Move over apple pie, these easy to make Apple Crisp Bars have a buttery shortbread cookie base, apple pie filling and a cinnamon streusel top! Share this easy apple bars recipe with vanilla bean ice cream and/or caramel sauce. | This recipe is brought to you by Bob’s Red Mill.
Easier Than Apple Pie
Crave apple pie but not into making pastry? Or, you love an easy apple crisp, but want something in bar or cookie form? This is your dessert! It’s somewhat like a crisp but more like apple crisp cookie bars or French apple pie bars! Whatever you call em’ you’re going to love how simple this recipe is to make. #getinmybelly
These scrumptious apple dessert bars taste like apple pie, but without the fuss of rolling out the dough and crimping. In this apple crisp bars recipe, we’re making an easy shortbread crust, with melted butter and pressing it into a pan (hooray!).
Read on to learn more about how this apple crisp with shortbread crust comes together!
Ingredients Make All the Difference
Choosing high quality ingredients is important for flavor and health. It’s a reflection of the love and attention that goes into each recipe I create for my family, friends and the Vanilla And Bean community. I use Bob’s Red Mill Organic Unbleached All Purpose Flour in this and many of my baked goods recipes. It’s a high quality flour that produces consist results every time.
You’ll find Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Flour in my Sweet Potato Cornbread Pot Pie, pastry for pies like my almost famous Bourbon Pecan Pie (and Vegan Bourbon Pecan Pie), tasty Sourdough Biscuits, absolutely fabulous Sourdough Chocolate Chip Cookies and so much more! It’s perfect for everyday and something you’ll always find in my pantry.
What Types of Apples to Choose?
Since we’re using fresh apples in this recipe you’ll choose a mix of firm, tart and sweet apples such as Cortland, Honeycrisp, Gravenstein, Cameo, Jonagolds, Pink Lady or Granny Smith Apples. These varieties tend to hold their structure well, so they’re a perfect fit for our apple pie bars since we want the apples to retain their texture rather than turn to mush.
Using a mix of at least three different types of apples yields flavor interest, texture variety and a lovely fragrance. Choose your favorites and go with it!
How to Make Apple Crisp Squares
For these easy apple crisp bars with shortbread crust, you’ll use an 8 inch by 8 inch baking pan lined with parchment paper. Gather your ingredients, mise en place, then get started! Here’s how to make these easy apple bars (see recipe card for details):
- First, make the crust and streusel by mixing all purpose flour, ground cinnamon, light brown sugar and melted butter together in a medium bowl until crumbly.
- Second, set a portion of the dough aside for the streusel topping, adding old fashioned oats, a bit more brown sugar and cinnamon. Set the streusel aside, then press the remaining dough into the bottom of the pan.
- Third, bake the crust.
- Fourth, while the crust is baking make the apple filling: peel, core and slice the fresh apples thin, about 1/8 inch thick. A mandoline this makes the job a bit quicker.
- Fifth, cook the apple slices with a few tablespoons of maple syrup, vanilla extract, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon zest and juice. To thicken the apples towards the end of cooking, add a slurry of cornstarch and give the apples just a little more time on the stove.
- Next, remove the crust from the oven and transfer the apple filling to cover the shortbread crust.
- Last, sprinkle the streusel over the apples and return the pan to the oven to bake until golden.
Once cool, slice and share shortbread apple crumble bars with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and/or for caramel apple goodness, drizzle the bars with caramel sauce – SO GOOOOD!!
How to Prevent Mushy Apples
A tip I learned from Cooks Illustrated is to cook sliced apples for about 10 minutes prior to baking. Doing this helps set the pectin, bringing it to a heat stable form which prevents mushy apples (or further apple shrinkage). This gives us a good apple texture between the shortbread crust and crumbly, crisp topping.
And, it works beautifully in this apple crisp recipe and my gluten free vegan Apple Pie recipe among others I’ve tried. No mushy apples!
How to Store Cinnamon Apple Crisp Bars
Apple crips bars will stay fresh at room temperature for up to two days. Or for longer storage (or a make ahead strategy), they can be frozen with fabulous results!
If freezing, cut into squares, then freeze on a sheet pan. Once frozen, store in a freezer bag or lidded storage container in-between sheets of parchment paper. Thaw at room temperature.
How to Reheat Apple Shortbread Bars
These apple squares are such a delight reheated! That little bit of heat softens the fats and allows the bars to crisp up again. And of course, warming allows ice cream to melt all over these tasty treats!
Once thawed or at room temperature, reheat apple bars on a parchment lined sheet pat at 350 Fahrenheit for about 10-15 minutes or until warmed through.
