This salted caramel Apple Pie Bars recipe transforms traditional homemade apple pie into a handheld treat that no one can resist. The soft, buttery shortbread crust cradles a sweet and gooey apple filling that’s topped with a streusel crumb and drizzled with a luxurious salted caramel sauce. You might need to make a double batch of these amazing fall treat!
What’s in Apple Pie Bars?
Similar to a traditional pie, these amazing apple pie bars start with a layer of melt-in-your-mouth, tender and buttery shortbread crust, which replaces the flaky pie crust.
The apple layer elevates simple apples to a new level of goodness while keeping the traditional apple pie spice flavor we all love.
Instead of a top crust, we mix a portion of the shortbread dough used as a base, with cinnamon and chopped pecans to add texture and crunch. Of course, you can skip the nuts if preferred! Lastly, a drizzle of salted caramel sauce brings all the flavors together!
These delicious apple bars taste like apple pie except with a thicker, more tender, crumbly and buttery cookie as its bottom crust. Apples and cinnamon are perfect together and the small pieces of crunchy pecans in the crumb topping gives it a warm and nutty flavor. Without the caramel drizzle, they are not overly sweet. If you prefer desserts that are sugary sweet, don’t drizzle too much salted caramel.
Why This Recipe Works?
- Quick and Easy: Making a regular apple pie is a labor of love – which is truly just code words for “labor-intense, time-consuming, nail-bitting baking”. This apple pie bar recipe have the same irresistible flavor of a delicious apple pie, yet its easier to make in less time.
- Comfort Food: Whether is apple season, the holiday season, a birthday or an event where you need to feed a lot of people, this dessert bar is perfect for any occasion. Nothing says fall season like a piece of a warm apple pie bar!
Apple Bars Ingredients and Substitutions
Be sure to check the printable recipe card below for the complete ingredient’s list and their exact quantities.
For the Shortbread Crust and Streusel Topping
- Butter: This recipe uses unsalted butter at room temperature. You can use salted butter if that’s what you have at home. Room temperature ingredients are easier to combine..
- Sugar: For this recipe, I use two types of sugar. Granulated sugar and brown sugar which imparts a deeper flavor similar to molasses. I usually always have light brown sugar at home but dark brown sugar works also.
- Flour: I used ll-purpose flour. Gluten-free flour can be used.
- Pecans: Add a nutty taste and a bit of crunch to the topping. I prefer coarsely chopped pecans instead of using whole pecans or pecan halves. Other nuts like walnuts or macadamias can be used.
- Flavorings: Ground cinnamon, vanilla extract and salt. I use Kosher salt or sea salt for baking.
For the Apple Filling
- Apples: You can use one or two apple varieties suitable for baking. Preferably a sweet apple and a tart one. Granny Smith apples with Honeycrisp or gala apples. Braeburn with golden delicious or Fuji will work also. See more about type of apples below. I peel and core the apples brfore slicing them.
- Lemon juice – Lemon juice helps prevent browning while adding a hint of bright flavor.
- Spices: Cinnamon adds warmth and nutmeg complement apple desserts beautifully.
- The Secret Ingredient: Bourbon infuses a subtle flavor that makes the filling distinctive and out of this world delicious. It’s like giving regular apple pie filling an extra oomph! Spiced Rum is a good substitute. Skip the bourbon or rum if you must!
Salted Caramel Drizzle
Although you can use store-bought caramel sauce, the flavor of commercially made caramel sauce can’t compare with the rich flavor and creamy texture of homemade, especially our homemade salted caramel sauce.
Although caramel has a bad rep for being difficult to make, our step-by-step- tutorial and photos say otherwise.
The Best Apples for Apple Pies and Bars
If you are wondering which apple is best for apple pie, my answer is to use your favorite organic apples. When I make apple sauce or an apple dessert like these apple pie bars or an apple pie, apple cake and even apple bread, I try to use different type of apples. I like to combine different flavors and textures. Below is a list of apples that are great for baking.
- Tart Apples: Granny Smith, Jonathan, Braeburn, Ida Red, Pacific Rose, Crispin (Mutsu)
- Sweet-Tart Apples: Golden Delicious, Pink Lady, Jonagold, Northern Spy
- Sweet Apples: Gala, Fuji, Cortland, Honeycrisp, Empire.
In a comprehensive apple pie test, J. Kenji López-Alt from Serious Eats found out that when making pie with only one type of apples, golden delicious apples makes the best pies
Reference: Serious Eats – The Food Lab
How to Make these Delicious Apple Pie Bars?
For specific instructions and baking times, check the recipe card below.
