There's nothing like rounding out a delicious meal with something sweet. In the fall, homemade dessert options are plentiful with the reappearance of apples, pumpkin, and flavorful spices. These bars are the perfect dessert, not only because they taste incredible, but because they're fairly easy to make and visually quite appealing. Generous chunks of crisp, local apples are sandwiched between a buttery shortbread crust and topping, and drizzled generously with salted caramel sauce. They're definitely as good as they sound!
This recipe calls for homemade caramel sauce, but if you're in a hurry or just plain intimidated by making your own, you're welcome to use a pre-made caramel sauce here. Dulce de leche would even work, though the flavor would be a bit different. I used macintosh apples for the filling, as they are a great baking apple and keep their shape and texture well.
The bars are served here on a J.K. Adams Heritage Board Chattels - the perfect vehicle for our fall-themed evening, with a Sabre Gingham Charm Tart Slicer. I liked the Sabre server here, because the pattern reminds me of a summery picnic table - it brings a bit of warmth and cheer to the table!
Salted Caramel Apple Crumb Bars adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod
Salted Caramel Sauce Ingredients 2 cups granulated sugar 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces 1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature 1 tablespoon fleur de sel or sea salt flakes (like Maldon)
Filling Ingredients 5 cups peeled and diced apples (I used Macintosh) 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice ½ cup all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon cornstarch 1 cup granulated sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Crust Ingredients 3 cups all-purpose flour 1 cup granulated sugar 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon 1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces 1 egg, lightly beaten 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions For the Salted Caramel Sauce: Before you begin, make sure you have all of the ingredients ready. Once you begin making the caramel sauce, it will require all of your attention!
To start, heat the sugar over medium-high heat in the bottom of a 2-3 quart saucepan. When the sugar starts to melt, begin whisking the sugar. The sugar will clump up and you may worry you made a mistake, but just keep whisking! It will continue to melt. When the sugar is melted, stop whisking. You can swirl the pan to move the liquified sugar around.
Continue cooking the sugar until it reaches a deep amber color. Make sure you watch the pan very closely, as it can be easy to burn the caramel here. The caramel should reach 350 degrees F.
As soon as the sugar becomes dark amber in color, carefully add the butter. Whisk until butter is completely melted.
Remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour in the heavy cream, a little bit at a time. Whisk until cream is entirely incorporated and caramel is smooth - this may take a minute or two. Whisk in the fleur de sel or sea salt flakes and set aside in the pan to cool for about 10 minutes.
Once the caramel has cooled a bit, pour into a large mason jar and cool to room temperature while you make the apple crumb bars. This recipe makes 2 cups of caramel sauce, but you won't need it all for this recipe. Extra sauce can be stored int eh refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
For the Apple Crumb Bars: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a 9×13-inch baking pan with cooking spray and set aside.
For the apple filling: Place the diced apples in a large bowl and cover with lemon juice. Mix gently to distribute. In a separate small bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Pour over the apples and carefully mix to combine. Set aside.
For the dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender or by using your fingers, until butter is most incorporated but you still have small chunks visible. Mix the egg and vanilla together, then add mixture to the flour and butter mixture and stir to combine. The dough will be crumbly. Pat down half of the dough evenly into the prepared pan.
Pour the apple mixture over the bottom crust, and spread to make it as even as possible. Drizzle about 3/4 cup salted caramel sauce over the apple filling, then crumble the remaining dough over the apple caramel layer and press gently to secure.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into squares, then drizzle with extra salted caramel sauce, if desired. Serve on their own, or with a big bowl of vanilla bean ice cream!