The world was too much this week. The world is too much most weeks, but this week in particular the string of disheartening events has felt particularly unrelenting. It’s hard to think of warm and rosy things to say about a frilly baked good when the realities of the world are as dark and seemingly hopeless as they are. What good are a few more photos of a fatty, sugary treat to a world with problems as deep as the ones we’ve got in our own backyards?
I would like to think that baking is a way of bringing some good into the world, of bringing sanity to myself and to the people with whom I share these treats, so that we can get the fuel we need to keep fighting the battles that desperately need to be fought–sometimes over and over again because changing people’s hearts and minds is never easy or fun work. Maybe that’s disillusioned or maybe it’s just silly, but that’s the story I like to tell myself when the world is shitty and upside down and when it doesn’t seem like we will ever dig ourselves out of the holes we’ve artfully dug for ourselves over the millennia. Maybe baking treats and eating them is just a way for some of us to stave off the kind of nihilist leaning that tends to surface at times like this when it appears that we are all more or less completely screwed.
Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars
Recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction
1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour
2 large apples, peeled and thinly sliced (1/4 inch thick)
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup (40g) old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup (70g) packed light or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (30g) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
Preheat the oven to 300°F (149°C). Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper, leaving enough overhang on all sides. Set aside.
Make the crust: Stir the melted butter, granulated sugar, vanilla, and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the flour and stir until everything is combined. Press the mixture evenly into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes while you prepare the filling and streusel.
Make the apple filling: Combine the sliced apples, flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a large bowl until all of the apples are evenly coated. Set aside.
Make the streusel: Whisk the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour together in a medium bowl. Cut in the chilled butter with a pastry blender or two forks (or even with your hands) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.
Remove the crust from the oven, and turn the oven up to 350°F (177°C). Evenly layer the apples on top of the warm crust. It will look like there are too many apple slices, so layer them tightly and press them down to fit. Sprinkle the apple layer with streusel and bake for 30–35 minutes or until the streusel is golden brown.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes at room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (or overnight). Lift the foil or parchment out of the pan using the overhang on the sides and cut into bars. I usually cut them into 16 smaller bars, but you can cut them into 12 larger bars. Once cut, pour salted caramel sauce on top. These apple pie bars can be enjoyed warm, at room temperature, or even cold.
[Tips from the original recipe: The bars will stay fresh in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days. You can freeze the bars for up to 3 months. Then, thaw overnight in the refrigerator before serving and drizzling with caramel.]
Salted Caramel Sauce
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
6 Tablespoons (90g) salted butter, cut up into 6 pieces (unsalted butter works fine too)
1/2 cup (120ml) heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
Heat granulated sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly with a high heat resistant rubber spatula or wooden spoon.
Sugar will form clumps and eventually melt into a thick brown, amber-colored liquid as you continue to stir. Be careful not to burn.
Once sugar is completely melted, immediately add the butter. Be careful in this step because the caramel will bubble rapidly when the butter is added.
Stir the butter into the caramel until it is completely melted, about 2-3 minutes.
Very slowly, drizzle in 1/2 cup of heavy cream while stirring. Since the heavy cream is colder than the caramel, the mixture will rapidly bubble and/or splatter when added.
Allow the mixture to boil for 1 minute. It will rise in the pan as it boils.
Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon of salt. Allow to cool down before using.
Cover the caramel tightly and store for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. Warm the caramel up for a few seconds before using in a recipe.