Make-ahead recipe for Christmas: Apple Pie Bars
This year Christmas will be very different. In my case, it will be away from my extended family in Brazil.
For my family, this is the most important holiday of the year. A chance to gather with people we love the most, share love, stories, and memories.
My husband and I are in the high-risk group, so we are not taking any chances. We know COVID is here to stay, and we plan to do our part to be safe and protect others.
That said, it does not mean we cannot celebrate!
When planning my holiday menu, I consider time, real estate, and taste, as I don’t have family help where we live.
What can I fit in my oven or stovetop on the big day, and what can I make in advance to save time? Whether I am cooking for my family of 4 or a few more, my big day tasks will be minimum with a little planning and strategy.
Try these Apple Pie Bars, flavored with cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. These bars from Genevieve Ko are topped with a buttery walnut crumble. They are delicious and a back-pocket dessert for ambitious cooks with big day-of plans.
Note walnuts are super nutritious and rich in Omega-3s, which means they are anti-inflammatory besides being delish!
Plan ahead: though these bars are best fresh out of the oven the day they are baked, they can be sliced and refrigerated for up to two days or frozen for up to one month ahead.
You can also replace the ingredients with gluten-free, sugar-free, and dairy-free options to help reduce inflammation, especially if you have an autoimmune disease like me.
For the crust and topping:
Softened butter, for greasing pan
3 cups/385 grams all-purpose flour
1 cup/200 grams sugar
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 sticks/340 grams cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
¾ cup/75 grams walnuts, toasted and chopped
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
For the apple filling:
1 ½ pounds/680 grams tart apples, such as Granny Smith (about 3 large), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/8-inch slices
1 ½ pounds/680 grams sweet-tart apples, such as Fuji, Pink Lady, or Gala (about 3 large), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/8-inch slices
3 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup/55 grams unsalted butter (1/2 stick)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
⅔ cup/135 grams sugar
Make the crust and topping: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by-13-inch cake pan with foil with overhang on all sides. Lightly grease a pan with softened butter.
Pulse flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor with the blade attachment to mix. Add butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand.
Put 1 1/2 cups in a medium bowl and mix in walnuts, cinnamon, and cardamom. Squeeze with your hands to form a solid mass of dough. It’s OK if a few bits fall off. Cover and refrigerate.
Pour the remaining mixture into the prepared pan and spread in an even layer, then press into the bottom of the pan and 1/2 inch up the sides.
Bake until golden brown and dry to the touch, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Raise oven temperature to 375 degrees.
While crust bakes, make the filling: Toss all of the apples with the lemon juice in a large bowl.
Melt butter in a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat. Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom and sizzle for 15 seconds.
Add apples and cook, stirring often, until just starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Add sugar and mix well.
Cook, occasionally stirring, until all liquid releases from the apples then evaporate, 10 to 15 minutes. The mixture should be quite dry and the apples tender, but not sticking to the pan.
Remove from heat and cool. (Tip: If you want your apples to cool quickly, spread them on a parchment-lined sheet pan and pop in the freezer for 5 to 7 minutes.)
Spread apple filling evenly over crust and press down gently to eliminate any gaps between the apple slices.
Uncover the reserved walnut mixture and break off pebble-sized pieces. Arrange pieces in a lattice or striped pattern over filling or scatter evenly on top.
Bake until the topping is golden brown, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a rack.
To serve, lift apple pie bars out of the pan and onto a large cutting board. Slide bars off foil, then cut into 6 even strips crosswise, and 4 even strips lengthwise.
The unbaked crust and topping, reserved in the bowl and pressed into the pan, can be refrigerated for up to 2 days before baking or frozen for up to 1 month and used directly from the freezer. The cooked apple pie filling can be refrigerated for up to 2 days and used straight from the refrigerator.
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