When there’s a birthday at my dad’s place of employment, it has become my job to bake a treat for a celebration during their daily meeting. This is a job I don’t mind; in fact, I love it. It gives me an excuse to bake and a chance to try out new recipes on an audience other than my parents and myself. If they don’t fly off the table, I know it’s a recipe for the trash. Though there have been a couple of times when I love a treat they don’t and vice versa, most of the time when I find a treat delicious, they do too. And these are no different. It also saves them from the grocery store baked goods that look, smell, and taste like they’re filled with preservatives and food colorings that my dad used to buy.
I have to make recipes that serve at least 20 people, so I can have a taste and all of them get at least one portion. This means no pies or layer cakes unless I want to make two (this hasn’t happened yet). Bars are probably my favorite thing to make, as they are yummy and easy, and this recipe did not disappoint. I didn’t use a mixer so there would be fewer dishes at the end, though you definitely could use one. To increase the flavor of the cake, I added extra apples, pecans, and spices from the original recipe. The cake was a little hard to get done, possibly due to our new ovens that seem a little cooler than the old ones and the extra apples, but the slight gooey center of the cake, mostly around the apples may have been the best and most flavorful part. The apples were perfectly soft and the pecans unbelievably crunchy and nearly caramelized, something I don’t understand, but have no complaints about.
The frosting did require a hand mixer to come together. It was a bit of trial and error with adding milk (I used skim, but any milk will do), and I was afraid the frosting was a disaster. Then all of the sudden, it had the perfect balance of milk and sugar and turned into a frosting in an instant. At first I wasn’t sure I liked the frosting by itself, but it grew on me after a couple of tastes, and the rich, deep, not overly sweet flavor of it from the browned butter complemented the cake perfectly. There have been plenty cake and frosting recipes that taste good both together and separately, but I don’t think a cake and frosting have ever been paired as well as these two.
They freeze amazingly. I just pulled one out of the freezer the other night and could barely believe how awesome it was. This recipe is seriously delicious. Give these apple pecan bars a try; I bet you’ll fall in love with the perfect flavor combination too.
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 2 large eggs (pasteurized if you like)
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoons ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 4 cups apples peeled and very coarsely chopped (about 4 apples, any variety)
- 1 cup pecans, very coarsely chopped
- ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 3-4 tablespoons milk
- Make the bars. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a cookie sheet, sheet pan, or jelly roll pan with sides about 1-2 inches high. Line with parchment, then butter the parchment.
- In a large bowl, mix butter, sugar, and brown sugar by hand or using a hand mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in 2 eggs and vanilla until well mixed.
- In a medium bowl mix together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and cloves. While stirring, incorporate dry ingredients into wet. The batter will be very thick; finishing mixing by hand may be necessary. Mix in apples and pecans using spoon or hands; do not use a mixer to avoid breaking the apples and pecans into very small pieces.
- Spread batter evenly into prepared pan, making sure the middle is not much taller than the edges. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick in the center comes out mostly clean (You want it to be mostly done, remembering a couple gooey places are delicious). Cool completely in the pan.
- Make the frosting. Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Once melted, cook, stirring constantly, 5-6 minutes more, until the butter has just started to turn golden. Make sure not to burn the butter. Remove from heat and cool completely in saucepan.
- Once the butter is cool, pour it into a medium bowl and add the powdered sugar and vanilla. Using a hand mixer, beat at medium-low speed, adding small amounts of milk until the frosting comes together and is creamy, but still thick. Spread all of the frosting over the bars, cut, and enjoy.
- Bars may be stored 2 days at room temperature or frozen for up to three months wrapped in parchment and foil and placed in a zipper bag. Thaw at room temperature for at least one hour before consuming.