Caramel apple pie bars are your new favorite fall dessert

I love everything about the holidays. I could spend all day wrapping presents, putting up lights, and sipping hot cocoa. The only problem is that there is a lot more to do around the holidays besides sipping cocoa. There's waiting in lines, picking up extra hours at work to pay for the presents, and of course shoveling snow. This precious season seems to slip through our fingers each year, so it's important to be very careful with where we spend our time. Otherwise that magical time flies by and leaves us with nothing but tight jeans and gray snow. 

One way to create more time for yourself this season is to cut back on your holiday baking. Rather than giving it up all together, simply look for easier, quicker recipes. This way you can still enjoy those traditional treats, while still allowing plenty of time for staring out the window waiting for Santa. A perfect example of an easier holiday option is these caramel apple pie bars. They are much simpler than making apple pie, but just as delicious. And that caramel topping takes traditional apple pie to a new level. Make a batch for your favorite teacher, mail carrier, hostess, or keep them all for yourself!

Gather your ingredients

Start by gathering your ingredients. For the pie crust, you'll need two sticks of butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, pure vanilla extract, all-purpose flour, and kosher salt. Make sure to allow the butter to sit at room temperature to soften. If you're short on time, unwrap the butter and place it on a microwave-safe plate. Microwave in 10-second intervals, until softened, but not melted.

For the apple filling, choose three large apples, sugar, cinnamon, and apple pie spice. I used Honey Crisp apples for this recipe, but feel free to use what you have. You'll also need one cup of soft caramel candies for the topping. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

A full list of ingredients and step-by-step instructions can be found at the end of this article.

Beat the wet ingredients

The easiest way to prepare the crust is with your stand mixer. Add the softened butter, one-third cup granulated sugar, one-third cup brown sugar, and one teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Place the paddle attachment on the mixer and beat on medium speed for two minutes. The mixture should be light and fluffy after two minutes.

Add the flour

Reduce the mixer's speed to low and slowly begin incorporating the flour, adding about one-half cup at a time. Make sure the flour is completely incorporated into the dough before adding more. Once the flour has been mixed in, sprinkle in the one teaspoon of kosher salt and mix until combined.

Form the crust

Remove the bowl from the stand mixer and pull apart about one-third of the dough. Set it aside for topping. Spray an eight-by-eight inch glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Taking the remaining two-thirds of the dough, gently press it into the baking dish, working about halfway up the sides of the dish. 

Place the dough in the refrigerator to chill for 20 minutes. Once chilled, place it in the oven and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. 

Prepare the apples

While the crust is baking, prepare the apple filling. Core the three large apples and slice thinly. There is no need to peel the apples. You won't notice the skin in the finished product, and we're trying to save time here, remember? 

Melt the butter

Place a large saucepan over medium heat and add the two tablespoons butter. Melt the butter, being careful not to let it burn. As soon as the butter is melted, add the apple slices. 

Cook the apples

Top the apple slices with two teaspoons granulated sugar, one teaspoon cinnamon, and one teaspoon apple pie spice. Toss the apple slices so that they are all evenly coated with butter, sugar, and spices. Allow the apples to cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Stir them occasionally to prevent burning or sticking to the pan. 

Add the apple topping

Once the crust is out of the oven, allow it to cool slightly for a few minutes. Then pour the cooked apples over the top. Make sure to leave about a half-inch border around the crust.

Top with dough

Taking the reserved dough, break off small pieces with your fingers and drop over the apple slices. It's okay for this part to be uneven, and the dough will not completely cover the apples. Return the apple pie bars to the oven and bake until the crust topping is golden brown, about 30 minutes. 

Drizzle with caramel

Once you've removed the apple pie bars from the oven, prepare the caramel sauce. Place the soft caramel candies in a microwave-safe bowl and add in one tablespoon warm water. Microwave on 30-second intervals until completely melted. When you stir the sauce and remove the spoon, the caramel should easily run off the spoon. Generously drizzle the caramel sauce over the apple pie bars and allow to sit for about five minutes before cutting and serving. Enjoy!

Directions

Prep time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 50 minutes

Servings: 12

Ingredients:

For the crust

  • ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, brought to room temperature

  • ⅓ cup granulated sugar

  • ⅓ cup brown sugar, packed

  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

  • 2 cups all purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon salt

For the filling

  • 3 large honeycrisp apples

  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1 teaspoon apple pie spice

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

  • 1 cup soft caramel candies, unwrapped

  • 1 tablespoon warm water

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

  2. To prepare the crust, place the softened butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla extract into a large mixing bowl and set in stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat the mixture on medium speed for about two minutes, until light and fluffy.

  3. Reduce the mixer speed to low and begin slowly adding the flour, about one-half cup at a time. Once the flour has been fully incorporated, add the salt while the mixer is still going.

  4. Remove the dough from the mixer and set aside one-third of the dough for topping. Spray an eight-by-eight inch glass baking dish with nonstick spray and press the remaining two-thirds of dough into it, pressing it up the sides about halfway. Place the prepared crust in the refrigerator to chill for 20 minutes. Once chilled, place the crust in the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until golden.

  5. Meanwhile, prepare the apple filling. Core and thinly slice the apples into about one-eighth inch slices. You do not need to peel the apples.

  6. Place a large saucepan over medium heat and add the two tablespoons of butter. As soon as the butter has melted, add the apple slices, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and apple pie spice. Toss to combine and cook until the apple slices are tender, about 15 minutes.

  7. Remove the crust from the oven and allow to cool slightly. Pour the cooked apple mixture into the crust. Taking small scoops with your fingers, drop the remaining dough onto the apple mixture. The apples will not be completely covered. Return the baking dish to the oven and bake for 30 minutes, until the topping crust is golden.

  8. Once you remove the apple pie bars from the oven, place the unwrapped caramels into a microwave-safe dish and add one tablespoon warm water. Cook in the microwave on 30-second intervals until melted. The caramel should easily run off the spoon when stirred. Drizzle the caramel sauce over the bars and allow to cool slightly before serving.