Monday, September 12, 2011

Johnny Appleseed Squares

"Oh, The Lord's been good to me
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need,
The sun and the rain and the apple seed,
The Lord's been good to me."
(Johnny Appleseed Hymn)

      Most school-age children in the United States have heard of Johnny Appleseed, the legendary American frontiersman who planted apple trees over large parts of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois from seeds recovered from cider mills. From all accounts he was quite an individual! So, while browsing through a copy of Maida Heatter's Book of Great American Desserts, the recipe for these Johnny Appleseed Squares caught my eye. An apple for the teacher? Works for me.

     These bars were sweet, spicy, chewy and chunky and tasted like fall, if that's possible, and the thinly sliced apples sandwiched between the layers of spicy, chewy, chunky oatmeal made them wonderfully moist. The cake-like squares were delicious all by themselves, but I can just imagine how they'd taste topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and gooey caramel drizzled over the top.

     Maida says that she first tasted these bar type cookies at a "gift shop somewhere along the spectacular Skyline Drive in Virginia" and immediately requested the recipe. Skyline Drive, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, has been a fall destination for our family ever since I can remember. The colorful panoramas are breathtaking, and apples are plentiful. Jugs of sweet cider and jars of rich apple butter abound at orchard stands along the route. We haven't made our annual apple pilgrimage yet - we usually time it to coincide with the "peak" leaf color- but cool nights and crisp mornings tell me that I won't have too much longer to wait!

Johnny Appleseed Squares
from Maida Heatter's Book of Great American Desserts
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or mace
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
2/3 cup dark or light brown sugar, firmly packed (I used dark.)
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 to 3 firm cooking apples (I used 2 large apples.)
1/2 cup toasted pecans, cut or broken into small/medium size pieces (optional)

  • Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 9 inch square baking pan with foil, making sure the edges extend over the edges of the pan for easy removal. Butter foil then place the prepared pan in the freezer. (This makes it easier to spread a thin layer of dough in the pan.)
  • Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg or mace. Stir in the oats and sugar. In a small bowl, stir together the butter, egg, and vanilla and mix into the oat mixture.
  • Press half of the dough (1 cup) into the prepared pan. Set aside.
  • Place the remaining dough between two 12 inch lengths of wax paper and roll out into a 9-inch square. (It will be very thin.) Slide a flat cookie sheet under the dough and wax paper and transfer it to the freezer for a few minutes.
  • Meanwhile, peel, quarter and core the apples and cut each quarter lengthwise into 5 or 6 slices. (Not too thick.) Place the apple slices in rows, each slice slightly overlapping another, to cover the bottom layer of dough. Sprinkle with the nuts.
  • Remove the rolled-out square of dough from the freezer, peel off the top piece of paper, turn the dough over the apples. Remove the remaining paper and press down on the edges of the dough. 
  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. About 10 minutes before the cake is done, if the top has not started to brown, raise the rack to a higher position.
  • Cool in the pan.  Lift cake out using the edges of the foil, and cut into squares or bars. (Maida says that chilling the cake makes it easier to cut neatly. She also adds that they freeze well.)
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