Apple season is in full swing, and farmers markets have a full array of beautiful apples – Northern Spy, Honeycrisp, Gala, Cortland, Macoun, Braeburn, Cortland and more. Each has a slightly different taste and texture, but all are crisp, juicy and delicious. Lured by
their bright red color, I went for the Gala apples, which have a mellow flavor and juicy yellow flesh. I usually buy tart Granny Smith apples for pies, because their robust flavor really shines through and stands up to the pastry. I decided to make my
favorite apple bars, a recipe that’s in my cookie book, The Good Cookie. The bars are anchored by a pastry crust, and topped with an apple filling enriched with sour cream. The secret ingredient, though, is a little apple juice concentrate, which heightens the
apple flavor. If you want, you can make your own concentrate by reducing apple juice until it has a syrupy consistency. Serve the bars warm, topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or whipped crème fraiche.
Makes 16 bars
Sweet Pastry Crust:
1 1/3 cups (170 g) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (66 g) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick/113 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons cold water
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pound (454 g) Gala or Granny Smith apples (about 3 small to medium)
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons frozen apple juice concentrate
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons Calvados or brandy
3 tablespoons (42 g) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (108 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup (128 g) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (71 g) firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (99 g) unsalted butter, melted
Sour cream mixture:
1 large egg
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup currants or chopped raisins
Confectioners' sugar, for sprinkling
Make the crust:
1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square baking pan.
2. Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until blended. Scatter the butter pieces over the flour mixture and process until the mixture resembles coarse meal, about 6 seconds. In a small bowl or cup, whisk together the egg yolk, water, and vanilla extract. With the food processor running, add the yolk mixture through the feed tube and process just until the dough begins to come together in large clumps, 15 to 20 seconds. Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and, using your fingers, pat it evenly into the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust until golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack while you make the topping.
Make the apple filling:
3. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Peel and core the apples. Cut into 1/2-inch cubes and place in a medium bowl. Add the lemon juice, apple concentrate, cornstarch, and Calvados or brandy and toss to combine. In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the sugar and cook, stirring constantly, breaking up the lumps of sugar. Add the apple mixture and bring to a boil. Cook for 5 minutes, or until the apples are softened on the outside but still slightly crunchy on the inside. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and cool while you make the topping.
Make the topping:
4. In a medium bowl, stir the flour, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt until well blended. Add the melted butter and mix with a fork, stirring until the butter is absorbed and the dry ingredients are uniformly moistened. Set aside the crumb mixture.
Finish the filling:
5. In a small bowl, whisk the egg until blended. Whisk in the sour cream, cinnamon, salt, and currants or raisins. Fold this mixture into the cooled apple mixture and spread it evenly over the crust.
Assemble and bake the bars:
6. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the filling and press down lightly on it with your fingers. Bake the bars for 35 to 40 minutes, until golden brown around the edges and set. Cool the bars completely in the pan set on a wire rack. (The bars can also be served warm, but they will not cut as cleanly.)
7. Using a sharp knife, cut the rectangle into 16 bars. Sprinkle the bars with sifted confectioners' sugar before serving, if you like.