Despite the fact that America's birthday occurs in July, October is a true contender for the most patriotic month of the year. America's favorite pastime, baseball, holds its play-off games, leading up to the World Series, throughout October. Is it just me, or does game 1 of the World Series seem to start later and later each year? Didn't it start in September at one time? At this rate, in a few years, MLB players will need to head directly to spring training after the final inning is played.
An intense, rivalry-filled play-off series can make almost anyone a (temporary) baseball fan. Even I was pretty excited to discover that the Red-Sox had come from waaayyyy behind on Thursday night to win game 5 with an 8-run seventh inning. Loyal fans that we are, we had stopped watching the game and went to dinner, assuming that this "just wasn't their year." Sorry guys. We will never doubt you again.
Then theres that little matter of the election. For me, November 4th cannot arrive quickly enough. While it is great to see so many Americans engaged in the election process, registering voters, and rallying for their chosen nominee, I for one am growing tired of all of the mud-slinging, attack ads, and overall negativity that has defined the recent campaigns. Thank goodness for the comic relief of Tina Fey, the Saturday Night Live cast, and their spot-on impressions of the candidates. You can bet your ballot that I will be taping tonight's show, now that Sarah Palin is supposed to appear. To be honest, if they decide to put the real Sarah Palin side-by-side with Tina Fey dressed as Sarah Palin, I'm not 100% certain that I could tell you who's who. I can no longer watch Governor Palin without thinking I'm watching Tina Fey, and vice-versa. I'm not sure that I should admit that, but it's true.
We've all heard the phrase "American as apple pie." During October, the abundance of every varietal of apple, from Gala to Gravenstein, practically demands that you bake at least one apple pie, if not 4 or 5. There are as many recipes and methods for apple pie as there are types of apples (over 2500 in the United States alone!) Some people mix sweet and tart apples with spices and top them with a lattice crust, while others are loyal to their favorite varietals and prefer a solid, flaky top layer. This variation, apple pie in the form of a bar, evolved from the idea of making a piece of apple pie portable and easy to serve for entertaining. A buttery, crisp crust is layered with spiced apples and a pecan streusel topping. Eat it with a fork, or eat it with your hands. Just eat it quickly, because these disappear in no time! Here are my extra tips for these all-American apple pie bars:
- To cut down on prep time, I occasionally leave the peel on the apples, so I only need to core and slice. Because they become tender in both the cooking and baking processes, the peel is barely noticeable underneath the streusel.
- Depending on how juicy your apples are, it may take longer than 20 minutes for the juices to evaporate. Just continue to simmer.....
- While I find that Granny Smith apples work best for this recipe, due to their firm texture and tart flavor, feel free to substitute other varietals or a mixture of varietals. You can also substitute chopped hazelnuts or walnuts for the pecans in the streusel.
- Chilling the bars for a few hours prior to cutting is necessary if you want clean lines. The bars are simply too soft fresh from the oven or even at room temperature to stand up against the pressure of a knife. Use the sharpest knife that you have for cutting the bars.
- Cardamom is a spice commonly used in pastries and North African or Indian cuisine. It has a floral, earthy, very distinct flavor, and it bears some similarities to ginger. While cardamom can be one of the pricier spices, it is usually used in small amounts, so one jar should last for awhile.
Apple Pie Bars
Makes 12 bars
For the filling
6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced ¼-inch thick
½ cup light brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
For the crust
2 ½ cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
½ cup brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
For the streusel
1 cup flour
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup butter, chilled and cubed
1 cup chopped and toasted pecans
Cook the apples: In a large skillet or stockpot over medium heat, combine the apples with the brown sugar, lemon juice, maple syrup, cinnamon, and cardamom. Cover the pan for 5 minutes to allow the juices to release, and then uncover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples have turned a golden brown and there is almost no liquid left in the pan, 15-20 minutes. Set the apples aside to cool.
Prepare the crust: Preheat the oven to 375F degrees. Line a 9X13-inch pan with aluminum foil and butter the foil. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the brown sugar until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and mix to blend. On low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients until just combined. With lightly floured hands, press the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the crust is golden-brown. While the crust is baking, prepare the streusel topping.
For the streusel, combine the flour, sugars, cinnamon, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on medium-low speed until the mixture is crumbly. Stir in the pecans.
When the crust is done, immediately spread the cooked apples evenly over the hot crust. Sprinkle the streusel topping over the apples, lightly pressing to adhere. Reduce the oven temperature to 350F degrees. Bake the bars for 25-30 minutes or until the topping is lightly browned and crisp. Let the pan rest to cool and chill for several hours before cutting. Lift the bars out of the pan with the foil and cut on a flat surface. Dust the bars with confectioners' sugar and serve.