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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Baked Apple Breakfast

The day is cloudy with sleet starting to rattle against the windows. Just the day for warm houses and lovely baking smells. Three of my grandchildren had a sleep over, and I wanted to have a special breakfast for them before church. However, yesterday's brunch had already featured scrambled eggs, and I wanted to stay with the high carb/high sugar  breakfast breads that so often are the center of special breakfasts.

A small loaf of homemade bread was in the freezer, ready for slicing and toasting, and a large container of cottage cheese is in the fridge, a favorite protein for all the kids. So what could go with these to complete a menu requiring little work? Enter the baked apple--or a reasonable facsimile. Along with glasses of milk and some orange slices, the meal was healthy and really warming.

The following recipe is extremely easy and quick, especially if you won't be peeling the apples. Yes, there is sugar in the recipe, but far less than many of the cupcake-style muffins or other quick breads that I might have chosen. The cranberries were included because I still had a few in the freezer from a previous recipe; if they were omitted, the sugar could probably be reduced further. See the notes after the recipe about sweeteners if this is a concern.

The apples could also be a great addition to a light soup meal too, and the leftovers can be served cold or warmed slightly in the microwave.

Probably the very best features of this recipe are the ease of preparation and the wonderful fragrance wafting through the house. Waking up to baked apples and cinnamon at Grandma's on a sleet-y gray morning--does it really get better than that?

Baked Apples for Breakfast

4 to 5 apples, approximately1 1/3 pounds
1/2 c sliced cranberries (optional)
1/3 c brown sugar, packed
1 t cinnamon
2 T white sugar, approximate (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Core the apples and cut each in about 6 to 8 large pieces. Place in an eight inch square pan.

If using cranberries, sprinkle them evenly over the apples.

Now, sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the top and then sprinkle with the cinnamon. Because brown sugar is hard to spread evenly, I added just enough white sugar to be sure that there was some light sugar topping on every piece of apple.

Place the apples in the preheated oven and bake for about 30 to 40 minutes. About twenty minutes into the baking time, stir enough to be sure all the apple pieces are caramelizing and softening evenly.

This is best served hot or warm. (If using as a dessert, a scoop of good vanilla ice cream would probably be a nice addition.)

How much sugar?

There are so many varieties of apples, that getting the "right" amount of sweetener in recipes like this can sometimes be difficult to judge. The apples I used today are Connell Reds, especially sweet and perfect for this kind of recipe. If I had not included the cranberries, I probably could have used as little as a quarter cup of sugar.

I added the white sugar only because the brown sugar doesn't spread quite as evenly as I wanted. The real work of the sugar here is to provide the caramelization that gives the extra baked apple flavor.

If you are uncomfortable with using brown or white sugars, you could try a thin drizzle of honey or maple syrup. Adding raisins could also provide sweetness for more tart varieties of apples.

In order to keep the full flavor of the apples coming through, I would always err on the side of too little sugar. If you discover that the baked apples are a bit tart, just drizzle the hot apples with maple syrup or honey at that point, or sprinkle on some sugar and cinnamon.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Apple Raisin Bars--with a Mincemeat Variation


Christmas cookies are a distant memory, the Valentine's day chocolate frenzy is over, and the lighter fruit desserts of Easter and early spring are weeks away. So what might be a desert to serve for a late winter/early spring potluck or dinner with friends?

These soft and spicy bars could be a good accompaniment to a hearty soup and bread supper. Not too heavy but satisfying to anyone with a craving for a sweet ending to the meal.

But mincemeat? Really?

Mincemeat is not quite in the category of fruitcake or black licorice (you either love it or hate it), but it does seem to evoke strong preferences for many. If you are someone who really loves the flavor, the cost of this ingredient can be prohibitive; perhaps that is why it seems to have become a feature item only around the winter holidays.

Some time ago, I posted a recipe here for While this is much less expensive than purchased mince meat, you need a source of lots of green tomatoes (along with a fair amount of time) to make a batch. Given the high sugar and acid content of the mix does allow you to make a large batch to have ready in the freezer for pies and recipes like this. Still...

Because of the cost of prepared mincemeat, and the likelihood that you won't be making your own green tomato mincemeat, at least at this season, I have adjusted the original recipe by deveoping a spiced apple and raisin filling that closely approximates the spicy blend and fruity consistency that "real" mincemeat provides.

And if you still want to make mincemeat bars, I've included a variation that returns you to the original recipe.

Apple and Raisin Bars

1/2 c butter, softened
1/4 c canola oil
1/4 c brown sugar
1/2 c sugar
1 1/2 c flour
1/2 t baking soda
1 1/2 c quick rolled oats--not instant

Apple Raisin Filling
3/4 c chopped apples, pressed firmly into the measuring cup1/3 c raisins (chop if you want to duplicate the texture of mincemeat)
1/2 to 1 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
1/4 t ground cloves
2 T sugar

1. Prepare the filling: Combine all the ingredients in a large microwave save bowl and microwave for about 3 minutes, until the apples are fully softened. Allow to cool slightly before spreading.
2.  Cream together the butter, oil, and sugars.

3.  Sift together and add the flour and baking soda. Stir into the creamed mixture and blend well with a fork.

4.  Stir in the oats and blend with a fork until evenly crumbly.

5.  Oil a 7 X 11 (or 9 X 9) inch pan well.  Pat about half of the crumb mixture into the pan, pressing down firmly. Make sure the bottom is evenly covered.

6.  Spread the Apple Raisin Filling evenly over the crust.

7.  Drop the remaining crumble mixture over the top of the fruit mixture and then, using your fingers, spread it as evenly as possible. I like to place a piece of waxed paper over the top after the initial spreading and then press gently but firmly to form a crust rather than just a crumble topping.

8.  Bake at 375 degrees for 28 to 34 minutes, until the top is golden and the filling is slightly bubbly.

9.  Cool in pan before cutting. If desired, drizzle a few lines of powdered sugar icing over the top before cutting. 

Variation: Mincemeat Bars
Prepare the recipe as above, substituting 1 c green tomato or regular mincemeat for the Apple Raisin Filling. If using condensed mincemeat,  prepare according to package instructions.