Apple Picking + Dorie’s Custardy Apple Squares


Dorie's Custardy Apple Squares | A Sweet Spoonful

Last weekend we went apple picking up near Yakima, a good three hours east of Seattle. We drove over to Harmony Orchards with our friends Brandi and John and met up with many other groups and families to amble about the rows and rows of apples in the unusually warm sun. We missed the annual picking last year as we were on our honeymoon, but the previous year was the one in which we made the colossal mistake of picking over 70 pounds of apples. I’ve never made so much applesauce in my life. This year we practiced restraint in bringing home a cool 38 pounds and after getting them all situated in the basement, I started to leaf through a few cookbooks looking for a great apple recipe — something, preferably, that used quite a few apples, wasn’t too sweet and could double as breakfast or dessert (really, the best kind of recipe). And that’s exactly what we have in these Custardy Apple Squares. 

Dorie's Custardy Apple Squares | A Sweet Spoonful

Harmony Orchards is owned by Sharon and Craig Campbell, and is perched right at the meeting of the Tieton and Naches rivers. There they grow over 40 varieties of cider apples (and some pears) for their bottled ciders over at Tieton Cider Works. The Campbells don’t currently allow the public to come and do u-pick apples, but this one annual day was organized years back and has become a favorite fall tradition for those of us who have been lucky enough to come along. I recognized a few kids this year who have obviously grown significantly and a few friends of friends whom I hadn’t seen in quite some time. There was lots of apple sampling and talk of what we’d all do with our haul, and as I slowly meandered around the orchards feeling quite pregnant, many people asked when our baby was due and pleaded with us to come along next year so they could meet Sprout.

Dorie's Custardy Apple Squares | A Sweet Spoonful

I always say that it takes at least a year after moving somewhere new to finally feel kind of settled — you know, once you find your dentist and person to cut your hair, your favorite place to get coffee and a good walking path. And while I’ve long felt at home now in Seattle, there are other things that help solidify and reinforce that feeling, namely annual traditions that mark the passing of time in some way and keep you rooted to a place and its people. Picking apples in the fall has become that for us. And next year we’ll pull up onto that dirt road likely much less rested and with an almost one-year old in tow.

Dorie's Custardy Apple Squares | A Sweet Spoonful
Sam was a champion picker this year, especially after it became clear that my pregnant belly didn’t really accomodate the new picking baskets. So I did a lot of low apple picking and apple art directing: “oooh, get that one! That one looks goooood.”

Dorie's Custardy Apple Squares | A Sweet Spoonful

Dorie's Custardy Apple Squares | A Sweet Spoonful

We ended up coming home with a bag of Jonagolds, Ambrosias, Ashmead’s Kernal, a few heirlooms and a handful of Golden Delicious. The looming decision for what to bake first was a tough one. I looked through a few favorite well-loved books to begin: Rustic Fruit Desserts, Huckleberry and Short and Sweet. Then I got my weekly email from Splendid Table which featured Dorie Greenspan’s Custardy Apple Squares (originally appearing in Baking Chez Moi) and I changed course quickly: I’d seen these apple squares on many a blog and around the internet; Dorie herself calls it a great “back pocket recipe,” and one that takes little planning or fuss. I was sold.

Dorie's Custardy Apple Squares | A Sweet Spoonful

The gist behind these squares is that they’re really mostly thin layers of apples cloaked in a not-too-sweet batter that bakes up into a humble cake. You slice the apples on a mandolin to get them nice and thin and then whisk up a quick batter and the rest takes care of itself. I used whole wheat flour instead of the all-purpose flour that Dorie calls for and added the tiniest pinch of cinnamon, and I’d say the batter is forgiving enough that you could use many different flours here if you have any laying around you’re looking to use up (spelt, rye, barley, oat would all be great, I imagine).

We were in charge of bringing the snack to our birth class this week, so I cut these up into thin rectangles and they were met with much acclaim. Now it’s time to make another batch for ourselves, and I’d like to think maybe this will become one of those recipes that I make each season — one that Sprout will think of and crave when the leaves start turning each September in Seattle.

