I have been trying to put together a menu for the annual holiday open house that Tom and I host each December -- it's coming up in a few short weeks and it takes a lot of planning to figure out what we should serve in light of all of the limiting variables: oven space, refrigerator space, freezer space, and most importantly, time, both before and during the party. So I've been reading through a lot of cookbooks lately looking for inspiration. In the process of doing this, I happened to flip by the recipe for "Applesauce Spice Bars" in Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours. It so happens that just last week I was cleaning out the fridge and I debated whether or not the throw out a half-empty jar of unsweetened applesauce (still perfectly good, but we don't really eat applesauce -- I bought the jar for one of my attempts at making grapefruit jellies). I ended up saving it, and decided to put it to good use.
There is a photo of these bars in the cookbook, and to be honest, they don't look all that interesting. However, Dorie's headnote says, "Don't pass these up because they seem too simple and old-fashioned. They are homey, true, but they're also irresistibly good, the kind of sweet you can serve to both little kids and know-it-all adults."
Both the batter and glaze for these bars are made in a pot on the stove. To make the cake, you melt butter, add in brown sugar and stir until melted and smooth, and then remove the pan from the heat. Then you add in eggs, applesauce, vanilla, and liquor (optional -- I skipped it), fold in the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, and salt), and incorporate a chopped baking apple, pecans, and raisins (I used golden). You bake the bars, and while they cool, you make the glaze by cooking heavy cream, brown sugar, butter, and corn syrup on the stove, simmering the mixture (no thermometer needed) until it reduces to a thick caramel-like consistency. Then you add vanilla, and spread the glaze on the bars.
I didn't love these bars -- they had the soft consistency of cake, which seemed odd, given that these aren't supposed to be a "cake." I guess I expect a "bar" to have a chewier texture. Also, I wasn't thrilled with the spice mix; I was hoping these would taste like apple pie, but they definitely did not. Finally, I thought that the glaze was a little too sweet. I did appreciate the different textures of the mix-ins, especially the raisins, which were my favorite part. Even though these bars were well received, I don't think I'll be making them again.
Recipe: "Applesauce Spice Bars," from Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan, available here on amazon.com.