Friday, November 12, 2004

Sugar High Friday – Try, try again…

Much as I love to make cookies, I’ve never had enough of a grasp of the science of baking to feel comfortable tinkering with a recipe. When it comes to cookies, I follow instructions. But for Sugar High Friday (SHF), as with Is My Blog Burning (IMBB), my goal is to create something that is my own (if for no other reason than so I can include the recipe in my post). Given that I failed to do so for the last SHF, the pressure was on for SHF2. The theme this time is Apples and the event is hosted again by it's founder, Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess.

As readers of my blog know, I’ve just started a long term cookie project. I’m planning (hoping) to make every cookie in Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Cookies, so of course it was one of her cookies that popped into my head when I was trying to come up with an idea. Her Cinnamon Almond Cookies are delicious – they have a cinnamon shortbread base covered with sliced almonds and topped with a lemon glaze. There’s a lot of cinnamon in the dough, enough to color the dough brown, but more importantly enough to give the cookies a distinctive cinnamon flavor. My idea was to take this base, add some pecans to the dough and then top the cookies with apple slices. The problems I anticipated were getting the apples and cookie base done at the same time, dealing with the moisture released by the apples, and making the apples stick to the cookies.

The last problem turned out to be relatively simple compared to the other two. I looked at apple tart recipes in my cookbooks and on-line and decided that apricot jam would be the perfect “glue” for this project. What I didn’t consider was that this would probably also contribute to the moisture problem. In my first attempt, I didn’t really address the moisture problem – I just hoped if I cooked the cookies a little longer and a little hotter there wouldn’t be a problem. I was wrong. Here’s the recipe from my first attempt…

Apple Tart Bars – Take One
(I don’t recommend you try this without making some adjustments)

2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
1 cup finely chopped pecans
1/3 – ½ cup apricot jam
2 Granny Smith apples
1 tbs butter, melted
extra sugar to sprinkle on top

Preheat oven to 325 F. Butter a 10 ½ by 15 inch pan and line with parchment. Cream butter, add sugar and cinnamon and blend well. Add egg yolk and vanilla and blend. Gradually add flour at low speed and mix until incorporated. Add pecans. Press dough into pan and flatten (put wax paper on top and use a straight sided glass to smooth dough into an even layer). Warm the apricot jam in the microwave and stir to loosen it. Spread over the dough with a rubber spatula. Arrange thin slices of apple in a single layer over the dough. Brush melted butter over the apples and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 40 minutes, raise temperature to 350 F and bake for 15 minutes more or until apples are nicely browned.

If you follow the instructions above, what you remove from the oven will look lovely and smell heavenly, but it won’t be a cookie. Actually, it tastes pretty good, but the texture is soft and wet. It might be good hot with some vanilla ice cream.

I decided to try again but this time I would bake the dough first, then add the jam and apples and bake some more. My concern with this method was that the cookie might overcook by the time the apples were well cooked. For my second attempt, I decided to cut the recipe in half.

Apple Tart Bars – Take Two
(this works, though it still needs some timing and/or temperature adjustments)

1 stick unsalted butter
½ cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
about ½ egg yolk (I probably used a little more)
½ tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
¼ cup apricot jam
1 Granny Smith apple
2 tsp butter, melted
extra sugar to sprinkle on top

Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter an 8 inch square pan and line with parchment. Follow instructions above to mix dough and spread in pan, but do not add jam or apples yet. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove and spread with warm apricot jam. Arrange apples over jam, brush with melted butter, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until apples are browned, about 40 minutes. (With this temperature and timing the cookies were overdone – probably should start with 300 F, which is the temperature in the original recipe, and raise the temperature to 350 after the apples are added.)

I have one more idea about how to make this work. Bake the cookie without the jam and apples for 45 minutes at 300 F. Cool, cut into bars and store. Bake the apple slices separately until nicely browned. To serve, spread some apricot jam on the cookie and top with an apple slice. I haven’t tried this and I’m not sure it would be quite as satisfying as having the apple baked into the cookie, but it might be the only way to get the cookie and the apple done just right.

I came home this evening and considered making one last try, but opted instead for the perfect apple dessert… a Pink Lady apple all by itself. Oh so easy, but oh so good!


Zarah Maria said...

Such stamina Cathy! I'd given up after the first run - well, that or went for the apple! Looks good and I like the idea - it sounds like kind of a solid crumble thing and I'm good with crumbles...

Cathy said...

Hi Zarah Maria - they weren't that hard to throw together and I was so disappointed the first time... Anyway, I've been eating them for the last couple of days and I've decided the second batch came out quite well. The edges were a bit overdone, but the rest is good. I had planned to throw the rest out by now, but I like them too much to do that!

Anonymous said...

Sorry it didn't work out like you were hoping, but a big thumbs up to you for the effort you put into it. Oh, and a Pink Lady apple definitely sounds like a wonderful treat...I LOVE them!


Cathy said...

Alice - thanks! I only discovered Pink Lady apples recently - I think it was an article in Cooking Light that ranked them as first runner up to Braeburn (another of my favorites) as best all around apple. It's not a variety I see at the farmer's market, but they have them in Whole Foods from time to time.