High Altitude Baking: An apple bar a day (column)
October 11, 2017
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.
Sweet apples, bathed in gooey caramel, and nestled between layers of tender, buttery, brown sugar and oat shortbread…these bars are a wholesome and delicious example of American heartland baking. Serve them as a cookie or cut them into larger pieces and serve them warm with a scoop of ice cream for dessert.
Don't be put off by the caramel (I know, the traditional way of making it can be tricky). This version is very easy to prepare and doesn't require a thermometer or testing for doneness. Be sure to measure the flour by gently spooning it into the cup without compressing it at all, and leveling the top. Too much flour will result in a dry crust. Got apple pie spice? If so, feel free to use it in place of the cinnamon for a more complex flavor.
Caramel Apple Oat Bars
Make in an 8×8 inch shiny metal baking pan
Crust and Topping
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1 1/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level
½ cup plus 1/3 cup quick-cooking oats (not instant)
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
8 tablespoon (one stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 ½ generous cups peeled and chopped (into ¼-inch cubes) Golden Delicious apples (2-3 apples)
½ cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Line the pan with non-stick or regular aluminum foil, extending it several inches on two opposing sides to use as handles when removing the slab of bars. Grease all exposed parts of the pan and the regular foil with a vegetable oil-flour baking spray.
2. Make the crust/topping: Combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, salt and cinnamon (if using) in a mixing bowl and whisk/stir until completely blended. Add the melted butter and, using your hands or a spoon, mix until thoroughly combined. All dry ingredients should be wet enough to be crumbly. (If necessary, add another teaspoon of melted butter to reach this consistency, but too much butter will result in a hard crust, so take care.) Press half of the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan, leveling and smoothing it. Reserve the remainder for the topping. Bake for 10-12 minutes, until the dough is set and barely colored. Remove to a rack and leave the oven on. Sprinkle the apple cubes over the warm base in a single layer, spreading them evenly. Set aside.
3. Make the caramel: Combine the cream, corn syrup, brown sugar, and salt in a heavy saucepan (use a good-sized pan–the mixture will bubble up while it boils) and whisk until well combined. Place the pan over medium-high heat, stir constantly, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down so the caramel continues to boil, but not hard, and stir frequently until the color changes and the mixture thickens slightly, 4-6 minutes. Remove from the heat, whisk in the flour and vanilla until smooth and lump-free. Pour over the apples so all are uniformly covered, then sprinkle on the topping, and very gently press it into place.
4. Return the pan to the oven's center rack and bake until the top turns light golden, the edges turn a slightly darker color, any visible caramel is bubbly, and the apples are soft (test in the center with a fork), 27-35 minutes. If the top is done before the apples, tent the pan with a piece of aluminum foil until the fruit is fully baked.
5. Remove the pan to a rack to cool completely. Use the foil handles to lift the slab from the pan and then cut it into squares with a thin-bladed, sharp knife, wiping it clean between cuts. Store the bars, airtight, at cool room temperature or in the refrigerator, for 5 days or freeze. If you freeze them, don't cut them into squares until they're partially thawed so they remain as moist as possible. Serve them warm or at room temperature.
This recipe is a variation of one published in "The All-American Cookie Book," by Nancy Baggett.
Vera Dawson teaches high-altitude baking classes and is the author of two high-altitude cookbooks, Cookies in the Clouds and Baking Above It All (available at The Bookworm in Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco). Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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