Category Archives: Dessert

Oatmeal Crisp Apple Pie Bars with Salted Caramel Sauce (with Gluten Free Option)

photo 1How quickly the holiday season is upon us, and that means someone, particularly my husband and daughter, wants me to make an apple pie. Meh. It’s not that I don’t like apple pie, I do, as long as it is a good apple pie! Thus lies the problem, a good apple pie can be really hard to make or even buy! A lot of apple pies have a least one of these problems: overcooked apples, undercooked apples, too many apples, not enough apples, too much spice, not enough spice, too wet, too dry, bland crust, tough crust, or soggy crust. Not to mention that they are somewhat labor intensive to make! Being that I don’t absolutely LOVE apple pie, I’m not willing to invest too much time into making one.

Therefore this year, I decided that I would find and tweak an apple pie recipe that would satisfy my apple pie loving family, yet impressive enough for me to feel enthusiastic about making it. I found it in this apple pie bar recipe (adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction blog site)! It has all the components of a good apple pie, yet only requires half of the time (at most), and is made with ingredients that I have in my pantry! I’ve made is several times already, and I am telling you, it is way easier and better than most of the apple pies I have tasted in my lifetime. I hope you think so too!

** Gluten Free Option (GF) – I’ve included a gluten free option for those who cannot tolerate it (for whatever reason) and still want a delicious treat! If you are making this for someone who is gluten free, you must be diligent about avoiding cross contamination. As a flour substitute, I use Betty Crocker all-purpose gluten free rice flour blend, but you could use another type of gluten free baking mix. I also add almond flour to improve the texture and flavor. Oatmeal is naturally gluten free, however, most oatmeal is processed in a facility that also processes flour and cross contamination is common. I specifically buy oatmeal that is labeled “gluten free” that also includes a note indicating that it is processed in a gluten free facility.

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An 8 x 8 inch pan yields approximately 9 bars or double the recipe for a 9 x 13 inch pan! (highly recommended to double because you will eat about 3-4 of these babies yourself, and you still want to have some for everyone else)

Shortbread Crust

1/2 cup – unsalted butter (Note: NEVER margarine, gross), melted

1/4 cup – granulated white cane sugar (Note: sugar cane sugar is superior tasting than sugar made from sugar beets. Spend the extra $1 and buy sugar made from sugar canes, such as C & H brand found in all grocery stores. If it doesn’t say “made from sugar canes” than it’s made from beets or something else.)

1 tsp – vanilla extract or equal amounts of vanilla bean paste (Note: please use only real vanilla extract, artificial vanilla extract is way inferior and just terrible!)

1 tsp – salt

1 cup – all purpose flour (GF option: 3/4 cup Betty Crocker GF rice flour blend and 3/4 cup almond flour)

Apple Pie Filling

3 medium – Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced thinly (no more than 1/4-inch thick)

2 tbsp – all purpose flour (GF option: 2 tbsp Betty Crocker GF rice flour blend or GF cornstarch)

2 tbsp – granulated white cane sugar

1 tbsp – lemon juice

1 1/2 tsp – ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp – ground nutmeg

Oatmeal Crisp Topping

1/2 cup – old-fashioned rolled oats (GF option: gluten free old-fashioned rolled oats, not steel cut)

Hint: if you don’t normally have old-fashioned oats at home, you can buy only the amount you need if you go to the section of your grocery store that sells bulk items in a bin

1/3 cup – brown sugar, light or dark (Note: again, look for the C & H brand of brown sugar from sugar canes. Don’t buy the cheap stuff that has been “sprayed” brown)

1/2 tsp – ground cinnamon

1/4 cup – all purpose flour (GF option: 1/4 cup Betty Crocker GF rice flour blend)

1/4 cup – unsalted butter, cold and cut into small squares

Salted Caramel Sauce

Homemade salted caramel sauce may seem like a daunting task because people will tell you that you have to use a thermometer and cook it to a certain temperature, but relax, you don’t need a thermometer; it doesn’t have to be hard! Yes, for those purists, I could have posted a salted caramel sauce recipe that only contained sugar, butter, cream, and salt (like what is posted Sally’s Baking Addiction blog, which I make on occasion). However, if you are a first time caramel sauce maker you can easily burn the caramel and yourself. I found a good salted caramel sauce recipe (from Averie Cooks blog), which I also use frequently, that is more forgiving. Since I use her recipe, just follow this URL below and it will link you to her site; you’ll appreciate her well written instructions! There will be some leftovers after using it for this recipe, but that is a good thing, as you will find all sorts of ways to use up the excess (including just eating it with a spoon, body paint, or whatever). And if you don’t have time, you could use a high quality store bought sauce, but you won’t feel as accomplished.

http://www.averiecooks.com/2014/06/the-best-and-easiest-homemade-salted-caramel-sauce.html

Directions

Turn on your oven and preheat it to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line an 8 x 8  inch baking pan (or 9 x 13 inch pan if making a double recipe) with aluminum foil, leaving about a 1-inch overhang on all sides of the pan, an then crimp down. Set aside for now.