Dorie's Custardy Apple Squares | A Sweet Spoonful

Custardy Apple Squares
Ever so slightly adapted from Dorie Greenspan

Dorie mentions that you could add a splash of rum or Calvados if you like, or the zest of an orange or a lemon. Also, she mentions mixing up the fruit and trying it out with pears or quince, too. 

3 medium juicy, sweet apples, such as Gala or Fuji, peeled
1/2 cup (68 grams) whole wheat flour (or all-purpose flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup (67 grams) sugar
Pinch of fine sea salt
Large pinch of ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
6 tablespoons whole milk, at room temperature
2 tablespoons (1 ounce; 28 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Slice the apples using a mandoline, Benriner or a sharp knife, turning the fruit as you reach the core. The slices should be about 1/16th inch thick– elegantly thin, but not so thin that they’re transparent and fragile. Discard the cores.

Whisk the flour and baking powder together in a small bowl.

Working in a large bowl with a whisk, beat the eggs, sugar, salt and cinnamon together for about 2 minutes, until the sugar just about dissolves and, more important, the eggs are pale. Whisk in the vanilla, followed by the milk and melted butter. Turn the flour into the bowl and stir with the whisk until the batter is smooth. Add the apples, switch to a flexible spatula and gently fold the apples into the batter, turning everything around until each thin slice is coated in batter. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top as evenly as you can–it will be bumpy; that’s its nature.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until golden brown, uniformly puffed– make sure the middle of the cake has risen–and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes.

Using a long knife, cut the cake into 8 squares (or as many rectangles as you’d like) in the pan (being careful not to damage the pan), or unmold the cake onto a rack, flip it onto a plate and cut into squares. Either way, give the squares a dusting of confectioners’ sugar before serving, if you’d like.

The cake is good at room temperature the day it’s made, or can also be refrigerated, covered, for up to 2 days and served chilled.

 

Comments

  1. Emily | Gather & Dine

    We host a church small group at our house every Wednesday evening and how I wish I had made these for tonight! They look so lovely with all of those layers of apples. Pinning for later- hopefully will be next week's snack!

  2. Lisa Waldschmidt

    This looks like a keeper. We went to an orchard outside of Madison, WI over the weekend and the added plus was we picked Concord grapes so I have to make the annual Concord grape pie, then apple squares!

    1. megang

      Oh I don't think I've ever had Concord Grape Pie, but it sounds delicious (and I saw photos of yours ... they look great). I've heard Madison has great apples, too. Hope you both are enjoying fall! xo

  3. Christa

    Thanks for sharing the recipe, can't wait to make these!

  4. Sarah

    These look so good! I really want to make them!

  5. Sarah

    Perfect timing- a bag of apples from our neighbours' tree just appeared in our kitchen last night!

  6. Kathleen

    Um, you're darling with that belly! So fun that baby will be here soon!

    I made these after I got her book and really liked them, but I think using a more exciting flour and some spice would give them the extra kick I longed for. Nice idea.

  7. Kate

    Thank you for sharing this recipe! I am living abroad and this was my first baking project in my new place. I only had a round pan and no vanilla but it still turned out delicious. I love how the thinly sliced apples contribute to the custardy-ness of the cake.
    Since my round pan made for pretty thin slices, I wonder how the recipe would double? I may give it a try if I can get my hands on some more good fall apples.

    1. megang

      So glad you enjoyed it, Kate! I have no idea about doubling the recipe but would love to hear how it goes if you give it a whirl. I plan on making them again this week, too. ~Megan

  8. Diane

    Delicious! Made the squares yesterday and shared with neighbours and friends. Everyone loved them! Wondering whether I could replace the flour with ground up oats? My guess is probably not but thought I'd ask an expert :). Thanks!

    1. megang

      Good question, Diane! I probably wouldn't do it all with ground up oats but you could try subbing out 1/2 of the amount of flour with ground up oats (or oat flour) and see what happens. Let me know if you try it!

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