Monthly Archives: September 2016

Caramel Apple Bars


It’s finally fall!

I haven’t had a lot of field work this summer, which has actually been a little bit of a relief, since it has been SO HOT. I have been ready for fall for about a month now, and next week we are finally supposed to have some fall-like weather. Yay! Just in time too, since I’ll be heading back out to the field for the week.

Anyway, in honor of fall and apple season, I decided to put a spin on a family favorite recipe. Originally, these were called Cherry Bars. It’s a recipe my family has been making for years. It makes an appearance at family picnics and gatherings all through the summer. Moist yellow cake dolloped with cherry pie filling and topped with an almond glaze. What’s not to love?


Well, if you’re like me, the cherries are what’s not to love. I love cherry flavor, just not the texture of cooked cherries. This was one dessert I usually skipped. The few bites I have eaten, around the pieces of cherries, were delicious. So, I decided to change it up. Any fruit pie fillings would work here, but since it’s fall, I decided it was time for apples.


You can absolutely use a can of your favorite pie filling. Cherry, blueberry, peach – the sky’s the limit! That’s how we’ve always made the cherry version. But for the apple, I decided to make a homemade filling. The trick is to cook it all the way on the stovetop first, like a canned filling would be. Just peel and chop the apples, then combine them with butter, sugar, flour, and spices. Cook the mixture in a covered pot until the apples are cooked and the juices are thickened. Let it cool completely while you whip up the cake batter.

Cream your butter and sugar, add your vanilla and eggs, and then mix in the dry ingredients. So easy! Spread part of the batter into your pan, and dollop on the pie filling. Drop the rest of the batter by spoonfuls over the filling. Bake it up, let it cool, and drizzle it with a delicious glaze. I sprinkled on a few chopped pecans, but that’s always optional.


The glaze is minimal, but adds so much flavor. Almond goes so well with cherries, and I highly recommend this glaze if you make the cherry bars. A sprinkle of sliced almonds would add a nice crunch as well. While I love almond flavor, caramel and apples just seem to belong together. And a scattering of pecans or walnuts is perfect with those flavors. I would try a lemon glaze with a blueberry filling (just add some lemon zest and use lemon juice instead of milk – leave out the extract). And you could make a vanilla glaze to go with any of these flavors by using vanilla extract instead of the other flavorings. What flavors would your family like?


Caramel Apple Bars
Yields 24
Yellow cake, pie filling, and a drizzle of caramel!
For the Filling
  1. 21-ounce can of your favorite fruit pie filling, OR
  2. 4 cups diced apples (about 1/2-inch dice)
  3. 6 tablespoons sugar
  4. 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmug
  5. 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  6. heavy pinch of salt
  7. 1 tablespoon butter
  8. 2 tablespoons flour
For the cake
  1. 1 cup butter or margarine
  2. 1 3/4 cup sugar
  3. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  4. 4 eggs
  5. 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  6. 3 cups flour
For the glaze
  1. Powdered sugar glaze, OR
  2. 1/2 cup brown sugar
  3. 1/4 cup butter
  4. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  5. 2 tablespoons milk
  6. 1 cup powdered sugar
  7. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  8. 2 tablespoons chopped pecans
Add ingredients to shopping list
If you don’t have Buy Me a Pie! app installed you’ll see the list with ingredients right after downloading it
For the apple pie filling
  1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, until butter is melted and apples are beginning to soften. Cover pan and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until apples are cooked through, stirring occasionally, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.
For the cake
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10x15-inch pan.
  2. Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla extract and eggs and beat well. Add dry ingredients and mix until combined. Spread two-thirds of the batter into the prepared pan. Dollop the pie filling over the batter. Drop the remaining batter by spoonfuls over the pie filling. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown and a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool.
For the glaze
  1. Heat brown sugar and butter in a saucepan over medium heat until both are melted. Bring to a boil and add salt and milk. Return to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Drizzle over cooled cake and immediately sprinkle with chopped pecans if desired.
  1. This cake is best within a day or two. If you want to keep it longer, store it in the refrigerator.
  2. Use whatever pie filling you like. One 21-ounce can is about 2 1/2 cups of homemade filling.
  3. Adapt the glaze flavor to the pie filling you are using. Vanilla, almond, lemon - the possibilities are endless!
The Archaeologist Bakes
 Caramel glaze adapted from Cooking Club of America.


Peanut Butter Potato Chip Bars


Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of variations on the marshmallow krispie treats that don’t actually involve cereal. Like this potato chip version, or this “junk food” version. With that combination of sweet and salty, I can see why they’re so popular. I love the idea, except…


I don’t like marshmallows. I know, I know. Please don’t leave. I don’t know what it is about them, but I just don’t like the flavor or texture. I’m weird, what can I say. Luckily, there is a marshmallow-free peanut butter version of the krispie treats that we have been making for years. And while I don’t like marshmallows, I do like potato chips and pretzels dipped in peanut butter. So, I did what anyone would do, and swapped out the cereal for some snack food. Any salty treat would work well here. Try adding in popcorn if that’s your thing. Or maybe you prefer corn chips?


Oh, and did I mention that there is a chocolate frosting poured all over the top?


You start by combing the sugar and corn syrup. Stir in the peanut butter until it melts, and then add in your crushed up chips and a handful of peanuts. Press it into a pan and get to making that frosting.

Combine all your ingredients, boil for a few minutes, and pour it on. Then let cool (if you can wait), and find a place to hide them. Because you will not want to share.



