Caramel Apple Crumble Bars

Easy homemade caramel apple crumble bars. They’re filled with everything to love about a classic apple crisp – sweet apples and luscious caramel nestled between a buttery brown sugar and oat crust and walnut crumb topping – but in convenient hand held form! These apple crumb bars are made with simple pantry ingredients, easily adaptable, and perfect for Fall baking.

Caramel Apple Crumble Bars via forkknifeswoon.com

Easy caramel apple crumble bars

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.

Caramel Apple Crumble Bars via forkknifeswoon.com
Caramel Apple Crumble Bars via forkknifeswoon.com

Why you’ll love these caramel apple crumble bars

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 settling a bit, which makes the bars easier to slice, and/or share, if you’re into that sort of thing…

Caramel Apple Crumble Bars via forkknifeswoon.com

Ingredients in these apple crumble bars

These apple crumb bars are easily made with pantry staples – you probably have most of them on hand right now. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • oats: old-fashioned rolled oats add great flavor, texture, and a little nutritional boost to the crust and crumble topping.
  • flour: all-purpose flour makes up the base of these crumb bars. You can also easily swap in gluten-free flour (see notes in FAQs below)
  • white and brown sugar: a combination of both granulated sugar and light brown sugar adds sweetness and caramel notes to these buttery bars.
  • baking soda: just the right amount of lift for the perfect crumb texture.
  • warming fall spices: cinnamon and pie spice (either apple or pumpkin, with cloves, nutmeg, ginger, allspice etc.) are the perfect complement to the sweet apples.
  • salt: to boost all the other flavors. My favorite to bake with is Diamond Crystal.
  • butter: for lots of buttery goodness (and to hold the crust together) we’ll use two sticks of softened unsalted butter. For a vegan option, feel free to substitute with your favorite plant based butter.
  • apples: of course! I like to use a firm, sweet-tart variety such as Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, Fuji, or Braeburn.
  • caramel: really takes these apple bars over the top. Follow my simple homemade recipe, or choose another favorite. Both homemade and store-bought will be winners here.
  • walnuts: optional, but I like to add a handful of chopped walnuts to the topping for extra crunch and flavor.

Find all of the exact measurements and recipe instructions below.

Caramel Apple Crumble Bars via forkknifeswoon.com
Caramel Apple Crumble Bars via forkknifeswoon.com

Apple crumb bar filling

These bars are for crumble lovers – specifically those of us who love the buttery crumbs and streusel toppings even more than the deliciously jammy fillings of classic fruit crisps or sweet coffee cakes they tower above.

The ratio here is decidedly heavier on the crumb than the apples, but these bars still pack a ton of apple flavor. And the apple filling couldn’t be simpler. Sliced apples, drizzled with caramel sauce. That’s it.

There is no need to cook the apples before baking. You also don’t need to peel the apples, but for the best texture, I recommend it. Do be sure to slice them very thinly. They will almost melt into the caramel as the bars bake.

Many caramel apple bar recipes drizzle the caramel on top after baking. I prefer to bake the caramel right into the center of the bars, forming a gooey, luscious caramel apple layer in between the buttery crumb crust and topping. Homemade caramel is of course wonderful, but these are also delicious with store-bought caramel!

Caramel Apple Crumble Bars via forkknifeswoon.com
Caramel Apple Crumble Bars via forkknifeswoon.com

How to make apple crumb bars

While these caramel apple crumble bars have a few components (crust, apple filling, and caramel sauce), the process is super simple for even novice bakers. They don’t require a mixer or special baking equipment and come together in one big mixing bowl.

  1. Make the crust and crumble topping: Whisk together the oats, flour, sugars, baking soda, salt, and spices until combined. Add the softened butter and using a pastry blender or your fingers, smoosh the butter into the dry ingredients until completely incorporated and you have a chunky crumb.
  2. Assemble the crumb bar layers: Press about 2/3 of the crumbs into an even layer in the bottom of a parchment paper lined 9×9-inch baking pan. Top with an even layer of thinly sliced apples. Drizzle with the caramel sauce. Add the remaining crumb topping and walnuts, if using.
  3. Bake and serve: Bake until the bars are lightly golden and gently puffed. The caramel may be beginning to bubble up through the crumbs. Let cool completely before slicing. Enjoy!!
Caramel Apple Crumble Bars via forkknifeswoon.com

Tips for making the best apple bars

  • Use a firm, sweet-tart apple variety that will hold its shape after baking. My go-to for these bars are Honeycrisp or Pink Lady.
  • It’s important to slice the apples very thin (a mandolin works well for this!) for the best texture and to ensure that the apples cook through.
  • As is true with most baking, it’s best to use old-fashioned rolled oats, rather than instant oats, which will be too mushy for this crumble recipe.
  • Be sure to line your pan with parchment paper. The caramel along the edges will be sticky! Creating a parchment sling with an inch or so overlap on two sides also makes lifting the bars from the pan much easier.
  • The bars will be gooey when they come out of the oven. Be sure to let them cool completely before slicing. You can also pop the bars in the freezer for a few minutes first for super clean cuts.
Caramel Apple Crumble Bars via forkknifeswoon.com

Apple crumb bars: FAQs

How to store apple crumb bars

These crumb bars will keep at room-temperature for one day in an airtight container, or 3-4 days in the fridge, and can easily be made in advance.

What are the best apples for apple bars?

Use your favorite variety of crisp, sweet and tart apples, such as Honeycrisp, Braeburn, Pink Lady, Northern Spy, Jonagold or, a combination.

How can I make gluten free apple crumb bars?

