Apple Shortbread Bars

Apple Shortbread BarsEvery year, I get so concentrated on making pumpkin treats that I nearly forget the other flavors of fall! That’s really a shame—what’s fall without maple, pear, sweet potato, and even grape?! I have recipes highlighting each of those flavors (and even more pumpkin things!) on the docket between now and Thanksgiving, but today, I’m all about apples.

Specifically, these Apple Shortbread Bars 🍎🍎🍎

Apple Shortbread BarsThese bars are an autumnal twist on a sweet cherry treat I made this past summer. They’re basically apple pie for people who don’t have the time and energy to make apple pie…like me right now.

Apple Shortbread BarsWhile I love the process of making pie (and eating pie, duh), I rarely have the time to do so. Between making and chilling the dough, preparing the filling, baking, and cooling, pie can easily be a 4+ hour commitment. Unless it’s a holiday, or I’ve somehow curbed my procrastination 😬😬, that simply isn’t going to happen.

Apple Shortbread BarsApple Shortbread Bars are very mid-week-pie-craving-friendly. From peeling and dicing the apples…

Apple Shortbread BarsApple Shortbread BarsApple Shortbread Barsto stirring them into a perfectly-spiced filling…

Apple Shortbread BarsApple Shortbread Barsto making an easy four-ingredient brown sugar shortbread…

Apple Shortbread BarsApple Shortbread Barsto assembling and baking…

Apple Shortbread BarsApple Shortbread BarsApple Shortbread Barsto cooling, and slicing…

Apple Shortbread BarsApple Shortbread BarsApple Shortbread Barsthese bars take just a couple of hours.

Apple Shortbread BarsYep, that’s how you get your homemade apple pie fix on a Wednesday.Apple Shortbread Bars

Apple Shortbread Bars
makes one 9-inch pan, about 9-16 bars

Filling:
2 large baking apples,* peeled and 1/2-inch diced (about 3 cups of apple chunks)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Shortbread:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes

Place oven racks in top and bottom positions. Preheat oven to 375F. Line a 9-inch square pan with aluminum foil, leaving overhang on two sides. Grease foil with butter. Set aside.

Make apple filling. In a large mixing bowl, combine diced apples and apple cider vinegar. Fold in light brown sugar, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, salt, and cornstarch. Set aside while you make the shortbread.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, light brown sugar, and salt. Add cold butter. Use your fingertips to rub butter into flour until the largest pieces are the size of small peas. It will be powdery, but should hold together when pinched. Set aside 1 cup of the mixture for topping.

Pour remaining shortbread mixture into prepared pan. Spread it around to cover the bottom of the pan before using your hand to pack it down into an even layer. Prick several times with a fork. Spoon apples over the top, leaving behind any excess liquid.

For the topping, use your fingers to pinch together small portions of the reserved shortbread mixture. Scatter them over the top of the apple layer.

Bake bars on the bottom rack of the oven for 20 minutes. Move bars to the top rack and bake for an additional 10-12 minutes, until browned. Tent with foil if anything begins to brown too quickly. Let bars cool in the pan on a rack until they reach room temperature.

Use foil overhang to remove bars to a cutting board. Carefully peel off foil. Use a large, sharp chef’s knife to slice into squares. Serve.

Leftover Apple Shortbread Bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days, or in the refrigerator for up to four. They will soften over time.

Note:

I like to use two different varieties of apple for a more complex flavor. For these bars, I used a tart Granny Smith and a sweet Honeycrisp.

Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsWhy is it that I always want to make pie when I simply don’t have the time? I would love to take a week off of work just to make pie and drink cold brew, but I know for a fact that I would make exactly one pie and spend the rest of the week trying to get to the beach.

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsI’m looking forward to many adventures this summer, but for now, it’s mostly business as usual: lots of work, lots of baseball-watching, lots of late nights, pounds and pounds of seasonal fruit, and every intention of making pie. But again, there is no time for all the rolling and cutting and chilling that goes with pie. Not this week, anyway. I think I’ll just stick with these Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars instead.

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsThese bars have everything you love about sweet cherry pie, but are half the work. Less than half, even. There’s buttery crust and crunchy, nubbly topping. There’s sticky, not-too-sweet cherry filling. And there’s exactly zero chilling, rolling, crimping, and railing at the universe because the heat is melting all the butter in your must-must-must-stay-cold pie dough. That’s my kind of summer day dessert.

