Salted caramel apple pie bars are a delicious (and quick and easy!) alternative to classic apple pie. Made from scratch with a brown sugar shortbread crust, cinnamon apple filling, streusel topping, and a drizzle of salted caramel sauce, this apple crumb bars recipe is simple enough for weeknight baking yet impressive enough to serve at your Thanksgiving feast.
Even though I've been on a bit of an apple pie kick lately, and even though I know that you can tackle homemade pie crust to bake a delicious and beautiful pie from scratch, you can't beat the simplicity of a Thanksgiving table-worthy dessert that's ready in just one hour! So, say hello to apple pie bars drizzled with salted caramel sauce!
Why This Recipe Works
This quick and easy dessert recipe has all the flavor of apple pie broken down into four mouth-watering layers:
- Brown sugar shortbread crust. Replacing pie crust with shortbread means that we still have all the delicious buttery flavor we expect from our pie crust, but we can make these bars in way less time! Plus the shortbread gives these bars a more solid base, so you could eat them with your hands and without a plate - like a true bar - if you wanted to. Brown sugar gives this shortbread crust a little extra something.
- Apple pie filling. Sliced apples, cinnamon, sugar, salt, and a bit of all-purpose flour are all you need to create an apple-forward filling with a hint of cinnamon flavor.
- Streusel topping. The classic streusel topping - made with flour, brown sugar, butter, plus a dash of cinnamon and salt - is for all you crumb pie lovers out there. And because I have a 'go big or go home' philosophy when it comes to crumb toppings, there is seriously thick layer of streusel on top of these bars.
- Salted caramel sauce. No explanation needed. Technically this layer is optional, but I can't imagine why you wouldn't want to add it! My recipe for salted caramel sauce makes it easy to make yourself!
Now unlike apple pie, these apple pie bars take just 60 minutes to make from start to finish! I love that this recipe is quick, easy, and stress-free, so you could bake them for fun on a random weeknight, but that the bars are 100% tasty and impressive enough to be served as a Thanksgiving dessert! Bonus: They can easily be made a day ahead, freeing up your oven on Thanksgiving day for the turkey and all those sides!
When a dessert is this simple and delicious, you really have no reason not to make it!
Recipe Ingredient Notes
Many of the ingredients in this recipe serve double duty and are used in more than one layer of these apple pie bars.
All-Purpose Flour - Flour provides structure for the shortbread crust, and a little bit is also added to the apple filling to help with thickening.
Light Brown Sugar - Brown sugar adds sweetness to both the shortbread crust and the streusel topping. I opted for light brown sugar, but dark brown sugar could also be used for a deeper molasses flavor.
Apples - I recommend using firm apples for the best texture when baked. You could stick to sweet apples - like the Honeycrisp apples shown here - or use one tart Granny Smith apples for a more complex apple flavor.
Step-By-Step Recipe Instructions
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray an 8x8 pan lightly with cooking spray and set aside.
- Make the shortbread crust. Add flour, brown sugar, and butter to the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture becomes a very crumbly dough.
- Pour the dough into the prepared pan and gently press the dough into the bottom of the pan to create a solid crust. Make sure the crust reaches all the way into the edges and corners of the pan and that there are no holes in the crust.
- Bake the crust until it’s a light golden brown, about 15 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven but keep the oven on. While the crust bakes, prepare the apple filling and streusel topping.
- Prepare the apple filling. Core the apples, peel them using a vegetable peeper or a small, sharp knife, and slice each apple into 16 wedges.
- Place the apples in a medium bowl and add the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt. Stir until the apples are well coated. Set aside.
- Make the streusel topping. In a medium bowl, whisk to combine the flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt.
- Pour the melted butter over the dry ingredients and stir with a fork until a crumbly mixture forms.
- Spoon the apple slices over the par baked crust so that all of the crust is covered. Do not add any liquid from the bottom of the bowl to the pan.
- Crumble the streusel topping over the apple slices.
- Bake the bars. Return the pan to the to the 350°F oven and bake for another 30 minutes or until the streusel topping becomes golden.
- Let the pie bars cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. To serve, slice into bars and drizzle each with salted caramel sauce.
Use either a metal or enameled pan for baking this recipe. Metal is ideal for achieving a golden shortbread crust, but I opted for enameled stoneware so that I could serve the bars right from the pan that I baked them in.
You may also choose to line the baking pan with parchment before spraying it with cooking spray. Lining the pan with parchment will allow you to easily remove the bars from the pan by pulling up on the edges of the parchment. I opted not to use parchment for a cleaner look when serving the bars from the same pan that I baked them in, and I was able to able to easily remove the sliced bars from the pan with a small spatula.
If you prefer to serve the bars warm, they can be reheated in a preheated 350°F oven for 10-15 minutes before serving.
Yes! This recipe can be doubled and baked in a 9x13 pan. You may find that the bars need a few extra minutes of baking time if the recipe is doubled.
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