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Ahhh, the scent of baking apples…
The smell of apple slices softening in a warm oven on a chilly (sometimes icy) winter day fills my apartment with memories of my mom and I making an apple pie in our 1950’s era oven back in the 1990’s. Given she grew up way south of the border, in Guatemala, I believe she decided to chop butter, slice apples, and roll dough in order to help me see that I too was as American as apple pie.
The finished product was supposed to be for the whole family, but I remember her slicing up an extra apple and using scraps of dough to make me a special mini pie in a CorningWare ramekin that baked along side it’s full sized version. It finished baking to a golden brown long before the large one, so she and I used two forks to devour our mini pie and giggled as we ate. It was special. It was ours. But most importantly my brother and dad didn’t get a single bite!
We all have fond memories in the kitchens of our elders, as well as smells that put us right back in those very rooms. Apples are one of the foods that many of us here in the U.S. have grown up eating, baking, and sometimes taking for granted. Happily, they are available year round, affordable, and numerous in variety.
When making these bars, I like to use a sweeter apple rather than a Granny Smith which is more tart. The extra sweetness that comes from the natural sugar in a Honeycrisp, Jonagold, or my eternal favorite Envy, allows me to limit the added sugar in the rest of the recipe. Honeycrisps are fitting because they are of course sweeter than a green apple, but still have a nice tang as well as a similar texture. They aren’t mealy or mushy, but rather have a bit of a snap to them, and are now available in most grocery stores across the country.
***If you end up with an extra apple, bake up some “Banana-Apple Bran Muffins, 200cal & the size of your fist!” ***
And the winner for Best Supporting Actor is…
The ever impressive supporting actor in these bars is the aromatic Chai, the peppery blend of spices gifted to us by the Indian Ayurvedic practice of health through a connection between mind and body. A few years ago, I discovered The Spice House’s Chai Spice Blend which allowed me to partake in one of my favorite winter warm ups, Chai tea, without the concern of twitching from caffeine overload. I like to brew up some velvety red, caffeine-free, Rooibis tea and dip in a spoonful of this vanilla based spice mixture with its touch of Tellicherry black pepper. The fragrant mixture is a perfect complement to the crisp apples and cool cream cheese in my easy Chai Spiced Apple Bars.
A simply built foundation…
Another important point I’d like to make about this recipe is in regard to its easy press-in crust. Many of us have kitchens that don’t afford us the room to work with our foot long rolling pins, nor the time or patience to clean up a counter (and floor) that ends up under a settled cloud of flour. Although there are times that warrant the effort and mess of rolling and shaping one’s own short crust, a random weekday isn’t one of them. You’ll find the ease and cleanliness of this method make weekday baking much more appealing than before.
So, what are your favorite weekday baking recipes? Have any short cuts to make baking a breeze on “hump day”?
Chai Spiced Apple Bars
- 4 oz unsalted butter
- 2 tbsp white sugar
- 4 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 1/4 cup flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 6 oz cream cheese
- 1 egg white
- 1/3 cup sugar- I like to use a fine sugar for a smoother filling
- 2.5 tsp Chai spice
- Apple slices, peeled, cored, and sliced into 1/4″ pieces
- 1/4 cup (1 oz) Chopped pecans (optional)
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 3/4 tsp Chai spice
- Line an 8×8 or 9×9 square baking pan with parchment, making sure to have extra paper on each end. You’ll use this later to lift the bars out of the pan. Set aside.
- In a small bowl sift together the salt and flour. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, add in the roughly diced up the COLD butter and combine it with the white and brown sugars. Using your stand mixer, or hand mixer, beat on medium speed until fluffy.
- Reduce the speed to low and dump in all the flour mixture. Beat until it resembles a rough corn meal.
- Pour that into your prepared pan and press evenly coming up a 1/2″ on the sides. (*Chef’s tip*- I like to use a measuring cup wrapped in plastic wrap to flatten it out. Its less messy and also keeps the warmth from your hands from melting the butter.)
- Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes. While its chilling, begin preheating your oven to 350º.
- Remove from the refrigerator, take off the plastic wrap, and bake for about 20 minutes, or until its lightly golden brown. Remove from oven and place entire pan on a cooling rack. Allow to cool for 20 minutes.
*You can make the crust a day ahead and keep it refrigerated overnight. Just wait to bake it until you are read to make the filling etc.*
Raise the oven temp. to 375º
- In a large bowl (or bowl of your stand mixer), add the rough chopped cream cheese to bring it to room temperature faster. Once warmed up, add in sugar and Chai Spice, and beat on medium speed until whipped and creamy. Add the egg white and beat to emulsify. Click picture to make it larger
- Pour the filling into your cooled crust and spread with a spatula. Sprinkle the chopped pecans over top. Set aside
- Peel, halve, core, and slice your apple into 1/8ish” pieces.
- In a medium bowl, whisk the Chai into the sugar. Toss the apple slices in this mixture.
- Lay the sugar coated apple slices over top the cream cheese in rows that slightly overlap.
- Bake for 25-28 mins, or until the cream cheese mixture between the apples has thickened. Allow to cool on a cooling rack until room temperature. Then move to the refrigerator and chill until ready to slice and serve.