It's not that I don't like apple pie. It's just that the parts I do like happen to be the ones that don't really involve apples: the buttery, rich crust, and the equally buttery, rich topping--which, if I have my say, is always some sort of brown sugar crumbled goodness. So when I saw a recipe for Apple Pie Bars on the Dana Treat website, I knew I had found the apple pie that my soul had always been searching for: i.e., mostly crust and topping, with a little filling sandwiched in between. I had to make these bars. I did make these bars, the very same day I found them--adding in a layer of caramel too for good measure. With a bar this rich, was that necessary? No. But it sure was good. In fact, the only mistake I made with these bars is that I halved the original recipe, which was a mistake because we ran out all too soon.
Caramel Apple Pie Bars
Adapted from Dana Treat
- Makes about 24 bars -
Notes: I made some changes to Dana's recipe. First, I halved her original recipe, instead making my batch in an 8x8-inch pan. This was probably a mistake as we definitely could have eaten more. I also added aforementioned caramel layer. Good decision.
For the crust
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
For the filling
(optional) 1/2 cup caramel sauce, such as Fran's Dessert Sauces (or if you're feeling saucy, you could make your own; or, you could just use a dozen or so caramel candies--choose your own adventure!)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup light brown sugar
3 large Granny Smith apples, cut into thin slices (I didn't peel mine, and nobody judged me)
1 tablespoon cinnamon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
For the topping
1/2 cup walnuts
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup flour
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 sticks salted butter (the original recipe calls for unsalted, but I like a really salty crumb, so I used salted), cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
- Make the crust. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease an 8x8-inch pan thoroughly. In an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter with the sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. At low speed, beat in the flour and salt until a soft dough forms. Press the dough over the bottom of the prepared pan, leaving the edges slightly higher (but still even all around). Bake in the center of the oven for about 12-15 minutes, until the crust is golden and set. Let cool on a rack.
- While this is cooling, make the filling. In a large skillet, the butter and brown sugar. Add the apples to the skillet and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir the cinnamon and nutmeg into the skillet, making sure it has evenly coated the apples. Cook until the apples are caramelized and very tender and the liquid is evaporated, about 10 minutes longer; scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet, and if necessary add a small amount of water to the pan to prevent scorching (I didn't have to).
- Make the topping. Lightly toast the walnuts in the oven for about eight minutes; let cool, then coarsely chop them. In a large bowl, mix the oats with the flour, light brown sugar, cinnamon, and baking soda. Using a pastry blender or two knives (or your very clean hands!) cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the walnuts and press the mixture into clumps.
- Assemble and bake. Spread the 1/2 cup caramel sauce (or caramel candies) over the bottom layer, ensuring even coverage. Spread the apple filling directly on top of the caramel. Scatter the crumbs on top, pressing them lightly into an even layer. Bake in the center of the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the topping is golden; rotate the pan halfway through baking. Let cool completely on a rack before cutting into bars.