I always gravitated to the humanities in school – literature and writing, history and philosophy – these subjects, along with the more concrete elements of the sciences, grabbed my attention and often felt almost effortless. Math, however, was not my natural element and I remained convinced that I had no talent for it.
But, I’m kinder to myself than I once was and realize now that I had been delving into math from a very young age. I just expressed it in the form of cookies and cakes. It may not be higher math, but baking is certainly one of the more satisfying – and even elegant – ways to experience math.
So, even though I can only experience the majesty of black holes and fractals through popular science writing, I am able to witness the wonder of a few simple ingredients coming together in precise proportion to create something magically more than the sum of its parts.
Dorie’s apple squares are a lovely example of this kind of culinary marvel. A little flour, milk, butter, sugar, and eggs transform into something that isn’t quite cake and isn’t quite custard. In different proportions, the same ingredients can produce everything from a rich bread to a sturdy sponge cake.
This recipe is quite similar to one of my favourite apple desserts, Marie-Hélène’s Apple Cake, but with its own unique texture and snackable square shape. I differentiated it further from its rum-rich cousin by taking Dorie’s suggestion of using a tiny drop of almond extract in the batter, which somehow manages to enrich the apple flavour even more.
I used some gorgeous Nicola apples that I found at my local food co-op today, but these would be great with any baking apples (or pears, another one of Dorie’s variation suggestions).
These won’t last long, but the good news is that they’re quick to prepare, even with the 40-minute bake factored in. Delicious dessert that requires a minimum of effort and uses pantry staples. That might be the baker’s golden ratio.