I planned to share a savory roasted winter squash recipe with you today, to begin the week with some healthy Fall goodness. But then I went and made these gooey, decadent, caramel apple crumble bars on a whim over the weekend. And… the veggies can wait.
You may remember the raspberry jam crumble bars that we made earlier this year. The recipes share the same foundation – but we’re using apples, and caramel, because, ’tis the season!
Apples are abundant, cinnamon and cloves have been purchased in bulk, and this is just the sort of baking I love to do on a chilly afternoon. Sunday was gloomy as all get out, drizzling most of the day, and I had a hankering for something sweet. The aroma of apples and brown sugar and cinnamon wafting through the house alone was worth it, but bite into one of these warm-from-the-oven apple crumble bars, and suddenly, all is right with the world.
The crust and crumble topping are one and the same, filled with whole oats, brown sugar, and warming spices, and sandwiched around layers of paper-thin apple slices and a homemade caramel filling, which all melts together into a sweet, gooey, crumbly, delicious bar.
If you’re feeling up to it, the homemade caramel is wonderful, and simple to make, though I would never fault you for using your favorite store-bought variety, which would speed up the preparation time a bit.
Still warm from the oven, the bars are a marriage between apple pie and an apple crisp, the apple slices crumpling into a velvety layer beneath the sweet brown sugar crumble topping, the caramel melding into the bottom crust and saturating the whole mess with flavor. All that’s needed is a spoon.
If you have the willpower to hold out until the bars have fully cooled, they become more solidified, the caramel and apples congealing a bit, which makes the bars easier to slice, and/or share, if you’re into that sort of thing…
- 2 cups rolled (old-fashioned) oats
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup pure cane sugar
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
- 1/2 tsp fine grain sea salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 medium apples, thinly sliced
- 1/2-2/3 cup caramel sauce
- optional: 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
- 1/2 cup pure cane sugar
- 3 Tbsp butter, cubed
- 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- Make the caramel (see recipe below). Set aside to cool.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9x9-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving about an inch overhang on two sides. Set aside.
- Make the crumble: In a large mixing bowl, sift together the oats, flour, sugars, baking soda and spices until well-combined. Cut the butter into cubes, then use your fingers to gently knead the butter into the dry ingredients, until completely incorporated, and you’ve formed a shaggy, crumbly dough, that easily sticks together when pinched. This may take a few minutes.
- Prep the filling: Using a mandolin, or a very sharp knife, (carefully) cut the apples into slices, as thin as you can manage.
- Assemble: Scoop about two thirds of the crumble dough into the baking pan, and press into an even layer along the bottom. Layer the apples across the bottom crust. Drizzle the (room-temperature) caramel sauce across the apples, then sprinkle with the remaining crumble mixture on top, from edge to edge. Sprinkle with the chopped walnuts, if using.
- Bake for 35-45 minutes, turning once halfway through, until the crumble topping is golden brown and has puffed up a bit. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before cutting into bars.
- Melt the sugar in a medium heavy-bottomed pot (preferably with high sides) over medium heat, stirring constantly. The sugar will begin to form clumps, then melt into a deep amber-colored liquid as you stir. Be careful not to let the sugar burn.
- Add the cubed butter as soon as the sugar is completely melted, and whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat and slowly stir in the cream. The mixture will foam and bubble up. Keep whisking until the caramel is smooth. Stir in the vanilla.
- Let cool for a few minutes in the pan, then transfer to a heat-proof jar and let cool to room-temperature. Will keep for up to two weeks, stored in an air-tight jar in the refrigerator. Warm before serving.