Apple Pie Bars with apples, pears, and raisins … plus tips for making fruit bars.
I've tried to make fruit bars a few times, but have never been terribly excited about the results. Well, except that first time, when I made fig bars all dressed up as a fig crostata. I was fresh from Italy and full of crostata ideas from all the pasticcerie I had visited, and they were fantastic. Little did I know that my bar making skills had just peaked.
I followed up with some berry bars a couple of summers ago. I remember confidently thinking – “I don't need a recipe. I'll just throw them together. First a crust, throw on some berries and sugar, and top it all with a buttery crumble.” In my inflated mind, I was ready to stage at a French Michelen-starred restaurant as a pastry chef.
The flavors were good, really-how can one can wrong with berries, butter, sugar, and flour? But instead of neat little bars I could eat with my fingers, it was cobbler with yucky, soggy dough. I threw it all away along with some of my swagger.
I tried again with some pumpkin bars last fall. I had tiny pumpkin pie pieces in my mind, topped with a ginger crumble. They came out of the oven so pretty, but COMPLETELY fell apart into an orange mess when I picked one up. Frustrated, I abandoned bars and set my sights on other desserts. God knows, there's plenty of others to pick from.
But I couldn't forget those bars. The whole appeal for me is that they looked so easy to make, like something a nonna would throw together at the last minute while dinner simmered. I needed to try again. I decided to make Apple Pie Bars and determined to get it right this time. I cleared my schedule, and did my homework. I pulled every cookbook down from the shelves that I thought might have recipes for fruit bars. If there were secrets, and clearly there were, I figured Martha, Alice Waters and Nancy Silverton would be all over it. I paged through Jennie Schacht's Farmer's Market Desserts (a wonderful cookbook!), and one of my favorites, In Season-Cooking With Vegetables and Fruits, by Sarah Raven, for good measure.
The result? My husband thought these Apple Pie Bars were so good, he wanted to take them to a popular cafe in town, The Depot, to see if they'd like to sell them. “We'll be rich!”, he shouted. But between you and me, I think he was thinking up a way he could have them everyday for the rest of his life.
So now I'll share some tips that I learned along the way that really do make a difference.
Tips for Making Fruit Bars
1. When making the bottom crust, switch out 1/4 cup of the flour and replace it with cornstarch. A buttery crust wants to crumble, and the cornstarch will allow it to hold its shape when cutting it into bars, and when eating them as finger food. Even the fluted crust held firm with every cut, but still melted in my mouth.
2. Switch out a little of the butter for cream cheese. You don't need a lot, I only used 2 tablespoons in this recipe, but it makes the dough much easier to work with when rolling out, and fitting into a tart pan with sharp edges.
3. Bake the crust until lightly browned BEFORE adding the filling.
4. Cook the filling on the stove top until it's past the soupy stage. It shouldn't be dry, but if I draw a spoon through the middle of the cooked fruit, the line remains intact for a few seconds.
5. Bake for at least 40 minutes once it's completely assembled to cook the flour and set the crumble. If it's a particularly crumbly top, and you plan them as finger food, thoroughly mix 1 egg white into the crumble with your hands. I didn't do this since my crumbles were larger, and I knew we'd be using plates. But it totally works.
6. Apple filling will have more depth of flavor with two kinds of apples. I used Fugi and Honey Crisp, and threw in some pears for a contrast in texture. That said, feel free to stick with all apples if that's your preference.
Apple Pie Bars
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 2 sticks unsalted butter
- 2 Tbsp cream cheese
- 3 apples peeled, cored and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)
- 3 pears peeled, cored and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
- 3 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 3 Tbsp honey
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- 3/4 tsp ground ginger
- 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1/8 tsp cornstarch only if the filling is very soupy
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- Place the flour, cornstarch, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Swoosh it around a few times. Cut the butter into pieces no bigger than a tablespoon and add to the bowl along with the cream cheese. Pulse until it begins to come together into a dough.
- Spill the contents out onto a lightly floured workspace and knead the dough a few times to bring it into a solid dough. Flatten in a disk shape, wrap in wax paper, and chill for at least 2 hours, or up to 2 days.
- Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
- Roll out the dough between two sheets of wax paper until it’s large enough to fit into an 8” X 11” rectangular tart pan with a removable bottom. Gentle fold the dough over the tart pan and lift each side up and tuck into the corners. Remove any excess dough and discard.
- Dock the dough by pricking with the prongs of a fork a whole bunch of times and bake for 20 – 25 minutes, or until lightly browned.
- Prep the apples and pears and melt the butter with the honey in a large pan over medium heat. Add the fruit and cook until very soft, about 15 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients EXCEPT the cornstarch and raisins, and simmer until for another 10 minutes until the filling thickens.
- Dip an immersion blender into the filling and whirl it around 7-8 times until roughly half of the apples and pears are broken up. If you don’t have one, just remove 4 cups of the filling and pulse a few times with the food processor before returning it to the pan. If the filling is very soupy, add the cornstarch. You should be able to draw a line through the filling using a wooden spoon, and have the line hold for a few seconds.
- Stir in the raisins and cool.
- Mix the Crumble ingredients together in a large bowl using your fingers to form a buttery crumble
- Pour the Filling over the baked tart crust. Spread the Crumble over the top.
- Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes, or until the Crumble begins to brown. Cool for 10 minutes before removing the tart bottom from the frame. Cool an additional 15 minutes before slicing into bars, if you can wait that long.