A Few Recipe Notes
- Choose a variety of firm apples for best flavor, texture and fragrance.
- Make Ahead Ready: Get a jump on your holiday planning with this apple bar dessert! It freezes beautifully.
- For Serving: Share rewarmed with your favorite vanilla bean ice cream and/or caramel sauce.
- Make It Vegan: While I’ve not tested this recipe with plant butter, I wouldn’t hesitate using Earth Balance to make it. If so, reduce the salt called for in the crust recipe by 1/4 teaspoon. If you give it a go, please let us know in the comments.
More Apple Recipes to Love
- Easy Stewed Apples
- Gluten Free and Vegan Apple Pie
- Apple Baked Oats with Cranberry Crumble (make ahead)
- Apple Dumplings Stuffed with Brown Sugar Cranberry Butter
- Sparkling Apple Sangria
Cinnamon Apple Crisp Bars Recipe
For the Crust and Topping:
- 14 tablespoons (195 grams) Unsalted Butter or 1 3/4 sticks.
- 2 cups + 2 tablespoons (305 grams) All Purpose Unbleached Flour I use Bob's Red Mill
- 1/4 cup (55 grams) Cane Sugar
- 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon (65 grams) Light Brown Sugar divided
- 1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon divided
- 1/2 teaspoon Fine Sea Salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- 1/2 cup (50 grams) Old Fashioned Rolled Oats
For the Apple Filling:
- 2 pounds (950 grams) Apples peeled, cored and sliced very thin, about 1/8 inch to yield about 6 cups (585 grams / 1 pound 3 ounces)
- 2 tablespoons Maple Syrup
- 2 tablespoons Apple Juice, Apple Cider or Water *see note
- Zest and Juice of One Lemon
- 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- 3/4 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
- 1/4 tespoon Fine Sea Salt
- 1 tablespoon Cornstarch
- Lightly oil the bottom and sides of an 8 inch by 8 inch baking pan with pan spray or vegetable oil. Line the pan with parchment paper leaving "handles" to lift the apple bars out of the pan. Set aside.
Make the Crust and Topping:
- In a small sauce pot, add the butter and heat on low. Once melted, set aside and allow it to cool.
- In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the flour, cane sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and salt.
- Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the melted butter. Add the vanilla extract to the bowl. Use a wood spoon to pull the flour mixture into the center of the well, stirring and incorporating the flour into the butter. Stop mixing when no dry bits remain and the mixture is crumbly. This is your shortbread crust dough.
- Make the Streusel Topping: Transfer 3/4 cups (150 grams) of the crumbly shortbread dough to a small bowl. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and all the oats. Mix together using your hands. The topping should be crumbly. Set aside.
- Press in the Shortbread Crust: Knead the remaining shortbread dough a few times to bring the crumbles together, then transfer the dough to the prepared pan. Press the dough into the pan in an even layer. Use the bottom of a dry measuring cup or Mason jar to smooth and even the layer if needed. Place in the freezer for 15 minutes.
- Arrange a baking rack to the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit (180 Celcius).
- Bake the shortbread crust for 25-30 minutes or until darker golden around the edges and golden in the center. Set aside.
Cook the Apples:
- Meanwhile, place the thinly sliced apples in a Dutch oven or large stock pot. Add the maple syrup, 1 tablespoon of juice (cider or water), zest and juice of one lemon, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.
- Turn the heat to medium and gently stir the apples. Once you hear the ingredients bubbling, turn the heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes stirring occassionally. The apples will begin to cook down, become soft and release their juices. Once done, the apples should be just fork tender. Remove from heat and make a slurry of 1 tablespoon of juice or water with the cornstarch. Pour it into the apple mixture, return the pot to medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring to coat the apples, for about 30 seconds or until the mixture thickens and the apples are glossy. Remove from heat and set aside.
Assemble and Bake the Apple Bars:
- Transfer the apples to the baked crust, gently spreading and pressing into one even layer – be sure to get the corners. Sprinkle the streusel topping over the apples in an even layer. Bake at 350 Fahrenheit (180 Celcius) for 30-35 minutes or until the top is golden and apples fragrant.
- Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely in the pan (about one and a half to two hours).
- Lift the bars out of the pan using the parchment as handles. Use a serrated knife, cut the bars in one assertive downward motion, into 16 pieces.
To Store / Reheat:
- Store bars at room temperature for up to two days, or up to two weeks in the freezer. Thaw for about an hour before reheating. Reheat in a 350 Fahrenheit oven for about 10-15 minutes or until warmed through.