Custardy Apple Squares Credit: Sandy Oliver / BDN

This story was originally published in November 2020.

Is there such a thing as too many apple recipes?

This one came along from Nan Cobbey of Belfast, one of the most relentless recipe trial-ers I know. She cooks things and takes pictures, which she sends to me together with her opinion about the results, good or bad. She has lots more patience with fiddly recipes than I.

Like a lot of you, I suspect, I probably cook more for sustenance than fun, though plenty of things I cook for sustenance are also fun, like this dessert, Custardy Apple Squares.

Sure, there is sugar in them, though if your apples are a little on the sweet side, you can scant the sugar back from one-third cup to one quarter cup. Most of my apples come from old trees in friends’ yards, not so many this year as we might like to see. I always taste them ahead of time to see where on the sweet to tart spectrum they fall, then I adjust the sweetening in a recipe accordingly.

I cut my apples on a mandolin, which the recipe actually recommended. But it said to keep turning the apples when you sliced to the core, so instead, I quartered the apples and popped the core out, then sliced them; I wasted very little apple doing that. I am not much of an apple peeler, but you might prefer skinless apples.

Nan’s recipe called for vanilla, the only flavoring in it, and I decided to add nutmeg because I think of nutmeg, custard and apples as compatible. I use a small grater and whole nutmeg; the flavor is so intense that a few grates for a sprinkle of nutmeg on the top of the batter will do it, less than a quarter of a teaspoon.

In my oven, the squares baked in 40 minutes though the original recipe says up to 50 minutes. Ovens are often slightly different from one another, so you might have a different experience. These squares are done when the center puffs up and a knife inserted comes out clean. At 400 degrees, a couple of the apples on the very top turned dark on the edge. The sprinkle of confectioners’ sugar helps that matter less.

When I took the pan out of the oven, they smelled absolutely wonderful. What a charming recipe.

Custardy Apple Squares

9 servings

2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly

3 medium apples

1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 large eggs

1/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla

Nutmeg to taste

6 tablespoons milk

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan with a little butter.

Slice the apples from top to bottom using a mandoline or sharp knife, turning the fruit 90 degrees each time you reach the core. The slices should be about 1/16 inch thick.

Whisk together the flour and baking powder in a small bowl. Use a whisk to combine the eggs, sugar and salt in a large bowl until the sugar has just about dissolved and until the eggs are pale. Whisk in the vanilla, the milk and the melted butter. Add the flour mixture and whisk into a smooth batter.

Add the apples to the bowl. Gently fold them in, turning the mixture until each thin slice is coated in batter. Scrape the mixture into the pan, smoothing the top as evenly as you can. It will be bumpy; that’s its nature.

Bake (middle rack) for 40 to 50 minutes or until golden brown and puffed — make sure the middle of the cake has risen — and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a rack and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes.

Cut into 9 equal squares in the pan or unmold the slab onto a rack, flip it onto a plate so it is right side up and then cut it into 9 squares. Either way, give the squares a dusting of confectioners’ sugar before serving.

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Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...