Joyce’s Sour Cream Apple Squares

I know this story is starting to sound familiar to my faithful readers but the other day my friend Christa came to the front door with a bag of apples from her tree. She and her husband Jim had already given quite a few away, but the little green apples just kept coming. Could I use some? (Could I?!)

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Talk about a windfall. What would I do with them? Just for fun, I put it to the hive mind on facebook. The happy-fall answers came back quickly, one tumbling over the next. Apple Crisp. Apfelpfannkuchen. (German apple pancakes) Apfelcorn. (Schapps) Pie. And so on. Me oh my. I had pie on the mind and still might do that — or maybe a tart — next week if it ever cools off. While searching for another recipe in my old recipe box, though, I came across a fun and luscious fast, layered apple dessert from my old friend, the late, great Joyce Anderson Smith. Sour Cream Apple Squares coming right up. (Joyce and her family lived across the street from us during our time in Spokane, Washington. We shared many an adventure — cooking, camping, and otherwise and even went to church together.) What I didn’t realize, until I’d done a little research to determine if the butter in the recipe should be cold or at room temp, was this recipe has been a hit all over the U.S. after Louella Maki of Ely, Minnesota won the 1975 Pillsbury Bake-Off with it.

A few days after beginning work on this post, I discovered a Pillsbury Bake-off Cookbook at the thrift store. Of course, our recipe was there! PS: I didn’t see the high altitude instructions until after I baked my dessert. Oh well.

I never would have guessed it. Google it–“Sour Cream Apple Squares” — and see what you find. Amazing. Great, homey, weeknight desserts live on forever. This one, a two-layer cross between a cake and a bar cookie, is yummy enough to cut into larger squares, top with a dollop of whipped cream, and serve for company dessert. (Scroll down to TIPS for some of the info I discovered.)

Above: still on the tart side Yellow Delicious from Jim and Christa’s beautiful tree–lovely for eating out of hand, baking, or making applesauce.

above and below: my dear and beautiful friend Joyce and “her” recipe, copied by me in the mid-80’s. While I could have passed on this tasty treat using the hand-written recipe, I thought it needed a little better telling, typing, and perhaps a tweak or two. There was also the thought of you deciphering my handwriting and abbreviations. Insert one raised eyebrow.

Why “dairy” sour cream? To make sure you didn’t try and use imitation sour cream.
ABOUT JOYCE:  There was little my good friend Joyce couldn’t do. Talented, intelligent, smart, organized, efficient, attractive, humorous, faithful, and often smiling, this tall woman stood out anywhere.  But the place she truly excelled was in the kitchen. Well, maybe that was right after being a capital S-STELLAR friend, mother, wife, and sister. There was little she didn't make or bake and everything was (or could be) a picnic. Long, difficult, easy, fast recipes; you name it, Joyce could have it done and on the table before you knew what she was up to.  She probably had already figured out how to do it for less cash, too, without losing an iota of quality.  Once in a while she’d pass on something so very simple to stir together that it remained forever in your repertoire, showing up every once in a while to engender smiles and make someone want to immediately put on a fresh pot of coffee. Love this woman then and now.

SIMPLE PICTURES ARE BEST. Here’s how they’re made………

I’m hoping you’ll make Joyce’s (and everyone else’s!) apple squares as well as share the recipe and the story with someone you care for. It’s apple time, so try this:

Joyce’s Sour Cream Apple Squares

This fast, crispy-chewy, layered apple dessert should go on your to-do list every fall and stay there. You can thank my dear, dear friend, the late Joyce Smith and, it turns out, many others! A popular recipe that won the 1975 Pillsbury Bake-off, Sour Cream Apple Squares paid its baker Luella Maki from Ely, Minnesota $25,000 and found its way all over the country long before the internet. Remember recipe cards and snail mail?! I’ve tweaked it just a tiny bit and perhaps you should, too. Bake on.
Makes (one) 9×13 pan


Bottom Layer: (You’ll use 2 ¾ cups of this mixture for the bottom layer and the rest goes into the mixture for the top layer.)

