10.05.2012

friday sugar high | caramel apple crumble bars.

So my darling dear daughter is slowly venturing into the world of pureed foods and I know you're only supposed to introduce one food at a time, but my inner cooky lacks restraint. Sure, she's technically only had butternut squash (huge success) and a few spoonfuls of vanilla-specked pear sauce, but I've already got a bowl full of fruits & veggies ready to be roasted and blended and sampled by one very eager palate.

I was all set to make her a little applesauce, but it's early October and that means the blogosphere is running rampant with pumpkins & apples & caramel and a girl can only avoid it for so long. I decided the rosy Fuji's in the blue bowl would be destined for a higher calling this time and Quinlan must never know that I slighted her on the applesauce.

And so I searched. I Googled. I asked around. I skimmed my cookbooks. Nothing was jumping out. A few apple-studded cakes here and there, but nothing to get excited about. A crockpot apple butter recipe that sounded decent enough, but it felt like cheating. (Set it and forget it!) And a recipe for caramel-stuffed apple cider cookies that I had every intention on making until I realized it made zero use of the apples at hand.

This recipe found me. No, this recipe hunted me down despite my desperate attempts to avoid it. It just sounded like a lot of work, and while I'm not one to shy away from a baking challenge, I am on a strict schedule of eating baby cheeks and imitating the Cookie Monster at every opportunity. But I saw it here, and then again on a website dedicated to maximizing your daily butter intake, and then dangit if there weren't advertisements popping up all over the place highlighting these blessed Caramel Apple Crumble Bars.


So I gave in. I made them yesterday and I currently have an empty glass of milk and a napkin with gooey caramel smears folded into it sitting in front of me. It was the best decision I've made all week.


Here's what happens: you slice up a few apples and cook them with a little sugar and cinnamon until they go soft and golden and lovely.


Then you melt down a few handfuls of caramel candies with a splash of heavy cream until it's runny and pale brown. And while you may feel yourself becoming overwhelmed with excitement at the pot of bubbling hot caramel, I ask that you resist the urge to dip your finger into the pot for a taste. I can ask you this because I don't want what happened to me to happen to you. There will be shouting followed by an ice pack.

Tip: My husband wore the batteries out on my kitchen scale when he decided he was going to open Thomas House of Deer Butchering this season. The bag of caramels was 14 ounces, so I just took out a small handful and used the rest. I realize this is not exact, but it worked.


And while you're caramelizing those sweet apples and your sauce is cooling slightly, you should be making a crumble topping. Most recipes say something along the lines of, "Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter." I am here to tell you the truth: I do not own a pastry cutter and using two knives is truly the quickest route to the Crazy House. The knives will consistently move the butter out of the way instead of cutting through it and you will become increasingly irritated that, somewhere out there, a recipe writing is laughing her head off at you.

Use your hands. Clump the butter into the dry mixture. Squeeze it and break it apart. Rub it between your finger tips. Right about the time you are breaking a sweat and your biceps are burning like fire, it will be crumbly and ready to go.


Now, for a little assembly. You'll bake about 2/3 of the crumble into the bottom of the pan until it's barely set. Then, pour over the caramel and gently nudge it to the corners of the pan, taking care to cover the entire base. Top it with the apples (by now, they ought to be cool enough to handle with your fingertips, if not, use a fork or just suck it up), taking care to press down any willy-nilly slices that insist on sticking out and showing off.  Crumble over the rest of your oat topping and into the oven it goes until it's bubbling and fragrant and you think you might recommend it as a new scent to Yankee Candle.


This next part will truly test your character. You have to wait. You have to put the entire pan into the fridge and let it cool completely. If you don't, the consequences will be dire. The caramel will run out everywhere. The crumbs will sag. This is not a good thing.

But! Once they're thoroughly chilled, slice them up into squares, get yourself a glass of milk, and go sit on your back porch. Once there, prop your feet up, enjoy the shower of crispy leaves falling onto your freshly cut lawn (thanks, honey!), and enjoy the best thing you'll bake all season.


Original recipe here.

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