Date and Apple Squares with Chocolate Crumble Topping
When Chele, at Chocolate Teapot, announced that apples were to be the added ingredient for this month's We Should Cocoa challenge, I can't say I was surprised that this fruit has cropped up at last, although I did think that Choclette would be the host to suggest it, as she has quite a few recipes on her blog using the apple and chocolate combination.
However, it's not a combination that has ever appealled to me, which is strange, as I do think that chocolate goes very well with so many other fruits. Judging by the number of recipes I could find in my recipe books and on websites with recipes from professional food writers/cooks, it's not a combination that many other people find appealing either! My books yielded two recipes - both for pies with chocolate pastry - and the internet sites I looked at weren't much better. But I rarely shirk from the We Should Cocoa Challenge and I've never actually cooked anything combining apples and chocolate, so I shouldn't let my prejudices stand in the way of possibly startling revelations!
What to cook was a problem; having made the decision to take part in the challenge I then realised that I wanted to cook something where the apple was going to be noticeable, not fading into the background, masked by chocolate and other flavours. I thought this would give the combination a proper test! I also needed to cook something that would be eaten, as I can't afford to cook just for the sake of cooking - it has to fit in with the likes and dislikes of the people who would be eating it.
Cookies were out, as I couldn't see how to get much apple in without making them too wet and I didn't want to make a cake, as in my experience, apple tends to melt into the texture of a cake and I thought it would be overwhelmed by any chocolate in the recipe. Cheesecake crossed my mind, but I didn't really want a dessert, as they usually have to be eaten quickly and so are too calorific and indulgent. Once I started thinking about apple as a separate layer it didn't take long to remember traybakes and slices, but it still took a lot of research to find something which I was confident would take the addition of chocolate in some form. Eventually I decided to adapt a date slice recipe to use apples in the filling and chocolate in the top layer of dough. I chickened out of using apples on their own, as I thought they might be too moist, so I kept some dates in the mixture which I hoped would absorb the apple juices. Thus Date and Apple Squares with Chocolate Crumble Topping was born!
It was then that I found that I didn't have a date slice recipe! I was amazed, especially as I was sure I remembered at least one in some of my old books. Of all the recipes I found online, I decided that this recipe from Joy of Baking looked most like what I wanted to achieve, with the added benefit of a properly tested recipe too.
I followed the basic dough recipe exactly, but I added 75g of very finely chopped 85% chocolate to the 1/3 of the dough which was put aside for the topping. I intended to grate the chocolate but had to chop it in a mini-food processor in the end, as grating was going to take far too long.
For the filling, I used 200g of chopped dates, 120ml apple juice, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and two apples, each weighing about 200g, peeled and cored and cut into 1cm cubes. One apple was a Bramley which would cook down to a purée, and the other was an eating apple which I hoped would stay in cubes. These ingredients were cooked together until the juice was absorbed and the dates softened.
I then continued with the recipe - pressing the plain dough into the base of a 9 x 9" tin, spreading over the filling and then crumbling over the chocolate topping - before baking at 180C for 40 minutes.
After chilling and cutting I could see that part of my plan had worked - there were still visible cubes of apple within the filling. The filling was quite moist, but the base was nicely crisped and solid, so I hope that the squares don't become soggy during storage, as it will take at least three days to eat them all. The apples were still evident as a separate flavour when tasted too, but although we all liked the squares I'm not convinced that adding the chocolate was any improvement. I think using the original plain dough, with it's slight cinnamon flavour, in both layers would have been just as good.
So although I'm pleased I tried the apple-chocolate combination, I'm yet to be convinced that they are better together than apart. It will be really interesting to see what other entrants to the challenge come up with!