How quickly the holiday season is upon us, and that means someone, particularly my husband and daughter, wants me to make an apple pie. Meh. It’s not that I don’t like apple pie, I do, as long as it is a good apple pie! Thus lies the problem, a good apple pie can be really hard to make or even buy! A lot of apple pies have a least one of these problems: overcooked apples, undercooked apples, too many apples, not enough apples, too much spice, not enough spice, too wet, too dry, bland crust, tough crust, or soggy crust. Not to mention that they are somewhat labor intensive to make! Being that I don’t absolutely LOVE apple pie, I’m not willing to invest too much time into making one.
Therefore this year, I decided that I would find and tweak an apple pie recipe that would satisfy my apple pie loving family, yet impressive enough for me to feel enthusiastic about making it. I found it in this apple pie bar recipe (adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction blog site)! It has all the components of a good apple pie, yet only requires half of the time (at most), and is made with ingredients that I have in my pantry! I’ve made is several times already, and I am telling you, it is way easier and better than most of the apple pies I have tasted in my lifetime. I hope you think so too!
** Gluten Free Option (GF) – I’ve included a gluten free option for those who cannot tolerate it (for whatever reason) and still want a delicious treat! If you are making this for someone who is gluten free, you must be diligent about avoiding cross contamination. As a flour substitute, I use Betty Crocker all-purpose gluten free rice flour blend, but you could use another type of gluten free baking mix. I also add almond flour to improve the texture and flavor. Oatmeal is naturally gluten free, however, most oatmeal is processed in a facility that also processes flour and cross contamination is common. I specifically buy oatmeal that is labeled “gluten free” that also includes a note indicating that it is processed in a gluten free facility.
An 8 x 8 inch pan yields approximately 9 bars or double the recipe for a 9 x 13 inch pan! (highly recommended to double because you will eat about 3-4 of these babies yourself, and you still want to have some for everyone else)
1/2 cup – unsalted butter (Note: NEVER margarine, gross), melted
1/4 cup – granulated white cane sugar (Note: sugar cane sugar is superior tasting than sugar made from sugar beets. Spend the extra $1 and buy sugar made from sugar canes, such as C & H brand found in all grocery stores. If it doesn’t say “made from sugar canes” than it’s made from beets or something else.)
1 tsp – vanilla extract or equal amounts of vanilla bean paste (Note: please use only real vanilla extract, artificial vanilla extract is way inferior and just terrible!)
1 tsp – salt
1 cup – all purpose flour (GF option: 3/4 cup Betty Crocker GF rice flour blend and 3/4 cup almond flour)
Apple Pie Filling
3 medium – Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced thinly (no more than 1/4-inch thick)
2 tbsp – all purpose flour (GF option: 2 tbsp Betty Crocker GF rice flour blend or GF cornstarch)
2 tbsp – granulated white cane sugar
1 tbsp – lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp – ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp – ground nutmeg
Oatmeal Crisp Topping
1/2 cup – old-fashioned rolled oats (GF option: gluten free old-fashioned rolled oats, not steel cut)
Hint: if you don’t normally have old-fashioned oats at home, you can buy only the amount you need if you go to the section of your grocery store that sells bulk items in a bin
1/3 cup – brown sugar, light or dark (Note: again, look for the C & H brand of brown sugar from sugar canes. Don’t buy the cheap stuff that has been “sprayed” brown)
1/2 tsp – ground cinnamon
1/4 cup – all purpose flour (GF option: 1/4 cup Betty Crocker GF rice flour blend)
1/4 cup – unsalted butter, cold and cut into small squares
Salted Caramel Sauce
Homemade salted caramel sauce may seem like a daunting task because people will tell you that you have to use a thermometer and cook it to a certain temperature, but relax, you don’t need a thermometer; it doesn’t have to be hard! Yes, for those purists, I could have posted a salted caramel sauce recipe that only contained sugar, butter, cream, and salt (like what is posted Sally’s Baking Addiction blog, which I make on occasion). However, if you are a first time caramel sauce maker you can easily burn the caramel and yourself. I found a good salted caramel sauce recipe (from Averie Cooks blog), which I also use frequently, that is more forgiving. Since I use her recipe, just follow this URL below and it will link you to her site; you’ll appreciate her well written instructions! There will be some leftovers after using it for this recipe, but that is a good thing, as you will find all sorts of ways to use up the excess (including just eating it with a spoon, body paint, or whatever). And if you don’t have time, you could use a high quality store bought sauce, but you won’t feel as accomplished.
Turn on your oven and preheat it to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line an 8 x 8 inch baking pan (or 9 x 13 inch pan if making a double recipe) with aluminum foil, leaving about a 1-inch overhang on all sides of the pan, an then crimp down. Set aside for now.
To make the shortbread crust: Stir the melted butter, granulated white cane sugar, vanilla, salt, and flour together in a medium bowl until combined (Hint: I use a food processor and pulse it a few times until it comes together). With your CLEAN hands, press the mixture evenly into the foil lined pan. Bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes while you prepare the filling and oatmeal crisp topping.
Note: If you are using a food processor, wipe it out with a clean paper towel when you are done because you can use it for the oatmeal crisp topping.
To make the apple filling: After peeling, coring, and slicing the apples, toss them in the lemon juice (to slow down the browning, aka oxidation, process) in a large bowl. Then add the flour, granulated white cane sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg together until all of the apples are evenly coated. Set aside.
To make the oatmeal crisp topping: Take the brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour and mix them together in a medium bowl. With a pastry blender (pressing down) or two knives (in a scissoring motion), “cut” in the chilled butter squares until you have coarse crumbles (you can also just use your hands). Set aside.
Hint (preferred and easiest method): Since I already have my food processor out, I use it to make the crisp topping! I place the brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour into the processor and pulse it a few times. I then add the squares of butter and continue to pulse until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs. I dump everything into a medium sized bowl and then stir in the oatmeal. Set aside.
To assemble: Remove the shortbread crust from the oven and place it on a wire baking rack to cool for a few minutes, and then crank up the oven up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Evenly layer the apple mixture on top of the warm crust. It will appear that there are an excessive amount of apple slices, so layer them tightly and then press them down to fit. Sprinkle the apple layer with oatmeal crisp topping and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the oatmeal crisp topping is golden brown.
Remove from the pan from the oven and allow to cool (on a wire baking rack) for at least 30 minutes at room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for a minimum of 2 hours (Hint: don’t skip this part as it really helps to keep the bars tight). Lift the foil out of the pan using the overhang on the sides and cut into bars. Once cut, pour salted caramel sauce on top. These apple pie bars can be enjoyed at room temperature, warm, or cold (I prefer them at room temperature or a little warm). A scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top is fabulous! The bars will stay freshest in an airtight container in the refrigerator, and can be kept for at least 3 days or in an airtight container at room temperature for a day.