Crumb-Topped Apple Bars
These bite-size bars come as close to pie as a cookie possibly can. They’re a triple-decker affair: The base is a brown-sugar cookie that, once pressed into the pan, might just as well be a crust; the midsection is apples cut into chunks and tossed with a little honey (raisins and nuts are optional); and the topping is crumbs made from the same dough as the crust. It’s very beautiful and very delicious.
No matter what apples I use, the cookies are always great. After you’ve mixed the apples with the honey, taste a piece and add a pinch or more of sugar if you’d like more sweetness, or a drop of lemon juice for bite. You can also add a smidgen of spice if you want—go for the apple-pie spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and/or allspice—but I don’t.
About 24 bars
For the Crust and Crumbs:
- 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons (18 tablespoons; 9 ounces;
225 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks, at room temperature
- 3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) packed light brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 3/4 cups (374 grams) all-purpose flour
For the Filling:
- About 1 1/2 pounds (about 4; 680 grams) apples, such as Granny Smith or Braeburn
- 1 1/2 tablespoons honey
- Sugar, if needed
- Freshly squeezed lemon juice, if needed
- 1/4 cup (40 grams) plump, moist raisins (optional)
- 1/4 cup (30 grams) coarsely chopped nuts, such as almonds, pecans, or walnuts (optional)
- Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)
Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 375 F. Butter a 9-x-13-inch baking pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
To make the crust and crumbs: Put the butter, both sugars, the salt and vanilla in a food processor and whir until the ingredients are blended, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Pour in the flour and pulse until the flour is fully incorporated and you have soft, moist clumps of dough. Turn the dough out and knead it gently to bring it together. Cut off one third of the dough, cover and set aside; you’ll use this for the crumbs.
Break the other hunk of dough into pieces and press them evenly over the bottom of the pan, making sure to get into the corners. Prick the dough all over with a fork.
Bake the crust for 18 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Although you’re going to bake the crust again, this is really the only opportunity you’ve got to get color on it and to make certain that it’s baked through, so take advantage of it; well baked is better than underbaked here. Transfer the crust to a cooling rack.
To make the filling and crumbs: Peel and core the apples, cut them into chunks about 1 inch on a side (don’t worry about precision) and put them in a bowl. Drizzle the honey over the apples and toss to coat them evenly. Taste a piece of apple and decide if you’d like to stir in a pinch or two of sugar or a squirt of lemon juice. Mix in the raisins and/or nuts, if you’re using them, and then spread the fruit evenly over the crust, again taking care not to neglect the corners.
Pinch off pieces of the reserved dough and scatter them over the fruit. You won’t have a heavy coat of crumbs, and there’ll be fruit peeking out from under the crumbs.
Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until the crumbs are well browned and the fruit is soft when poked with the point of a knife or a slender skewer. If your apples were juicy and they’re now bubbling, you’re golden. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool until just warm or at room temperature.
Put a piece of parchment paper over a rack, unmold the bars onto the rack and peel off the parchment, then turn the bars over onto a cutting board. Cut into 24 squares. These are good warm or at room temperature, and they’re not at all bad chilled. If you’d like, dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.
The crust can be made up to 8 hours ahead, cooled and kept covered at room temperature. It can also be wrapped airtight and frozen for up to two months; no need to defrost before using. I think that the bars are at their peak within hours of baking. The crust gets soft, ditto the crumbs, when left overnight—though this seems to be a condition preferred by some cookie lovers, notably my husband, so I leave it to you to discover what you like. The bars can be refrigerated, well wrapped, for up to two days or frozen for up to two months.
(Recipe from “Dorie’s Cookies” by Dorie Greenspan, Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)