On any given day, there’s a 96% chance I’m being a human garbage monster.
For better or for worse, though, the universe finds a way of evening itself out. Tank enough first dates “for LOL funsies,” and you’ll find yourself out with a 37-year-old divorcé who tells you all about how his first marriage failed because his ex-wife lost interest in sex, but…*locks eyes and winks*…he didn’t.* Beg your Lyft driver to play “Bitch Better Have My Money” enough times, and you’ll find yourself 20 minutes north of Glenmont asking that same Lyft driver the same question the next morning as you try to track down your wallet, with nothing to your name but your half-dead phone and half-on makeup and a half-eaten Jumbo Slice. Karma, you are a cruel, cruel mistress.
So, to keep the cosmic scales in balance, I try to “give back” and “make a difference” every once in a while, including helping to lead a Girl Scout troop. Yes, someone has allowed me to do this, and no, no one has gotten lost or caught on fire yet. Anyways, we took the girls out to Homestead Farms for some good old-fashioned apple picking last weekend (am I part of the Mormon Mommy Mafia yet?”), because it’s important to teach girls to feel empowered, and that the only person who can make you feel basic is the person staring back at you in the mirror.**
Also, I now understand the “never grow up” trope. These girls were so energetic and ambitious and smart and creative, and I just wanted to shake them by the shoulders and tell them, “Do not let go of this feeling! Hold onto it! Streetlights! People! Woahhhhh!” One girl was telling me how she wants to go to Johns Hopkins University because that’s where Rachel Carson went, and she wants to be the next Rachel Carson and save the environment. You can do that, small child! There is a Nobel Prize with your name on it and you need to take what’s yours! I don’t know how apple picking will empower girls to overcome structural misogyny and pursue a career in STEM, but all the Girl Scout literature tells me this is where it starts. I mean, I was a Girl Scout for 13 years, plus a Girl Scout intern, and god knows I have the confidence of an entire team of lax bros combined.
That said, once they hit 20-something ennui, they’re on their own. I used to want to be POTUS, now I write tweets for a living. Coooooooool.
Moving on from my quarter-life crisis, when life gives you apples, you make APPLE EVERYTHING. Apple pies apple scones apple cider apple crisp apple butter applesauce apple bread. I suppose I could just eat the apples in their natural fruit form, but how will I keep warm at night if I don’t have my nutrition degree and the tens of thousands of dollars I spent on it to set fire to? Anyways, I came home and was a Pinterest nightmare for a few hours (KEEP PINNING FOR THE GLORY) before settling on a series of apple recipes to make this week. That’s right, people, it’s time for Basic Bubba Gump.
My first intention was to make a salted caramel apple pie, but I was a little worried about transporting it to work (also, everyone can see when you’ve already eaten a slice out of a pie, and I think there’s something to be said for keeping a little mystery in a relationship), so I settled on salted caramel apple bars instead. These are stupidly delicious, and are also fairly simple to make for a layer bar, and by “fairly simple” I mean “requires three bowls and only one actual batter.” Can you stir ingredients together? Can you melt sugar over the stove? Then you can make these bars. I’d also strongly recommend making your own salted caramel. Very high ROI.
[Confession: I had never actually made caramel before? Rising terminal? Caramel is one of my favorite dessert flavors/families, and I decided this culinary ignorance was unacceptable, kind of like how I didn’t know how to open a bottle of wine until age 23, despite being able to drink several in one sitting. Turns out caramel is literally just melting sugar, butter, and cream together. The more you know! Self-efficacy! I have not been Chopped!]
Salted Caramel Apple Bars (adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction)
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup all-purpose flour (I used whole wheat flour and it turned out fine)
- 2 large apples, peeled and thinly sliced (Homestead Farms had Aztec Fuji, Pink Lady, and Enterprise that day, but I’m sure you could use whatever suits your fancy)
- 2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
- 1/3 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, cold and cubed
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 6 Tablespoons salted butter, cubed
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon salt [A note about the salt: do not make up for unsalted butter with extra salt. You will regret it, as I did]
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Grease an 8×8 inch baking pan (I used nonstick spray) and set aside.
Make the crust: Stir the melted butter, granulated sugar, vanilla, and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the flour and stir until everything is combined. Press the mixture evenly into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes while you prepare the filling and streusel.
Make the apple filling: Combine the sliced apples, flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a large bowl until all of the apples are evenly coated. Set aside.
Make the streusel: Whisk the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour together in a medium bowl. Cut in the chilled butter (recipe suggests a pastry cutter, but I just used my hands. A fork will work nicely too, just be sure not to “stir” the butter into the mixture too much) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.
Remove the crust from the oven, and turn the oven up to 350°F. Layer apples on top of warm crust (try to get this layer as even as possible for the streusel topping doesn’t fall off when cut into later), and sprinkle with streusel on top and bake for 30–35 minutes or until the streusel is golden brown.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes at room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (I left mine in overnight).
When ready to eat, make caramel. In saucepan over medium heat, heat sugar, stirring regularly, until it is fully melted and a dark amber color. Once melted, stir in the butter until completely melted, about 2 minutes. Slowly drizzle in the heavy cream, bring to a boil for one minute, and remove from heat. Add salt and stir, and allow to cool.
Cut into bars, and once cut, drizzle salted caramel sauce on top of each. I refrigerated these again overnight because I’m a sicko who puts candy bars in the freezer for that break-your-teeth texture, but I’m sure they’re great at room temperature as well. Pour yourself a cup of hot spiked apple cider, and contemplate how you will cash in your Universe Points with your indirect good deed of supporting the Girl Scouts.
*I could not make this up if I tried.
**You, and possibly a g-g-g-g-GHOOOOOOOOST.