Chewy Apple-Oat Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting
Aside from the occasional whimsical celebration cake or all-or-nothing recipe involving crazy things like corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk, most recipes that come out of the Piece of Cake kitchen are relatively simple, without a whole lot of complicated stuff going on. As much as I like a culinary challenge, my favorite treats are the kind that sit quietly on the counter and softly call to you all day long as you pass through the kitchen. You know--a sliver here, a nibble there, until all that's left is crumbs and you wonder where the whole thing went. But some things don't fit so neatly in to either category. Like a humble, chunky, apple-studded bar cookie made fancy with a slick of decadent icing.
When I first saw this recipe, I thought, Sweet Lord! That's a whole lotta concepts going on. I mean, these bars are basically a chewy apple pie-oatmeal cookie-cheesecake hybrid. And if you can think of any more delicious things to cram into one sentence, please report to me. Because after I wrapped my brain around the recipe, I could not get it out of my head. With a few tweaks to the add-ins and more sophisticated icing than the original recipe called for, these bars emerged as one of the more addictive things to come out of the Piece of Cake kitchen in recent months.
If you're looking for a great dessert for a tailgate or a pumpkin-carving get-together or just a little something to take over to a friend's house for coffee and Oprah on a rainy day, look no further. The nubbly bar cookie base is crowd-pleasingly familiar, but the white chocolate and cream cheese frosting dresses it up just a bit and adds an amazing punch of flavor. Dusted with cinnamon and cut into two-bite-sized bars, they're autumnal party perfection.
And a quick word about cinnamon: have you ever gotten your hands on some good Vietnamese cinnamon? Because it will completely Blow. Your. Mind. In fact, you may question what kind of lie you've been living using that drab, dusty brown powder from the supermarket all these years. Vietnamese cinnamon is like cinnamon on steroids. It smells and tastes exactly like Red Hots candy, people--hot and so intensely spiced and sweet that you'd think it couldn't possibly come from nature. But it does! And if you're me you trek regularly to a bulk foods emporium with a spectacular spice section to buy it by the cupful while people look at you suspiciously. And then once you get it home, you shove the filled spice tin under every nose that enters the house while being a Vietnamese cinnamon-raving lunatic. It's really something. With high baking season upon us, there's no better time to track some down.
Chewy Apple-Oat Bars with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Icing
Loosely adapted from the Land O' Lakes website, of all places
Refrigerating the bars after icing them will set the icing as well as make for easy, clean cutting of the bars. Their taste and texture actually improve a day after baking, so make them a day ahead whenever possible. For a less decadent variation, skip the icing, and swap out the white chocolate chips for toasted walnuts.
Makes about 20 two-bize-sized bars
For the apple-oat bars:
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup old-fashioned oats (not quick cooking)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
6 tablespoons firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup diced apple (about one small apple, I like Fuji or Honeycrisp)
4 ounces white chocolate chips
For the white chocolate cream cheese icing:
2 ounces white chocolate chips
2 ounces cream cheese, softened but still cool
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup confectioners' sugar (more or less, depending on your sweet tooth and how stiff you want the icing to be)
Ground cinnamon, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8x8 inch square baking pan with aluminum foil (with a few inches of overhang on all sides) and spray the foil lightly with cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and oats and set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Add the sugars and beat until smooth and lightened in color. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat in the egg and vanilla until well-blended. On low speed, blend in the dry ingredients. On the lowest speed or by hand, stir in the apple chunks and white chocolate chips.
Spread the batter into the prepared pan and bake just until a toothpick comes out clean, about 35-38 minutes. Do not overbake. Let the bars cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes, then use the foil "handles" to remove the slab from the pan. Let cool completely on the rack in the foil sleeve, at least 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the icing. In the microwave, melt 2 ounces of white chocolate chips in a small microwave-safe bowl in 30 second bursts at 50% power, stirring after each interval until smooth. In a small bowl, beat together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla until smooth. Add the melted white chocolate and beat until smooth. Beat in the confectioners' sugar until the icing is slightly thickened and sweetened to your liking.
When the bars are completely cool, spread the icing in an even layer over the bars, using the foil to create a dam of sorts that will keep the icing from dripping down the edges of the bars. Refrigerate the bars with the foil sleeve until the icing is firm, at least 1 hour.
Remove the slab from the foil to a cutting board and dust with cinnamon. With a large, sharp knife, cut into about 20 bars. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.