All things pumpkin seem to take center stage on dessert tables for ladies' meetings and family gatherings this time of year.
But if I'm on the calendar to provide a fall treat, I think about my sister, Lisa. She's not a pumpkin fan, though she says she's more accepting of pumpkin-flavored desserts than she used to be.
It's tough to be pumpkin-challenged at this time of year.
So I usually opt for another fall flavor. I was the dessert provider for my PEO group last week. I tried out an Apple Cheesecake recipe. It got good reviews with my cheesecake-loving granddaughter and her Daddy. Really, it got good reviews all around.
But I was looking for something even better. Jill suggested Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars from Sally's Baking Addiction. Sally's is Jill's go-to favorite baking blog. (I'll let that slide, since my blog has a schizophrenic focus - farm, family, faith, photography and, yes, food.)
Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars are what Jill makes herself as a birthday treat. (If you're the Mom, you know about making your own birthday treat.)
After tasting them, it's no wonder. It's good just as is. Who can argue with a buttery shortbread crust ... and crunchy streusel. But the homemade salted caramel sauce brings it to a whole other level of scrumptiousness.
I will definitely add it among my favorite apple dessert recipes. For the PEO meeting, I topped with a small scoop of caramel ice cream and drizzled with a little additional warm caramel sauce.
It was a hit. If you're looking for a last-minute addition to your Thanksgiving dessert table, look no further!
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
Apple Filling4 large apples, peeled and thinly sliced, 1/4 inch thick (I used Granny Smith, but Jonathan would be good, too, if you can find them)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Streusel1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup light or dark brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, cold and cubed
Homemade salted caramel (see below) or store-bought caramel sauce
- Preheat the oven to 300°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper leaving enough overhang on all sides. Set aside.
- Make the crust: Stir the melted butter, granulated sugar, vanilla, and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the flour and stir until everything is combined. Press the mixture evenly into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 15 minutes and then remove from the oven. (As the crust bakes, you can prepare the filling and streusel.)
- Make the apple filling: Combine the sliced apples, flour, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg together in a large bowl until all of the apples are evenly coated. Set aside.
- Make the streusel: Whisk the oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour together in a medium bowl. Cut in the chilled butter with a pastry blender or two forks (or even with your hands) until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside.
- Turn the oven up to 350°F. Evenly layer the apples on top of the warm crust. It will look like there are too many apple slices, so layer them tightly and press them down to fit. Sprinkle the apple layer with streusel and bake for 30–35 minutes or until the streusel is golden brown.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool for at least 20 minutes at room temperature, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours (or overnight). Lift the foil or parchment out of the pan using the overhang on the sides and cut into bars. Cut into 12-16 bars, depending on what size you want. NOTE FROM ME: For a fancy dessert at a meeting you will probably want to cut them larger - maybe only 9 bars per pan, depending on the serving size you want. Once cut, drizzle some salted caramel sauce on top of each. These apple pie bars can be enjoyed warm, at room temperature, or even cold.
- Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: The bars will stay fresh in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3 days. You can freeze the bars for up to 3 months. Then, thaw overnight in the refrigerator before serving and drizzling with caramel.
- Apples: Sally's Baking Addiction recommends using two different kinds of apples for a more complex flavor. She typically uses both a tart apple variety such as Granny Smith, and a sweeter apple variety such as Pink Lady. You’ll end up with about 3-4 cups. A little more or less is OK, based on your preference of filling.
Salted Caramel Sauce
6 Tablespoons salted butter, room temperature cut up into 6 pieces
1/2 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
- Heat granulated sugar in a medium heavy-duty saucepan (avoid using non-stick) over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Sugar will form clumps and eventually melt into a thick brown, amber-colored liquid as you continue to stir. Be careful not to burn it.
- Once sugar is completely melted, immediately stir in the butter until melted and combined. Be careful in this step because the caramel will bubble rapidly when the butter is added. If you notice the butter separating or if the sugar clumps up, remove from heat and vigorously whisk to combine it again. (If you’re nervous for splatter, wear kitchen gloves. Keep whisking until it comes back together, even if it takes 3-4 minutes. It will eventually– just keep whisking. Return to heat when it’s combined again.)
- After the butter has melted and combined with the caramelized sugar, cook for 1 minute without stirring.
- Very slowly stir in 1/2 cup of heavy cream. Since the heavy cream is colder than the hot caramel, the mixture will rapidly bubble when added. After all the heavy cream has been added, stop stirring and allow to boil for 1 minute. It will rise in the pan as it boils.
- Remove from heat and stir in the salt. Allow to slightly cool down before using. Caramel thickens as it cools.
- Cover tightly and store for up to 1 month in the refrigerator. Caramel solidifies in the refrigerator. Reheat in the microwave or on the stove to desired consistency.
- Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: You can make this caramel in advance. Make sure it is covered tightly and store it for up to 1 month in the refrigerator. Warm the caramel up for a few seconds before using in a recipe. This caramel is OK at room temperature for a day if you’re traveling or gifting it. You can freeze the salted caramel, too. Freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator or at room temperature, then warm up before using.
- Sugar: This recipe is most successful using granulated sugar that’s labeled “pure cane” on the packaging. (For example: Domino brand regular granulated sugar says “pure cane granulated” on the packaging.
- Salt: Use regular table salt or kosher salt. The original recipe called for 1 teaspoon. I thought that was a little salt forward, so I suggest 1/2 teaspoon instead. You may want to taste it and add more, if wanted.