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • ½ cup (8 tablespoons) butter at room temperature
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Top Layer:

  • Remainder of bottom layer crumb mixture
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg at room temperature, beaten
  • 2 cups finely chopped apples (I cored, but did not peel these and then chopped them in the food processor.)

Powdered sugar or whipped cream for garnish


    • BOTTOM LAYER: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and set rack at center. Combine the flour, brown sugar, butter, and walnuts well in a medium bowl. Measure out 2 ¾ cups (set aside the remainder) and press it evenly into the bottom of an ungreased 9×13 metal baking pan. I used the food processor but added the chopped nuts by hand so they wouldn’t become finely ground.
    • TOP LAYER: Into the reserved crumb mixture, stir the cinnamon, ginger, cloves, soda, salt, sour cream, vanilla, and egg until well-combined. Add the apples and stir again until thoroughly mixed. Spoon the top layer mixture over the crumb base and use a rubber spatula to even it out.
    • BAKE, COOL, SERVE WITH GARNISH: Bake about 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean when stuck into the center, turning once midway through baking time. Cool on a rack at least 30 minutes before cutting and serving dusted with powdered sugar or topped with a dollop of whipped cream. Store these moist squares a day or two tightly covered on the counter and in the refrigerator 4-5 days. I have not frozen it but am guessing it would be good for a month in the freezer or so if well-wrapped.


    If you live in a hot, humid climate, store this dessert in the refrigerator right after cooling and serving.
    Copyright Alyce Morgan, 2021.    Original recipe, Luella Maki.

    Best Apples for Baking/BON APPÉTIT


    Here are a few places I found this dessert on the internet but there are many more.

    Sour Cream Apple Squares: How to Make It/TASTE OF HOME — just about like Joyce’s, the exception being an increase to 2 teaspoons cinnamon.

    Sour Cream Apple Squares/PILLSBURY — pretty much Joyce’s but this one by Luella Maki, of Ely, Minnesota, won the 1975 Pillsbury Bake-Off! This could be the original; do you think? Did Joyce know?!

    The blogger, Jen Gomez of Born and Braised Chicago dot com, posted the recipe, thanking her grandmother for it, and included a photo of a newspaper clipping about the original recipe writer and her Pillsbury Bake-Off win. I discovered this after I had found the Pillsbury recipe. (See above.) Love a good recipe tale!

    Sour Cream Apple Bars Recipe/LAND O’LAKES — an upscale version with twice the butter and fat. Yikes.



    • Share with friends or neighbors. It’s a big pan for one or two.
    • Store tightly wrapped/in fridge.
    • Serve with plain yogurt for breakfast. Of course you can do this. I’ll write you a note.
    • Store brown sugar in a tightly-sealed bag and then in a Tupperware or OXO container with a tight cover.
    • Store nuts in the freezer as they become rancid easily.

    Pantry Tip:  This is the time of year to replace your baking soda and baking powder unless you've steadily baked throughout the warmer months. You'll be ready for holiday baking early!  You might also keep an eye out for baking ingredient sales over the next two months and stock up. Butter freezes perfectly. Thaw in refrigerator overnight before using.

    If you liked this, you might also like my EASY APPLE-WALNUT COFFEECAKE


    I’ll miss my friend forever, but she lives on in many recipe boxes as well as in the hearts of all who knew her — particularly in those of her children Suzanne, Garrett, and Gregory; her grandchildren; and her sister Jan. They’ve fixed up Joyce and her late husband Bud’s beautiful dream house on the lake in Sandpoint, ID and it’s available — complete with well-stocked kitchen — for vacation rental. (below)

    Thanks for spending time with me in the kitchen. I’m so happy you’re here.

    I hope you’re cooking and feeling well,



    I’m plum crazy about this little giftie that showed up on the front porch Sunday afternoon. No kidding. Once more, Helen Brockman is running the roads throwing off bags of produce to anyone who’ll take them!! Glad she stopped here. We’ll see what happens with this. One friend said, “Jam.” I just made peach jam yesterday, but plum jam is so wonderful. Another friend said, “Plum chutney.” I adore chutney, but don’t think I’ve ever made it. Recipe???! There are enough plums to do a few things, so stay tuned. I grew up with a plum tree in our yard and have always missed that plethora of yumminess. Til now.

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