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To make the shortbread crust: Stir the melted butter, granulated white cane sugar, vanilla, salt, and flour together in a medium bowl until combined (Hint: I use a food processor and pulse it a few times until it comes together). With your CLEAN hands, press the mixture evenly into the foil lined pan. Bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes while you prepare the filling and oatmeal crisp topping.photo 2[1]

Note: If you are using a food processor, wipe it out with a clean paper towel when you are done because you can use it for the oatmeal crisp topping.

To make the apple filling: After peeling, coring, and slicing the apples, toss them in the lemon juice (to slow down the browning, aka oxidation, process) in a large bowl. Then add the flour, granulated white cane sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg together until all of the apples are evenly coated. Set aside. photo 3

To make the oatmeal crisp topping: Take the brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour and mix them together in a medium bowl. With a pastry blender (pressing down) or two knives (in a scissoring motion), “cut” in the chilled butter squares until you have coarse crumbles (you can also just use your hands).  Set aside.

Hint (preferred and easiest method): Since I already have my food processor out, I use it to make the crisp topping! I place the brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour into the processor and pulse it a few times. I then add the squares of butter and continue to pulse until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. I dump everything into a medium sized bowl and then stir in the oatmeal. Set aside.

To assemble: Remove the shortbread crust from the oven and place it on a wire baking rack to cool for a few minutes, and then crank up the oven up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Evenly layer the apple mixture on top of the warm crust. It will appear that there are an excessive amount of apple slices, so layer them tightly and then press them down to fit. Sprinkle the apple layer with oatmeal crisp topping and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the oatmeal crisp topping is golden brown. photo 4

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Remove from the pan from the oven and allow to cool (on a wire baking rack) for at least 30 minutes at room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours (Hint: don’t skip this part as it really helps to keep the bars tight). Lift the foil out of the pan using the overhang on the sides and cut into bars. Once cut, pour salted caramel sauce on top. These apple pie bars can be enjoyed at room temperature, warm, or cold (I prefer them at room temperature or a little warm). A scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top is fabulous! The bars will stay freshest in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and can be kept for at least 3 days or in an airtight container at room temperature for a day. photo 2

Mini (or full-sized) Sweet Potato Pies with Toasted Marshmallow Meringue

photo[5]After spending 6 years in Atlanta, this is my first Fall back in the California Bay Area.  One of the things I really enjoyed about living in the South was the abundance of sweet potato pies.  Unfortunately, out in California, they always seem to be considered the ugly stepsister to the classic pumpkin pies.  Not any longer! I created these mini sweet potato pies and elevated them to superstar status! Even if photo[7]you swear you don’t like sweet potatoes, I beg you to try these.  They will convert you!

When I was developing this recipe and making test batches, I brought all the pies into work.  My co-worker Donald instantly fell in love with them.  I mean, SERIOUSLY in love with them.  So much so that he begged me to teach him so he could make them for his mom’s birthday in November.  How could I say no to a man wanting to cook for his mom? So I held an impromptu pie making class for him and a few other co-workers and they were very successful in making these pies 🙂

***This recipe also can be used to make a 9-inch deep dish pie (note: you will have some left over filling.  If you double the filling recipe, it will be enough for 3 pies). If you are going to make a whole pie with this recipe, I suggest using a different pie crust, one that is more sturdy. One that works very well is an all butter crust by King Arthur flour.  It makes 2 pie shells. The URL is here (http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/all-butter-pie-crust-recipe). The marshmallow meringue will only be enough for one 9-inch pie, so if you are making 2 pies, you will need to double the recipe.

Cheers to Donald and his mom!

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The pies (without the meringue topping) can be made a day in advance, but only make the meringue the same day you will serve them.

Makes (12) 3.25 inch mini pies or (24) 2.5 inch mini pies or (1) 9-inch deep dish pie

** Use 3.25 inch or 2.5 inch aluminum tart pans. I suggest buying 12 individual pans (for 3.25 inch pies) and 24 individual pans (for 2.5 inch pies). They are very inexpensive (less than a $1 each) and can be found at places like Bed, Bath, and Beyond. DO NOT put these pans in the dishwasher because they WILL rust.  Hand wash them and dry them immediately.

