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In most places I’ve lived, October brings gold and red trees, crisp nights, cozy scarves and sweaters and lots of apples. Okinawa, on the other hand, is still in summer mode. The highs have dropped a mere two degrees and the “feels like” temperature is still well into the 100’s (122 degrees yesterday, to be exact). My social media accounts and favorite blogs are all abuzz about pumpkin spice this and fall everything else, making me homesick for anything to remind me that it is, indeed, fall. An overcast and rainy day plus an invitation to a get together with friends this past weekend gave me the perfect excuse to bake something to make it feel like the wonderful season it is.
Fall in the Midwest is definitely the best time of year; all of the leaves are changing colors, the sun is usually shining and the temperatures are just cool enough for a light jacket. But the best part about fall, by far, are the apples. Growing up, a yearly tradition for my dad’s birthday, which conveniently falls over Colombus day weekend, was to drive to Michigan and go apple picking. We would pick bushels of apples (and sneak a few as a snack among the trees) that would later turn into apple crisps, pies and applesauce. Those memories are some of my favorites from my childhood and as soon as I moved to Washington near a farming area with apple trees galore, I dragged my husband (who was just a boyfriend at the time) to as many apple farms as I could. Sadly, we no longer live near apple trees, but we can get great apples here, so I knew apples would be the perfect choice for my fall baking project.
Apple crisp is one of my favorite fall desserts, but I wanted something that was easier to eat, so I decided to make these caramel apple pie bars instead. They are made with a shortbread crust, which mimics the flavor of pie crust so well without all of the fuss of chilling and rolling out the dough. The filling is typical of apple pie filling, both tart and sweet. I used my fancy apple slicer, (it definitely wins the award for the most fun kitchen appliance in our house growing up), but just peeling and slicing your apples works great too! The original recipe recommends using one tart and one sweet apple. I’m not familiar with most of the Japanese varieties available here, so I just guessed and it was delicious. If you’re in America and have a choice of many varieties of apples, feel free to be picky, but any apple that is good for baking should work well.
The strudel is the perfect topping, adding more sweetness, cinnamon and and the crunch that these bars need. I don’t think I need to say anything about the salted caramel topping except “yum.” I’m of the opinion that adding caramel will make anything taste good, but even if you’re not a caramel fan, do not leave this step out. It takes these bars from good to outstanding. (I may or may not have licked the spoon clean after I was done drizzling.) This recipe makes a lot of salted caramel sauce, but I’m not complaining because it will be excellent drizzled over ice cream or as a dip for apples. These bars are messy to cut and eat, but I don’t think anyone was complaining about having to lick the cinnamon apple caramel goo off of their fingers. My friends agreed that these bars satisfied the taste of fall that we were craving. Now all we need is some cooler weather!
Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars
Salted Caramel Sauce
- 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
- 6 tablespoons (90g) unsalted butter, cut up into 6 pieces
- 1/2 cup (120ml) heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, melted
- 1/4 cup (50g) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour
- 4 cups apples, peeled and thinly sliced (2-3 large apples)
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup (40g) old-fashioned oats
- 1/3 cup (70g) packed light or dark brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup (30g) all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (60g) unsalted butter, cold and cubed
Make the salted caramel sauce:
- Heat granulated sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly with a high heat resistant rubber spatula or wooden spoon. The sugar will form clumps and eventually melt into a thick brown, amber-colored liquid (about 5 minutes) as you continue to stir. Be careful not to burn.
- Once sugar is completely melted, immediately add the butter. The caramel will bubble rapidly.
- Stir the butter into the caramel until it is completely melted, about 1-2 minutes.
- Very slowly, drizzle in 1/2 cup of heavy cream while stirring. Again, the mixture will rapidly bubble and/or splatter when added.
- Allow the mixture to boil for 1 minute. It will rise in the pan as it boils.
- Remove from heat and stir in salt and vanilla. Allow to cool before using. Sauce can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. If sauce is too thick, warm in microwave to thin before using in the recipe.
Make the crust:
- Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper, leaving enough overhang on all sides. Set aside.
- Stir the melted butter, granulated sugar, vanilla, and salt together in a medium bowl.
- Add the flour and stir until everything is combined.
- Press the mixture evenly into the prepared baking pan.
- Bake for 15 minutes while you prepare the filling and streusel. The crust may not look done, but it is going back into the oven so do not over bake.
Make the apple filling:
- Combine the sliced apples, flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a large bowl until all of the apples are evenly coated. Set aside.
Make the streusel:
- Whisk the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and flour together in a medium bowl. Cut in the chilled butter with a pastry blender or two forks until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.
- Remove the crust from the oven, and turn the oven up to 350°F (177°C).
- Evenly layer the apples on top of the warm crust, pressing down if needed to fit.
- Sprinkle the apple layer with streusel and bake for 30–35 minutes or until the streusel is golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes at room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight. (Don’t worry, these bars won’t get soggy!)
- Lift the foil or parchment out of the pan using the overhang on the sides and cut into bars. The bars pictured were cut into 16 smaller bars, although you can cut into 12 larger bars.
- Once cut, drizzle some salted caramel sauce on top of each.
- Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days in the fridge. Can be served cold, warm or at room temperature.
1. I'm actually not a huge fan of salted caramel (gasp) so I significantly decreased the amount of salt in the sauce from the original recipe. Feel free to add more or less depending on your preference!
Recipe adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction
Serving Size: 1 bar Calories: 183kcal Carbohydrate: 24g Fat: 9g Protein: 2g