High Country Baking: Apple squares with dulce de leche drizzle
High Country Baking
As soon as there’s a hint of fall in the air, I yearn for cozy desserts — the simple, wholesome kind. These apple squares are a good example. Flavored by diced apple and brown sugar and topped with a caramel-style drizzle, they please just about everyone. And more good news: the recipe is so straightforward that just about anyone can make them. Cut them in big squares and serve them warm with vanilla ice cream for a plated dessert. Or cut them in smaller squares and serve them as a cookie.
If you were making this dessert at sea level, you could use any baking apple you like, but at high elevations, only a soft, sweet baking apple, cut no larger than quarter-inch pieces, will be tender by the time the batter is fully baked.
Some think the squares are best the day after baking, so make them ahead if you can.
Apple squares with dulce de leche drizzle
Make in an 8-by-8-inch square, shiny metal baking pan. Adjusted for elevations of 7,000 feet and higher.
- 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (one stick), room temperature
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, preferably superfine
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar, packed
- 1 large egg, room temperature
- 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level
- 1 generous tablespoon apple pie spice
- A little less than 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- A little less than 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups of quarter-inch pieces of golden delicious apples, cored and peeled
- 1/4 cup thick, commercial dulce de leche
- 2 teaspoons cream or whole milk
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line your baking pan with nonstick aluminum foil or regular aluminum foil, extending it several inches on two opposing sides to use as handles when removing the baked squares from the pan. Grease any exposed parts of the pan and all the regular foil with a baking spray that contains flour. Set the pan aside.
Cut the butter into eight pieces and add them, along with both sugars, to a mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer at medium speed, beat the mixture until it is fully blended, soft and a little fluffy. Add the egg and beat again, until combined.
Add the flour, apple pie spice, baking powder, baking soda and salt, and beat only until the batter is fully blended, starting with your mixer at low speed and slowly increasing to medium speed. Overbeating will toughen the texture of the bars. Clean the sides of the bowl, and then stir in the apple pieces and distribute them evenly in the batter. Scrape the thick mixture into the prepared pan and level it. It’s easiest to do this if you wet the utensil you’re using (large spoon, offset spatula or your clean hands) so the batter doesn’t stick to it.
Bake until the top is set and starts to pull away from the pan sides and the apple pieces are tender. A toothpick inserted in the middle should come out clean. Start checking after 20 minutes in the oven, though the amount of time varies by the condition and size of the apple pieces. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a rack.
Place the dulce de leche and cream or milk in a small microwave-safe bowl or cup measure and warm at a medium temperature in a microwave oven until the mixture is hot and melty. Remove from the oven and stir to blend completely. Add the powdered sugar, a tablespoon at a time, and whisk or stir until blended and smooth after each addition. Add more sugar until the mixture has thickened but is still pourable. If it gets too thick, add a little more cream or milk. Drizzle it decoratively over the cool squares. Let the drizzle set up (it will never fully harden) and then cut the slab into squares.
Store, covered, in the fridge for up to three days. Serve warm (best) or at room temperature.
Vera Dawson’s column “High Country Baking” publishes biweekly in the Summit Daily News. Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks. Her recipes have been tested in her kitchen in Frisco, where she’s lived since 1991, and altered until they work at elevation. Contact her at email@example.com.
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