Cream Cheese Pie Crust (recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour) – use only for the mini pies. Use this recipe for a whole 9-inch deep dish pie (http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/all-butter-pie-crust-recipe)

**This pie crust recipe is very forgiving and is hard to overwork!

6 tablespoons – cream cheese, softened

6 tablespoons – unsalted butter

1 teaspoon – sugar

1/4 teaspoon – salt

3/4 cup – all purpose flour

Sweet Potato Pie Filling

29 ounce can – cut sweet potatoes/yams (well drained; yields about 1.5 packed cups or so). – I prefer canned for these pies because it produces the most consistent results. You can use fresh roasted (1.25 pounds flesh) sweet potatoes/yams, but you have to make sure it isn’t stringy, so use a food mill.

1/2 cup – unsalted butter, melted (1 stick)

3/4 cup – granulated sugar

1/2 cup – evaporated milk (approximately a 5-ounce can) or whole milk

2 – large eggs

1 teaspoon – pumpkin pie spice

1 teaspoon – vanilla extract

Toasted Marshmallow Meringue (recipe adapted from the Urban Baker)

**Only prepare the meringue right before you want to top the pies. This meringue is pretty similar to the marshmallow fluff you can buy in jars, except better! You can spoon any leftover meringue into a hot mug of cocoa!

4 – egg whites (large eggs) room temperature – (save egg yolks for up to 3 days and use for something else like custard, ice cream base)

1 cup – granulated sugar (I prefer superfine sugar, not to be confused with powdered sugar, but you can use regular granulated if you want)

1/8 teaspoon – cream of tarter

Make the pie crusts first:

photo[8]photo[9]Using a mixer or food processor (my favorite), or by hand, cream together butter, cream cheese, and salt. Mix in flour (on slow if using a mixer or gently pulse if using a food processor) until everything comes together. Remove dough and flatten into a 1-inch disk, tightly wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes (up to 3 days).

Remove dough from fridge. For 3.25 inch tart pans, form walnut-sized balls. For 2.5 inch tart pans, form large marble-sized balls. Roll out dough and gently place into tart pans (do not butter pans – there is no need). Using the palm of your hands to remove excess dough. Save the excess dough scraps, you will need to re-use them. After all dough is used, place tart pans on a large baking sheet with a silicon mat on it and place in the fridge for 10 minutes to firm up.

 

 

 

Then make the sweet potato pie filling:

Preheat the oven to 350 photo[6]degrees F. Put the sweet potatoes in a food processor and pulse until sweet potatoes are broken down. Add remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Remove the baking sheet from the fridge (with the chilled pie shells on them). While still on the baking sheet, fill the pie shells ¾ full. Put the baking sheet with filled pies in the oven on the middle rack and bake for 30 – 35 minutes (50 minutes for a 9-inch deep dish pie). The pies will puff up and will fall a bit after removed from the oven. If the pies crack a bit, that is fine. The cracks will reseal once they cool and will be covered with meringue anyway. Cool the pies (in their pans) on a baking rack. After the pies are cooled for a minimum of 1-hour, pop the pies out of their pans. I use the tip of a very thin knife blade to gently coax them out. The pies should not stick at all.

Finally, make the marshmallow meringue:

Combine all ingredients into a large metal or glass bowl. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (make sure water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl). Continually whisk until the mixture is approximately 145 degrees (6-8 minutes – you are want to melt the sugar but not cook the eggs).

Remove from heat and transfer the mixture to your stand mixer bowl (or just use the same bowl if you are using your hand mixer). Using your whisk attachment, beat on low speed until the mixture becomes foamy, then increase the speed until the mixture becomes stiff and glossy peaks form (when you pull your whisk attachment off, the mixture should firmly stay on the whisk when turned upside down) approximately 8 minutephoto[4]s.

**Make sure the pies have been cooled to room temperature (at least 1 hour) before topping with marshmallow meringue.

Place the meringue mixture in a large pastry bag (or sturdy plastic zip-type bag) with a plain tip or star tip (if using a plastic zip-type bag, take scissors and cut ¼ inch tip off). Pipe a 3 to 4 layer swirl on top of the cooled pies (don’t completely cover the pies with the mixture, you want to see some of the filling so folks can see what they are eating). Use a hand held torch to gently toast the marshmallow meringue. Use short bursts doing one side at a time. If you don’t have a hand held torch, you can place the pies on a baking sheet and put them under your ovens’ broiler for approximately 2 – 3 seconds or so (watching carefully as every broiler is different). The pies can be stored a room temperature and is best eaten the same day as prepared.