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsSweet Cherry Shortbread Bars come together fairly quickly and are very simple to make. Leave your mixer in the cabinet—you won’t need it today. Just fold together a couple pounds of pitted sweet cherries (feel free to use frozen), sugar, nutmeg, cornstarch, and salt. I like to add a bit of almond extract too, as it pairs well with cherries, but feel free to leave it out if you don’t have any or are allergic to tree nuts. The filling will look powdery at first, but it will release some liquid as it sits.

The next step is making the shortbread. I freaking love shortbread. It requires minimal ingredients and ability, and is far more than the sum of its parts. Here, it serves as both the crust and the topping. To make this shortbread, just rub cold butter into a mixture of flour, sugar, and salt. A cohesive dough will not form—the mixture will be powdery overall, but should hold together when pinched. Once the butter is broken down in the dry ingredients, set aside a cup of the mixture for topping.

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsSweet Cherry Shortbread BarsSweet Cherry Shortbread BarsNext, assemble the bars. Pour the remaining shortbread mixture into a foil-lined square baking dish and press it into an even layer. Then, dock it with a fork.

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsSweet Cherry Shortbread BarsSweet Cherry Shortbread BarsTop the crust with the cherry mixture, discarding any excess liquid. Grab that reserved cup of the shortbread mixture. Working with just a little bit at a time, pinch it together and scatter little clumps of dough over the cherries. When that’s done, bake the assembled bars for 40-50 minutes, transferring the pan to the bottom rack at the halfway point. You’ll know they’re done when the filling just barely jiggles when the pan is jostled. Oh, and when your kitchen smells incredible 😊

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsAnd now, for the hard part—cooling. Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars must cool to room temperature before you slice them. It’s the difference between the clean edges you see here and a gooey, crumbly mess. If you are short on time (or just impatient), you may place the pan in the freezer once you can handle it without oven mitts. It’ll bring the bars to room temperature in 45 minutes or so.

Once the bars are cool, use the foil overhang to remove them to a cutting board and peel off the foil. I find this easiest to do by removing the foil on the sides, slicing the bars, and then using a thin spatula to lift them from the foil on the bottom. However you go about it though, you’re in for a treat. 

Sweet Cherry Shortbread BarsLook at these beauties! That buttery, flaky shortbread and the beautiful cherry filling—I can’t get enough. Who needs pie when you can have Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars?!Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars

Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars
makes one 9-inch square pan, about 9 bars

Cherry Filling:
2 pounds whole sweet red cherries, stemmed and pitted
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons cornstarch
pinch of Kosher or sea salt
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract (optional)

Shortbread:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes

Place oven racks in top and bottom positions. Preheat oven to 375F. Line a 9-inch square pan with aluminum foil, leaving overhang on two sides. Grease foil with butter. Set aside.

Make cherry filling. In a large mixing bowl, combine pitted cherries, sugar, nutmeg, cornstarch, salt, and almond extract. Fold everything together with a silicone spatula. Set aside, stirring occasionally, while you make the shortbread.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, and salt. Add cold butter. Use your fingertips to rub butter into flour until the largest pieces are the size of small peas. It will be powdery, but should hold together when pinched. Set aside 1 cup of the mixture for topping.

Pour remaining shortbread mixture into prepared pan. Spread it around to cover the bottom of the pan before using your hand to pack it down into an even layer. Prick several times with a fork. Pour cherries over the top, discarding any excess liquid.

For the topping, use your fingers to pinch together small portions of the reserved shortbread mixture. Scatter them over the top of the cherry layer.

Bake bars on the top rack of the oven for 20 minutes. Move bars to the bottom rack and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, until the filling just barely jiggles when the pan is jostled. Tent with foil if anything begins to brown too quickly. Let bars cool in the pan on a rack until they reach room temperature.

Use foil overhang to remove bars to a cutting board. Carefully peel off foil (see post above for my method). Use a large, sharp chef’s knife to slice into nine squares. Serve.

Leftover Sweet Cherry Shortbread Bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to three days, or in the refrigerator for up to four.