Have you ever made a recipe that is easy, yet at the same time awkwardly hard?! For me that would be my Grandma Peterson’s Apple Pie Bars. Maybe I just went into the first round of creating the recipe with perceived notions of how it would be. Momma MisHappenings had really talked up the ease with which Grandma used to just whip these all together….it’s so easy…. Let me tell you, that wasn’t my experience but I’ve adapted, concurred, and overcome!
Momma sent me the recipe that Grandma had submitted to the church cookbook, or the county cookbook or some other small town cookbook collaboration. I submit it here as evidence that what my Momma and Aunt remember her doing maybe isn’t correct. They both claim that instead of rolling the first layer of dough, Grandma simply smeared it into the pan with a spoon. I just don’t see how it can work the way they remember! I tried it once and couldn’t at all get it to work for me at all. I’ll guide you through my “new” way, and it comes together fairly easily once you know what you’re in for.
In a mixer, combine the flour, sugar, and salt and mix on low. Slowly add the margarine, or butter, in small cubes to the mixer. The fat should be cool but not cold. If it’s soft enough to smear on bread that’s too soft. I’ve made the recipe with both butter and margarine and I don’t see a marked difference between the two…..just use what you have on hand.
Let the fat combine with the flour and sugar until it reaches a grainy, small pebble consistency. While that works away in the mixer, separate your egg. Add the yolk to a measuring cup and save the white for later. Break up the yolk a bit, then add milk up to 2/3 of a cup. Add the yolk and milk mixture to the mixer and let it work until it comes together as a dough. Shouldn’t take long. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and give it a knead or two to just ensure it’s all together.
I would recommend splitting your dough in half, and then steal some from one half and give it to the other. The bottom crust liner needs to come up and a bit over the sides of the cookie sheet, so give that ball a little bit extra dough to get the job done. Grandma calls for using an 11×15 cookie sheet. I don’t have one of those. I have 2 different sized cookie sheets, a 10×15 and a 12×18. I used the large 12×18 for my first batch because I was afraid of overflowing the pan. This created very thin bars and really there wasn’t enough dough to make it work. This week I used the smaller pan and everything came together much better.
Roll out your bottom dough to the approximate size of the pan, and carefully transfer into the bottom of the cookie sheet. I find that using the rolling pin to help pick up the dough and move it. This bottom crust, according to my Momma, Grandma used to use a spoon to just spread the dough into the pan. I tried this once, but for the life of me I can’t get it to spread. The dough isn’t sticky like a cake batter, it’s stiff like pie dough. If you try this and figure out the secret for spreading the dough be sure you let me know!
I don’t measure out the cornflakes, but just do 3-4 handfuls of cereal and crunch it up a bit in your fist before you add it to the top of the rolled dough. I’m not sure the function of the cornflakes. You can’t taste them, but maybe they help absorb liquid from the apples and keep it from soaking into the crust?! Who knows….I just do it cuz Grandma says you need to. I’ve attempted changing Grandma’s recipes enough to know that they only work the way she says they work…..so I just do what I’m directed now!
You’ll add your apples in on top of the cornflakes. The recipe calls for fresh, but if you’re like me and went a little overkill at the apple orchards this fall….you can also use frozen. I have several quart sized bags of prepped apple pie filling in the freezer so that’s what I use for this recipe. You’ll need 1.5 quart bags for this recipe so just be sure you have the bags thawed in advance. You might notice some liquid at the bottom of your thawed bags, just carefully add that to the apples….don’t worry it won’t make the bottom crust soggy. If you’re not using pre-spiced apple filling, you’ll need to sprinkle a layer of cinnamon over the top of the apples at this point.
You’ll now roll out the top crust for the bars. This needs to join with the overhang of the bottom crust, so you can make it a bit smaller than you did the bottom. You want enough to join the two crusts, but you can’t want too much crust piled up along the edges. Again I find it helpful to use the rolling pin to pick up and move the crust onto the top of your apples. Then just carefully work your way around and pinch the edges together till the whole thing is sealed up. You might get a leak or two, but you don’t need to worry about that too much.
You’ll need to find your egg white at this point….hopefully you still have it sitting there! Add a small splash of water to the white and whip it up a bit using a fork. You don’t have to whip it into stiff peaked merengue, just till it gets a bit frothy. If you have a pastry brush, use it to brush the white across the crust to help create a golden crust. I don’t have a pastry brush, so I just drizzle the froth across the top and then use my fingers to carefully spread it evenly over the crust.
Bake at 400 for 40 minutes or until it’s golden brown. The top crust might have puffed up a bit at this point, it will be fine you don’t need to worry about it too much. You don’t need to glaze the bars if you don’t want to, but if you’re going to you need to do it when they are fresh out of the oven. You’ll need to add a bit more lemon juice or water to the powdered sugar than Grandma says to make a glaze. I find it easiest to use a large spoon and do several haphazard passes of glaze drizzle across the top of the bars. Then, gently use the back of the spoon to spread the glaze….or leave the messy drizzle if that’s more your style. You’ll need to let the bars too before you cut into them, otherwise the apple filling won’t set and you’ll end up with a little bit of a mess. True life story….the slight messiness is totally worth it to eat one of these babies warm!