With a buttery crust, tart apple filling, sweet caramel, and an oat topping, these apple crisp bars are a crowd-pleasing hand-held version of everyone’s favorite fall dessert.
Friends, TikTok got me again.
You know by now how much I love scrolling through my FYP. It really knows me and seems to even guess what I’m craving based on the recipe videos it gives me.
A month or two ago it showed me a video of someone making apple crisp bars and I was immediately hungry. The next day I was in the kitchen fiddling with the recipe.
I think you’ll love these bars as much as you love the TikTok cinnamon rolls and my giant s’mores cookies. They’re perfect for any time of year, but especially right now, and would be a hit at Thanksgiving!
Or you can hole up and enjoy them on your own with an iced shaken espresso. I won’t judge you either way!
WHAT ARE APPLE CRISP BARS?
I love my apple pie bars, but the recipe makes a lot. And I know not everyone has a large rimmed baking sheet to make them. This recipe, on the other hand, is made in a 9×13-inch pan, which most people already have.
These bars have a buttery shortbread crust, a tart apple filling, and that classic crisp topping. I even added an optional layer of caramel – although I think it should be required, because it takes these bars to the next level!
If you’re feeding a crowd or are taking a dessert on the go, these apple crisp bars are the way to serve apple crisp in a more portable way.
HOW TO MAKE APPLE CRISP BARS
Unlike a regular apple crisp, apple crisp bars do have a crust on the base. But don’t think that adding this step adds a ton of time or effort to the recipe. These bars are still easy to make – and they’re absolutely delicious.
Ingredients you’ll need
A lot of the ingredients in this recipe are used a few different ways, so the actual number of ingredients you need isn’t that long.
For the entire recipe, you will need:
- 1 ¼ cups unsalted butter, divided use
- 2 ¾ cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided use
- 1 ¼ cups + 3 tablespoons light brown sugar, divided use
- ¾ cup rolled oats
- 2 ½ teaspoons apple pie spice, divided use
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 5 large apples
- Juice of half a lemon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- A couple pinches of salt
If you want to do the caramel layer (which I highly recommend), you will also need 25 Werther’s Original Soft Caramels.
I recommend using tart baking apples for this recipe. Granny smith, pink lady, honey crisp, and golden delicious are all good options.
If you don’t have vanilla bean paste on hand, you can use an equal amount of vanilla extract.
If you don’t have apple pie spice or all of the ingredients to make it, you can use ground cinnamon instead. Pumpkin pie spice would also work well.
- Make sure you know how to measure flour before starting on this recipe. This will help ensure your apple crisp bars come out just right every time.
- Brown sugar can sometimes harden in the pantry. I have some tips for how to soften brown sugar, as well as a method for making an easy brown sugar substitute to save you a trip to the grocery store.
- The butter for this recipe needs to be softened to room temperature. If you forget to set your butter out ahead of time, check out my tips for softening butter quickly.
Making this recipe
Prepare your 9×13-inch pan by spraying it with nonstick cooking spray and lining it with parchment paper. This will make it easier to remove the bars after baking.
Make the crust by adding all of the crust ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low until the mixture resembles coarse sand – you shouldn’t be able to see any large chunks of butter.
Press the mixture into the prepared baking pan with your hands or the bottom of a measuring cup and bake for 12 minutes. The edges should be lightly golden and the center should be just set.
Set the crust aside while you prepare the filling and topping.
For the filling, toss the apples with the lemon juice and vanilla bean paste, then add the flour, sugar, and apple pie spice. Stir to coat the apples well and set the filling aside.
For the topping, we’ll use the stand mixer again, but don’t worry about washing the bowl or paddle attachment between making the crust and topping.
Add the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, apple pie spice, and salt to the bowl of the stand mixer. Mix for 30 seconds, just to combine the ingredients, then add the butter. Mix for 1-2 minutes on low; the mixture should form clumps and the dry ingredients should no longer be visible.
If you want to add the caramel to the bars, unwrap the caramels and cut each one into 4 smaller pieces. I use kitchen scissors sprayed with nonstick spray for this.
Scatter the caramel pieces over the crust, then sprinkle on just under half of the topping.
Add the apple filling in an even layer, then finish with the rest of the topping across the top.
Bake the bars for 40-45 minutes. The top of the bars should be golden brown and the apples should be soft.
Store apple crisp bars in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days or in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
If you’d like to freeze leftovers, wrap each bar in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container or zip-top freezer bag. Freeze for up to a month.
To reheat, unwrap the apple crisp bar and microwave for 30-60 seconds to thaw and warm it through.
What kind of apples should I use in this recipe?
I recommend using tart baking apples any time you’re cooking, and that goes for these apple crisp bars as well. Some of my favorites are granny smith, honey crisp, and pink lady apples. Golden delicious and jonagold are also great options.
Do I have to peel the apples?
No. I like to peel the apples because I think it makes for a better texture when you’re eating the apple crisp bars. But if the texture doesn’t bother you, feel free to skip that extra step.
Can I make these apple crisp bars ahead of time?
Of course! Feel free to bake the bars the night before you plan to serve them. After cooling, cover them with foil or store them in an airtight container until you’re ready to serve them.
You could even assemble the bars a few hours before you plan to bake them. If you do this, cover the pan with foil and store it in the fridge until you’re ready to pop it in the oven.
I don’t have apple pie spice. What else can I use?
Don’t stress if you don’t have any apple pie spice or if you don’t have the ingredients on hand to make your own. Ground cinnamon will work just fine in place of the apple pie spice.
You could also use pumpkin pie spice or even chai spice blend.
I don’t have vanilla bean paste. Will vanilla extract work?
Yes! You can use an equal amount of vanilla extract in place of the vanilla bean paste in the filling for these apple crisp bars.
Apple Crisp Bars
For the crust:
- ¾ cup unsalted butter softened to room temperature
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup lightly packed light brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon apple pie spice
- Pinch of salt
For the apple filling:
For the topping:
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup rolled oats
- ¾ cup lightly packed brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon apple pie spice
- Pinch salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter softened to room temperature
For the caramel (optional):
- 25 Werther’s Original Soft Caramels
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 13×9-inch baking pan and line with parchment paper. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the crust ingredients on low speed until no large chunks of butter remain and the mixture resembles coarse sand.
- Use your hands or the bottom of a measuring up to firmly press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 12 minutes, or until the edges start to turn golden brown and the center is just set. Set aside.
- Make the filling: In a large bowl, toss together the sliced apples with the lemon juice and vanilla bean paste. Add the flour, sugar, and apple pie spice and toss to thoroughly coat the apples. Set aside.
- Make the topping: Add the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder, apple pie spice, and salt to the stand mixer bowl (no need to wash it between making the crust and the topping). Mix for about 30 seconds with the paddle attachment, just until mixed. Add the butter and mix for 1-2 minutes on low speed, until there are no more dry ingredients visible and the mixture forms clumps.
- If you’re going for the caramel layer, unwrap the caramels and use kitchen scissors sprayed with nonstick cooking spray to cut each caramel into 4 pieces. Scatter these pieces as evenly as you can onto the crust layer.
- Sprinkle just under half of the topping evenly across the crust. Spread the apple filling in an even layer across the top, then finish with the rest of the topping.
- Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the topping is golden brown and the apples have softened. Let cool before slicing.
- If desired, drizzle with salted caramel sauce and top with a scoop of ice cream.