Apple streusel bars

Use crisp and tart Granny Smith apples to make these apple streusel bars.

The Pastry Chef's Baking
For more of a cobbler feel, leave off the glaze and serve warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Although apples are available year round, I always associate them with autumn. My friends in New England have an annual tradition of going apple picking and it always sounds like a lot of fun, the quintessential fall activity. My friend Annie the Baker who used to be the head pastry chef at Mustard's in Napa Valley recommends getting apple desserts in restaurant only in the fall because that's their best season. So fall always means apples to me.

And apple desserts like this one. It's not quite a cobbler, despite its appearance from the top. Instead, you have a bottom layer of sweet pastry, then a layer of cinnamon-sugared apple slices, followed by a crumb topping which is just crumbles of the same pastry dough that makes up the bottom layer. Bake to golden and glaze.

While I normally don't like fruit desserts since I prefer my fruit to be whole and consumed in its natural state, apples are an easy exception, especially with desserts like these. If you want to serve it warm, you can treat it more like a cobbler with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Leave off the glaze if you don't want it to be too sweet.

But I actually liked this better served at room temperature and, as a rare exception, served the day after I made it. Freshly made, it's good but a bit more gooey and soft so I tended to focus more on the texture than the flavor. The next day it was even better because the flavors just seem more developed and pronounced. It's also easier to slice neatly since the apples have firmed up.

For sweet desserts like this one, I almost always use Granny Smith apples. The pastry layer and topping plus the glaze and the cinnamon sugar you roll the apple slices in are sweet enough. The tartness of Granny Smiths offers a nice contrast in flavors to the sweetness of the other ingredients. I thought this was a perfect snack dessert and is going into my fall baking repertoire.

Apple streusel bars

From Lovin' from the Oven

Sweet pastry

2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup butter, softened

1 egg, beaten

Apple filling

1/2 cup white sugar

1/4 cup flour

2 teaspoons cinnamon 

4 cups (about 3 medium) sliced, peeled baking apples (I used 3 large Granny Smith apples)

Glaze

2 cups powdered sugar

About 3 tablespoons whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. To prepare crust, mix flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Cut in butter with a pastry blender or two knives until you have pea-sized crumbles. Gently mix in beaten egg.

2. Spray a 9- by 13-inch baking dish (I used a 9- by 9-inch) with nonstick cooking spray. Gently pat about 2/3 of the crumb mixture onto the bottom of the dish. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F., and set pan aside.

3. To prepare apple filling, combine flour, sugar, and cinnamon. Toss with apples and spread apples out on prepared crust. Sprinkle reserved crust mixture over apples evenly and bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes (mine took just less than 50 minutes). When finished, allow to cool completely.

4. To prepare glaze, whisk together powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and enough milk to achieve desired consistency. Place glaze in a Ziploc bag and cut off a very small portion of one of the corners. Drizzle glaze over cooled pastry and allow to harden (you can place it in the freezer to hurry things along). Cut into bars and serve.

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