(vegan baking + other minor obsessions)
Autumn is my favourite time of the year and surely one of the great things about the British autumn is Bramley apples. My father-in-law grows them in his garden and even though it has generally been a bad year for apples in the UK, his Bramley tree has still given us a bountiful supply. It doesn’t get more local or more organic than this!
As it starts to get chillier, I love to fill my kitchen with the aromas of spices. These bars combine juicy, flavourful apples with almonds and a good dose of nutmeg and allspice. I didn’t want to go the usual route by using cinnamon, but of course you can add some if that is what you fancy. My latest ingredient crush is coconut sugar and I have used it in all the layers here to round these bars off with its intense caramelly tones – feel free to substitute light brown sugar or granulated sugar if you can’t find coconut sugar or if you prefer a milder flavour.
And last but not least, all three component parts of this recipe are great basic recipes in their own right. The shortbread can be rolled and cut into biscuits or used as a pastry crust for tarts; the crumble is the perfect topping for any fruit combination you dream up; the roasted apples can be used in muffins or cakes, but on their own they are a delicious and healthy everyday dessert.
Apple Almond Crumble Bars
900g/2lb apples such as bramley or granny smith, peeled and cut into 1cm/½in dice
40g/1½oz/¼ cup coconut sugar
125g/4½oz vegan butter
90g/3¼oz/½ cup + 1 tbsp coconut sugar
¼ tsp almond extract
140g/5oz/1 cup +2 tbsp plain flour
40g/1½oz/⅓ cup arrowroot
65g/2¼oz/⅔ cup ground almonds
125g/4½oz vegan butter
180g/6¼oz/1 cup + 3 tbsp coconut sugar
180g/6¼oz/1¼ cups fine wholemeal flour
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp vanilla extract
70g/2½oz/¾ cup toasted flaked almonds
To make the roasted apples, preheat the oven to 200°C/390°F. Toss the apples with the sugar until well coated and put them in a single layer on a large baking tray. Roast for 12–15 minutes, until the edges start to turn a deep caramel brown. The idea is to flash-roast them, so they get crispy caramelized edges but keep their shape and stay fresh and juicy inside. Set aside to cool and turn the oven down to 180°F/350°F.
Meanwhile, make the almond shortbread. Line a 30x22cm/11x8in baking dish with baking paper.
Put the vegan butter, sugar and almond extract in the bowl of a stand mixer, if you have one, fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on first speed until creamy and pale, about 3–5 minutes. Alternatively, mix these ingredients together with a rubber spatula.
Add the flour, arrowroot and ground almonds and continue to mix until you have a soft dough that separates from the sides of the bowl. If you are not using a mixer, mix the dough by hand until well combined.
Press the almond shortbread dough into the prepared baking dish to form an even layer. Bake for 11 minutes until it starts to turn pale golden in places and the surface looks set and dry. Set aside to cool while you prepare the crumble topping.
To make the crumble topping, mix the vegan butter, sugar, flour, nutmeg, allspice and vanilla extract together by hand or mixer until you get a mixture with a texture that resembles wet sand.
Mix the apples with roughly two-thirds of the crumble mixture and two-thirds of the almonds and spread this mixture over the shortbread base. Scatter the remaining crumble and almonds on top and bake for 25–30 minutes until crispy and golden. Leave to cool before cutting into bars or squares. These bars are at their best on the day they are baked.