-by-8-inch metal baking pan.

Rum sauce

1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons orange marmalade

1-2 tablespoons dark rum, to taste


4 generous cups Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and sliced no thicker than a quarter inch (about 4 apples)

1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon apple pie spice

1 tablespoon dark rum

Shortbread base

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (spoon and level)

A little less than 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch salt

Pinch nutmeg

8 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Streusel topping

1/3 cup unbleached flour

1/3 cup old fashioned rolled oats

2 pinches salt

1/3 cup granulated sugar

A little less than 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans

Prepare the rum sauce: Combine the brown sugar, water and cornstarch in a medium saucepan and stir until well combined. Place on stovetop and stir over medium heat until it boils and thickens slightly. Reduce heat and simmer for a minute or two. Add the marmalade and stir until melted and blended. Stir in one tablespoon rum, taste and add more if desired. Strain and set aside to cool. Store at cool room temperature for up to two days. Stir before serving.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line the baking pan with nonstick aluminum foil or regular aluminum foil, extending it several inches on two opposing sides of the pan to use as handles when removing the pastry. If using regular foil, grease it well.

Prepare the filling: Combine the brown sugar, apple pie spice and dark rum in a large bowl and mix until thoroughly blended. If the apples are large, halve the slices horizontally so they bake more quickly. Dump them into the brown sugar mixture and toss until all of the slices are evenly coated. There should be no seasoning left at the bottom of the bowl. Set this aside to macerate, tossing or stirring occasionally.

Prepare the shortbread base: Place the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in a food processor and pulse to combine well. Cut the butter into eight pieces and add them, with the vanilla. Pulse until moist clumps of dough about the size of almonds, are formed. Pour them into the prepared pan and gently spread and pat them into an even layer. The dough may appear pebbly; that’s okay, it doesn’t have to be completely smooth. Bake until set and slightly colored, about 15 minutes. Remove and let cool for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Prepare the streusel topping: Wipe out the bowl of the food processor. To it, add the flour, oats, sugar, salt and cinnamon, and pulse to combine. Cut the butter into small pieces, add them and pulse to make moist crumbs. Add the pecans and pulse a few times to distribute them evenly.

Spoon the apple slices over the shortbread base, spreading them to make an even layer. If any liquid remains at the bottom of the bowl, drizzle it over them. Pinch the streusel into clumps and sprinkle them over the apples so all are uniformly covered. Bake until the streusel colors and the apples are tender (test with a fork), about 50 minutes to an hour. If the streusel is done before the apples, tent a piece of foil over the pan. Remove to a rack.

Though it should be served warm, the dessert slices most easily when chilled. I suggest covering it when it’s completely cool, refrigerating it for several hours or up to overnight, cutting it, and then re-warming the pieces in a microwave. Drizzle room-temperature rum sauce over the warm pieces and serve. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

Vera Dawson, author of the cookbook “Cookies in the Clouds” (available at The Bookworm in Edwards), is a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute. Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at

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