My first born believed “candy corn” was a toy until at least her fourth birthday. I’ve eased up a bit since those “no sugar” days when my banana breads were stevia sweetened, and I made cookies with raisin purée, but sugar is an ingredient I handle with care. Being a baker, taste and performance are important to me, and there are times when only sugar is going to get the job done. Like with these apple bars that my friend Elizabeth served while we played with a line of clothing she shows in her home. The apples and cinnamon and cakey-ness were delicious, but it was the crispy, crackly top crust and edge that were truly tantalizing. She shared her recipe.
Back in my kitchen, I baked several different batches: one with half sugar and half honey, one with regular C&H cane sugar, one with an organic brown sugar, and one with a light muscovado. The half-honey bars turned out very ordinary; they were cakey and had a nice flavor, but no tantalizing texture. All of the sugars produced the crust effect, but I preferred the more caramelized flavor of the brown sugars, especially the muscovado from India Tree. Will regular C&H do? Absolutely. But I encourage you to explore and taste the differences: organic v.s. not, brown v.s. white, even really brown like sucanat. Keep in mind crystal size (e.g. don’t use turbinado or demerara unless you want big chunks of sugar; I usually save large crystal sugars for sprinkling on oatmeal, scones, or shortbread) and the fact that most brown sugars have a higher moisture content than white. In moist treats like these apple bars, any combination of brown and white sugar, even 100% of either, will produce a fine result.
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup granulated cane sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1 egg
- 1 cup flour (I like 3/4 cup all-purpose + 1/4 cup whole wheat)
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 3 small apples, peeled and diced (about 1 heaping cup)
- 1 cup walnuts, toasted (put on sheet pan in oven for 5 minutes)
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter and flour an 8-inch square baking pan.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Once melted, remove from heat and set aside to cool as you measure the remaining ingredients and prepare the apples and nuts.
- Add the sugars to the butter and stir with a wooden spoon to combine. Add the egg and stir briskly to combine.
- Measure flour into medium sized mixing bowl. Add the cinnamon, baking soda, salt, allspice, and nutmeg and whisk to combine. Pour the butter/sugar mixture into the dry ingredients and stir with wooden spoon until just combined.
- Add the diced apple and toasted walnuts. Stir to combine and spread into prepared baking pan. Bake for 35 - 40 minutes, until top is crisp and edges are just beginning to dry out.