Make the salted caramel sauce and set aside. Our homemade caramel recipe keeps 3 weeks in the fridge so you can make this ahead of time.
To Make the Crust
- Prep: Preheat the oven to 375º Fahrenheit. Line a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with parchment paper allowing excess to extend over the sides of the pan for easy lifting.
- Beat Butter: In the large mixing bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment or to a large bowl if using a hand-held electric mixer beat the butter, sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy.
- Combine Dry and Wet Ingredients: Use a sifter to add the flour and salt to a medium bowl then, with the mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture
- Press Dough into Pan: Transfer two-thirds of the dough to the prepared baking pan. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan into an even layer before refrigerating briefly.
- Bake: When ready to bake, place the pan in the center of the oven and bake until the dough is light golden brown. Remove and allow to cool on a wire rack.
- Mix Crumb Topping: While the crust bakes, sprinkle the chopped pecans and cinnamon into the remaining crust mixture. When the baking is done, remove from the oven and cool on a cooling rack.
Making the Apple Pie Filling
- Add the apple slices to a large bowl and toss with lemon juice to prevent the apples from browning.
- Melt the butter in a large skillet, add the sliced apples, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Cook briefly while stirring.
- Pour in the bourbon and simmer until almost all the liquid has evaporated. This gets rid of the alcohol in the bourbon leaving you with just a hint of flavor.
- Remove from the heat and evenly spread the apple mixture over the pre-baked bottom crust.
The Streusel Topping
- Apply the remaining dough to the top of the apples in small pieces, in the style of a crumb topping crumble.
- Bake until the top is golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack to allow the bars to reach room temperature.
- Once the bars have cooled, remove them from the pan and spoon the salted caramel sauce over top.
- Then, slice and serve or transfer to an airtight container to store.
- It’s best to peel the apples when making this dessert.
- When making the crumble topping, you can skip the nuts.
- If using pecans (or any other nut like walnuts or almonds), chop them finely so they provide crunch while blending in with the shortbread cookie.
- If you use bourbon (or any alcoholic drink), don’t worry about alcohol content. The alcohol evaporates while the apples cooked leaving only aroma and a hint of flavor.
- If preferred, skip the bourbon.
- Apple pie bars can be served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream
Frequently Asked Questions
Should you Mix Apples for Apple Pie?
Although mixing different apple types when baking is a personal preference, I like the combination of flavors and textures achieved when mixing different types of apples. A sweeter apple like Fiji pairs beautifully with a tart apple such as Braeburn. An apple that stays firm when baked such as Granny Smith compliments an apple that breaks down like golden delicious or McIntosh.
Why Does Apple Pie or Pie Bars Call for Lemon?
Lemon is used in apple recipes to prevent the apples from oxidizing and turning brown.
Making Ahead, Storing and Freezing
Store the bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. They can be frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw them in the fridge overnight then, bring them to room temperature. I prefer to freeze them without the caramel drizzle.
Take a Look at These other Dessert Recipes:
Recipe adapted from Ina Garten
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Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars
For the Crust
For the Apple Filling
Salted Caramel Sauce – see recipe link
- Make the Salted Caramel Sauce – Link provided
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with parchment paper allowing excess to extend over the sides of the pan.
To Make the Crust
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugars and vanilla extract over medium speed, for about 3 minutes or until light and creamy.
- Sift the flour and salt together. With the mixer on low speed add the flour to the butter/sugar mixture slowly. Beat until combine.
- Take two-thirds of the dough and press it into the prepared baking pan in an even layer. It should be about 1/2-inch up the sides. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes.
- Remove from the refrigerator and bake for about 18 – 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
- Meanwhile, add the chopped pecans and cinnamon to the remaining dough. Put the bowl back on the mixer and mix on low to combine. You can also remove the bowl from the mixer and mix it by hand.
For the Apple Filling
- In a large bowl, combine the apples and lemon juice to prevent browning.
- Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the apples, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and toss to combine. Cook for about 3 minutes stirring often. Add the bourbon and simmer over medium-low heat for about 10 minutes or until some or most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat.
- Spread the apples evenly over the crust, leaving a 1/2-inch border.
- Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Use your fingers to pinch pieces of the remaining dough and apply to the top the apples as if trying to make a crumble.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool completely.
- When cool, lift the baked bar using the excess parchment paper as handles. Drizzle with the Salted Caramel Sauce. Cut into bars and serve.
- Store the bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. They can be frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw them in the fridge overnight then, bring them to room temperature. I prefer to freeze them without the caramel drizzle.