Peanut Butter Potato Chip Bars
Yields 24
For the bars
  1. 1 cup granulated sugar
  2. 1 cup corn syrup
  3. 1 1/2 cups peanut butter, creamy or crunchy
  4. 4 cups potato sticks or crushed potato chips
  5. 2 cups crushed pretzels
  6. 1/2 cup coarsely chopped salted peanuts
For the frosting
  1. 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  2. 6 tablespoons milk
  3. 6 tablespoons cocoa powder
  4. 6 tablespoons butter
  5. pinch salt
Add ingredients to shopping list
If you don’t have Buy Me a Pie! app installed you’ll see the list with ingredients right after downloading it
For the bars
  1. Combine the sugar and corn syrup in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. As soon as the mixture boils, turn off heat and add peanut butter. Once peanut butter is melted, mix in the chips, pretzels, and peanuts. Stir until everything is coated and press into a greased 9x13 pan.
For the frosting
  1. Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium to medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Boil for 3 minutes, then remove from heat. Let cool slightly, about 10-15 minutes. Pour over bars and let cool completely before cutting into squares and devouring.
  1. Add your choice of chips, pretzels, popcorn - whatever sounds good to you! There should be 6 to 6 1/2 cups total.
The Archaeologist Bakes

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Browned Butter Frosting


The first time I made these cupcakes, I was staying in a hotel and working on an archaeological survey in Michigan. Our crew had stopped in to an Amish bakery at lunch one day that week, and since it was fall, the shelves were filled with pumpkin treats. Everyone raved about how good they were. And they were pretty delicious. But, since I am apparently less humble about my baking abilities that I like to admit, I told them I could make even more delicious pumpkin desserts. In my hotel room. With a microwave, a single electric burner that I travel with, and a small toaster oven that has seen better days.

Not my brightest moment. But, with a little help from a box mix since I didn’t travel with a full pantry, I did come up with a pretty tasty cupcake. Even if I did have to bake them six at a time. All three dozen of them.


I’ve adjusted the recipe slightly since then, creating a from-scratch version of the cupcake. But you can absolutely go the box mix route. The recipe I used can be found here. I just added the pecans into the batter, and baked them as cupcakes. The baking time will be less than for a cake; try checking them after about 18-20 minutes.


You really don’t want to miss out on this browned butter frosting. But if you don’t like browned butter, almost any frosting will work here. Vanilla buttercream or cream cheese icing would be perfect. Chocolate would be good as well. Maple is always delicious with pumpkin.

And of course, you can leave out the pecans. Or change it to your favorite nut. Go for the unsalted variety, and definitely toast them first. Walnuts – perfect. Hazelnuts – delicious. Almonds are always acceptable in my world. But they’re your cupcakes – make them to suit your tastes!


Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes with Browned Butter Frosting
Yields 24
For the cupcakes
  1. 1/4 cup sour milk
  2. 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  3. 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  4. 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  5. 2 eggs
  6. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  7. 1 cup canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
  8. 2 cups all-purpose flour
  9. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  10. 1 teaspoon baking soda
  11. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  12. 2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  13. 1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted
For the Frosting
  1. 1 cup unsalted butter
  2. 1/4 cup shortening
  3. 5 cups powdered sugar
  4. 1/4 cup milk, cream, or half and half
  5. 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  6. 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the Glazed Pecans
  1. 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  2. 1 teaspoon butter
  3. 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  4. Pinch salt
  5. 1/2 cup whole pecan halves
Add ingredients to shopping list
If you don’t have Buy Me a Pie! app installed you’ll see the list with ingredients right after downloading it
For the cupcakes
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners. If you only have one 12-cup tray, you can bake half at a time.
  2. Combine the vinegar and milk to make sour milk. Set aside.
  3. With an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla, and pumpkin and mix until combined. Combine dry ingredients, except pecans, in a separate bowl. Add half of dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture and mix well. Add sour milk and mix; add remaining dry ingredients and mix until combined. Stir in pecans.
  4. Divide batter among the 24 paper-lined cups. Each should be about two-thirds full. Bake at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes. Let rest in tins for 10 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely.
For the Frosting
  1. While the cupcakes are baking, place the butter in a light-colored pan (NOT non-stick) and heat over medium heat until melted. Continue heating until bubbling is nearly stopped and butter begins to brown and smell nutty. This may take 10-15 minutes depending on your burner. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate until beginning to solidify, about 20 minutes. You want it to resemble softened butter.
  2. Once browned butter is ready, combine butter and shortening with electric mixer. You don’t have to use shortening, but I prefer to add a little bit to my buttercream frosting, because it tends to hold up better at room temperature. Add powdered sugar, half of the milk, vanilla, and salt. Beat at medium speed until combined. Add remaining milk and beat at high speed two minutes or until fluffy. Add additional milk 1/2 tablespoon at a time, or powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, if needed, to adjust consistency.
For the Glazed Pecans
  1. Combine sugar, butter, syrup, and salt in a small skillet over medium heat. Once butter is melted and mixture is combined, add pecans. Continue heating for 5-7 minutes until pecans are lightly toasted and well coated with mixture. Tip out of pan onto wax paper and let cool.
  1. Frost the cooled cupcakes with the frosting, and top with a glazed pecan, if desired.
  1. Use whatever nuts you prefer, or leave them out entirely.
  2. Vanilla, cream cheese, chocolate, or maple frosting would all be delicious!
The Archaeologist Bakes