Caramel Apple Gouda Shortbread Bars

by mncheese on February 12, 2014

in cheese for holidays,Cheese!,Cooking with Cheese,Cow,Dutch,Milk,Sweets

While Colleen and I love chocolate as much as anyone, we know not everyone requires a shot of cacao bean to satisfy a sweet tooth. Caramel, however, is a different story.

So I began thinking – what cheese goes with caramel? Aged Goudas often are described as caramelly, so it seemed like a good bet to pair with a deep amber, homemade sauce, a light, buttery shortbread and soft, cinnamon-dusted apples. Perhaps this treat would be more seasonal in the fall when it’s prime apple-picking time, but Gouda hits the spot year-round. Regardless of the calendar, these bars are crave-worthy with the combination of sweet butter, nutty cheese, rich caramel and softly spiced apples. Are you drooling yet?

Start with a basic shortbread recipe, but throw in tiny chunks of aged Gouda as you add the flour. You could shred the cheese instead, but I prefer the generous cheesy bites from the chunks. Your kitchen will smell like a Cheez-It factory while the shortbread bakes, but at least this treat has no preservatives.

Then sauté thinly sliced apples in a generous tablespoon of butter, with a sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar for good measure. Finally, mix up your caramel sauce, and after a few minutes for cooling, spread a thin layer over the shortbread. Layer on the apple slices and top with another drizzle of sauce. No sweat.

So if your valentine prefers a jolt of sugary caramel to a smooth chocolately bite, surprise him or her with these bars. A one- or two-year aged Cheddar is an appropriate substitute if you don’t have Gouda or prefer an apple pie-like flavor. Just as long as you don’t skimp on the cheese – this is a cheese blog, after all.

Caramel Apple Gouda Shortbread Bars
Makes approximately 24 bars
Shortbread recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour
Caramel recipe from Simply Recipes

Shortbread:
1 c (two sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 c powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 c flour
1.75 oz aged Gouda, cut into tiny chunks

Sauteéd apples:
2 apples, thinly sliced
1 tbsp butter
pinch of sugar and cinnamon (or cinnamon sugar, if you have some)

Caramel sauce:
1 c granulated sugar
6 tbsp butter
½ c heavy cream

Heat oven to 300ºF. Grease a 13x9x2-in. baking pan.

Cream butter, sugar and vanilla in a stand mixer. Add one cup of flour gradually and mix until batter forms large crumbs. Add cheese and second cup of flour and mix until dough comes together. Spread dough into prepared pan and press evenly with your fingers. Prick the dough with the tines of a fork and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until dough is golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely.

Melt one tablespoon of butter in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the apples, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and sauté for about 10 minutes, or until apples are tender. Take pan off the heat and set aside.

Heat the granulated sugar over a moderately high flame in a large (2-3 qt.) saucepan. As sugar begins to melt, stir with a whisk or wooden spoon until sugar begins to boil. As soon as the sugar crystals have disappeared (mixture will be dark amber), add butter to the pan and stir until it has melted completely. Take the pan off the heat and count to three before slowly pouring the heavy cream into the pan. (It will foam – this is normal.) Whisk until the cream is incorporated and sauce is smooth.

Allow the caramel sauce to cool in the pan for five minutes, and then pour a thin layer on top of the shortbread. Layer the apples on top of the caramel and drizzle with additional sauce (you will have plenty of leftover sauce – about one cup). Allow the sauce to cool and cut the bars into squares.

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