The good news: the Farmer’s Market at Union Square is still open. The sad news: there’s not a lot to buy. The staples of eggs, bread, and root vegetables are available, but when it comes to fruit, the only plausable items are apples.
Though I’m inspired by my recent trip, eating locally—even for desserts—still has a very strong pull. If the farmer’s helpers can withstand the cold (and the recent Arctic storms) to bring us local produce, I feel like I should take advantage of the opportunity.
As much as I love Apple Pie, I’m not always energized to mix and roll out a pie crust. So in my variation–an easy “pie-less” press-in crust, a buttery shortbread base becomes the vessel to hold a thick layer of caramelized brandy-cinnamon apples topped with an oatmeal walnut streusel.
With this recipe, I recommend making the unbaked crust and streusel ahead of time so they can be chilled to ensure a flakey crumbly texture. You can certainly cook the apples in advance to allow the flavors to intensify.
The more it snows, the more Brandy Apple Bars you want to warm you. In this variation of the American classic, you can eat it with your fingers.
Brandy Apple Bars
recipe adapted from Cathy Odson
make 2 dozen 2-inch bars
1-1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup light brown sugar
6 Granny Smith apples (about 3 pounds)—peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup brandy or calvados
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
1-1/2 cups old fashion rolled oats or quick-cooking oats
1 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
10 tablespoons (5 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes and chilled
1. Preheat the oven to 375° and set baking rack in middle position. Line a 1/4-sheet pan or 9×13 baking pan with parchment paper. In a standing electric mixer fitted with a paddle, beat butter with sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add flour and salt; beat until soft dough forms.
2. Place dough in the prepared baking pan, place plastic wrap over dough and press evenly on the bottom with 1/2 inch up the side. Bake in the center of the oven for about 20 minutes, until the crust is golden and set. Let cool on a rack.
3. In a large skillets, heat 2 tablespoons of butter with light brown sugar over medium heat till foamy. Add the apples to the skillet and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add cinnamon and nutmeg and stir to combine. Cook until apples are caramelized and the liquid hasevaporated, about 10 minutes longer.
4. Remove from heat and add brandy, return skillet to heat and cook over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated. Be sure to scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the skillets. Remove from heat, add the last tablespoon of butter. Stir to combine. Let cool completely.
5. In a large bowl, combine oats, flour, light brown sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry blender or fingers, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the walnuts and press the mixture into clumps. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
6. Spread cooled apple filling over the crust. Scatter the crumbs on top, pressing them lightly into an even layer. Bake 50-60 minutes, until the topping is golden; rotate the pan halfway through baking. Let cool completely on a rack before cutting into 2-inch bars.
The bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 4 days or frozen for up to a month.