Simply swap the flour for an equal amount of an all-purpose gluten-free flour blend. I tested with King Arthur Flour gluten-free all-purpose flour (which does not include xanthum gum). I use 2 cups (312g) and bake for 35-40 minutes. Be sure your rolled oats are also gluten-free, as needed.

How can I make vegan apple crumb bars?

You can use an equal amount of vegan butter in place of the regular butter and be sure to use organic sugar that is produced without the use of animal products.

How do you cut the bars cleanly?

Be sure to wait until the bars are completely cool (at least an hour) for the cleanest slices, otherwise, they’ll still taste great, but probably fall apart. Use a large sharp knife, and wipe the knife down after each slice. Freezing the bars for 15-20 minutes first will also help!

Other easy and delicious apple recipes to bake right now:

If you make these apple crumble bars, be sure to tag me on Instagram with the hashtag #forkknifeswoon and leave a comment and rating below letting me know how you liked them! ★★★ Star ratings are especially helpful because they help others find my recipes too. xo, Laura

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Caramel Apple Crumble Bars via @forkknifeswoon | forkknifeswoon.com

Caramel Apple Crumble Bars


Description

Easy homemade caramel apple crumble bars. They’re filled with everything to love about a classic apple crisp – sweet apples and luscious caramel nestled between a buttery brown sugar and oat crust and walnut crumb topping – but in convenient hand held form! Made with simple pantry ingredients, easily adaptable, and perfect for Fall baking.


Ingredients

Scale

Caramel Apple Crumble Bars

  • 2 cups (180g) rolled oats
  • 2 cups (240g) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (160g) light brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp apple or pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 cup (227g/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 large apple, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • 1/22/3 cup caramel sauce, room-temperature
  • optional: 1/4 cup chopped walnuts

Simple Caramel Sauce

  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, cubed
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • pinch of Kosher salt, to taste

Instructions

Caramel Apple Crumble Bars

  1. Make the caramel (see recipe below). Set aside to cool.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350℉. Line a 9×9-inch baking pan with parchment paper, leaving about an inch overhang on two sides. Set aside.
  3. Make the crumble: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the oats, flour, sugars, baking soda, and spices until well-combined.
  4. Cut the butter into cubes, then use a pastry blender to cut the butter into the dry ingredients. Once it’s mostly combined, switch to using your fingers and knead until completely incorporated. You should form a shaggy, crumbly dough, that easily sticks together when pinched. This may take a few minutes.
  5. Prep the filling: Using a mandolin, or a very sharp knife, (carefully) cut the apples into slices, as thin as you can manage.
  6. 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.
  7. Drizzle the (room-temperature) caramel sauce across the apples, adjusting the amount to taste. Top with the remaining crumble mixture, from edge to edge. Sprinkle with the chopped walnuts, if using. Press the crumb topping down gently.
  8. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until the crumble topping is golden brown and has puffed up a bit. The caramel may be starting to bubble up through the crumbs. Remove from the oven and let cool completely before cutting into bars. Enjoy!!

Simple Caramel Sauce

  1. 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.
  2. 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. Season with salt, to taste.
  3. 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.

Notes

Make it gluten free by substituting all-purpose gluten free flour and making sure your rolled oats are also GF.

Make it vegan by using vegan butter (such as Earth Balance buttery baking sticks) and your favorite plant based caramel sauce.

  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: caramel apple crumble bars, apple crumb bars, caramel apple crisp, homemade caramel, easy apple dessert, walnut, gluten free

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17 Comments

  1. 9.16.21
    Louise said:

    Hi Laura,
    These are delicious! I shared a few with my Mom who’s now in a rest home. She loved them, too!

    • 9.16.21
      Laura said:

      Thanks so much, Louise!!

  2. 10.3.17
    Bhavisha Lad said:

    This recipe sounds delicious. I was looking to make ahead and freeze desserts for a wedding and wondered if these would freeze okay?

  3. 10.29.15
    Aysegul said:

    For this recipe, veggies can certainly wait.
    Caramel, apples, and cinnamon are my favorite combination. And the oat topping looks and sounds so SO good.
    PS: I love how you mix and match food photos with everyday photos. 🙂

    • 10.31.15
      Laura said:

      Me too. I’m going crazy over apple recipes right now! Thanks for your sweet comment!

  4. 10.28.15
    Liren said:

    Yes, the veggies can wait! These are just beautiful, and how I miss apple picking. I adore the lighting in the image of the apples in the basket, Laura!

    • 10.31.15
      Laura said:

      Thanks, Liren!! We have a community apple orchard near our house, and I’ve gone by more times than I’d like to admit over the last month or so!

  5. 10.27.15
    Katrina said:

    I love when the crust and topping are the same! It just means more crumble for my belly 🙂 Great recipe!

    • 10.27.15
      Laura said:

      Ooh me too 🙂 Thanks, Katrina!!

  6. 10.27.15
    Joan said:

    These sound delicious! Can’t wait to try them this weekend!

    • 10.27.15
      Laura said:

      Thank you, Joan!! Hope you enjoy!

  7. 10.27.15
    Patty B said:

    I love the way you write!
    Caramel is one of my favorite flavors, and brown sugar anything is irresistable!
    Must try this recipe! (Squash can wait!)

    • 10.27.15
      Laura said:

      Thank you so much, Patty! Hope you love these! (and yes, squash can wait 🙂 )

Hi! I'm Laura, the food-obsessed cook, writer, and photographer behind Fork Knife Swoon, where you'll find mostly sweet, seasonal recipes and stories from my Northern Virginia kitchen.

All photography and content copyright Laura Bolton ©2021.