These salted caramel apple pie bars have a crisp brown sugar shortbread base, gooey caramel apple filling, a crisp crumble topping, and smothered in salted caramel sauce. There's salted caramel sauce in the apple filling! This recipe has everything you need to know to make a homemade caramel sauce but you can use storebought for a shortcut.
They're the perfect alternative to a pie because they're much easier to make and serve. Enjoy them with a perfectly spiced and flavorful pumpkin spice chai latte. This apple cake is also packed with apple slices.
✨ Why you'll LOVE this recipe:
- Caramel: This recipe has everything you need to know to make a successful salted caramel sauce. It's really not as intimidating to make as it seems and you don't need a candy thermometer with this method!
- Apple filling: The apples are tossed with caramel sauce, cinnamon, and a touch of flour for the best flavour and texture.
- Crisp shortbread: The base and the crumble on top are made of the same brown sugar shortbread recipe so you don't have to make a separate crumble! The base is popped into the oven for 12 minutes without the filling so that it turns out super crisp and buttery every time.
- Easier than pie: Pie bars are much easier to assemble and cut than a more traditional pie!
📝 Key ingredients
These caramel apple pie bars have three components - the caramel sauce, apple filling, and brown sugar crust + crumble.
The crust and crumble are the same dough which is a huge time saver.
Salted caramel sauce
You can skip the homemade salted caramel sauce and use a storebought version if you're in a time crunch. But homemade caramel is so much better and is actually pretty easy to make as long as you follow the steps and tips.
- Granulated sugar: I haven't had success with cane sugar for caramel sauce so I recommend granulated sugar.
- Heavy whipping cream: Use cream that's 35% milkfat or higher. Don't substitute with half and half cream, the caramel sauce won't be thick enough.
Caramel apple filling
The filling is an apple pie filling sweetened with caramel sauce and brown sugar.
- Apples: Use a tart and hard apple variety like granny smith or northern spy. This will make for a much more flavorful filling.
- Cinnamon: The filling doesn't have an overwhelming amount of cinnamon, just enough to add warmth to the filling. If you don't like cinnamon you can omit or substitute with grated nutmeg.
- Caramel sauce: Use store-bought caramel sauce for a shortcut.
Brown sugar crust and crumble
The crust and crumble are a crisp brown sugar shortbread.
- All purpose flour: Weigh the flour to get the most accurate results. If you don’t have a scale, measure properly by stirring the bag and spooning gently into a measuring cup. Scrape the excess off the top with the flat edge off a knife without packing it into the cup.
- Pecans: the pecans will toast in the oven as the salted caramel apple pie bars bake. They add a touch of nutty crunch. If you don't like pecans, leave them out or substitute with your favorite nut
- Butter: Use a good quality real butter for best results. This will make the shortbread extra crisp and the caramel sauce more rich.
- Brown sugar: The brown sugar gives the crust a lovely colour and flavour! You can substitute it with granulated sugar for a more muted flavour. But definitely give the brown sugar crust a try, it's so perfect with the caramel and apples!
Read through for all the tips you will need for success!
Full steps and ingredients in recipe card below.
✔️ Ingredient substitutions
These apple pie bars are naturally egg free. Here are some ingredient substitutions you can make for allergy friendly versions:
- Gluten free: Use 1:1 gluten free flour instead of all purpose flour in the filling and crust
- Nut free: Omit the pecans in the topping. Or substitute with pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds.
👩🍳 How to make caramel apple pie bars
These step by step photos take you through how to make each component.
How to make salted caramel sauce (dry method)
Step 1: Heat cream, butter, salt, and vanilla extract in a small pot until it comes to a simmer, turn it off.
Step 2: Pour sugar into a medium heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat on medium-low heat, stirring constantly as it clumps up.
Step 3: As soon as all of the sugar clumps melt and the caramel turns a rich amber color, take it off the heat. Be careful not to burn the sugar or it will be bitter.
Step 4: Working quickly, gradually pour the hot cream mixture into the hot sugar, whisking vigorously and being careful. Keep whisking until smooth and combined. Place back on heat for one minute (optional). This helps thicken the caramel sauce even more. Transfer to a heatsafe container to cool to room temperature.
Tip: Whisk the caramel sauce very vigorously when adding the hot cream. Add hot cream very gradually, especially at the beginning. This helps prevent the caramel from crystallizing or becoming lumpy. See tips section if this happens to you.
How to make a caramel apple filling
Step 1: Peel and slice the apples into even thin pieces. Not too thin or the apples will lose their texture.
Step 2: Add the rest of the filling ingredients into the apples and mix to coat evenly. Set aside.
Tip: A tart, hard apple gives the best flavor and texture when baked. Granny Smith or Northern Spy are my favorite varieties for baking.
How to assemble and bake the apple pie bars
Step 1: Line an 8" or 9" square baking pan with two long strips of parchment paper, overlapping and leaving long handles for removing. Preheat oven to 355°F (180°C).
Step 2: Beat softened butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add vanilla and salt, scrape the sides well.
Step 3: Sift flour, baking powder, and cinnamon into the same bowl.
Step 4: Fold to form a dough, adding milk in tablespoon increments to help it come together.
Step 5: Press three quarters of the dough into the baking pan using your hands to get an even layer. Prick with a fork and bake for 10 minutes.
Step 6: Top the baked crust with prepared apple filling, pouring any liquid out on top of the apples.
Step 7: Tear the remaining dough into pieces and top with pecans, and press down. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until bubbling on the edges.
Step 8: Let bars cool completely inside the pan. Remove from pan by lifting up using the long parchment handles and cut into squares with serrated knife. Generously drizzle with caramel sauce.
Tip: For a gooey, crunchier, filling bake for 40 minutes. For a jammy and softer filling, bake for 50-60 minutes, watching carefully so it doesn't burn.
🍬 Wet VS dry caramel comparison
Wet and dry caramel are both very similar - the sugar is caramelized and cream and/or butter is poured in and whisked to form a sauce. There are pros and cons to both methods but the end result is pretty much identical.
If you want to make a toffee sauce instead, check out this banoffee cake with homemade toffee sauce recipe.
Dry caramel method
Pros: It won't crystallize on you which is why I prefer it.
Cons: Stir constantly to prevent burning. It's very satisfying to stir as the sugar melts though!
This is my favorite method because it's foolproof - as long as you keep stirring.
Sugar is poured into a dry saucepan and it's heated to melt the dry sugar. The sugar will start to liquify, so it's very important to keep stirring to melt evenly and prevent burning.
It will clump up, just keep stirring until all of the sugar granules and clumps melt. As it melts, the sugar will continue to caramelize and it will be the perfect golden amber color. Add cream, butter, vanilla, salt, whisk well, and you're done!
Wet caramel method
Pros: You don't have to stir it after the sugar melts into the water.
Cons: It can crystallize. The wet method crystallizes one out of every three times for me.
The wet caramel method is when sugar AND water are brought to a simmer. Once the sugar dissolves, you can't stir it. Stirring it afterwards will make it crystallize and grainy - if that happens you have to start over.
Once it turns a deep, amber color, add cream, butter, vanilla, salt, whisk well, and you're done!
To prevent crystallization with the wet method, you can add corn syrup. But I personally don't like the taste and texture of corn syrup in caramel sauce.
This salted caramel cake recipe uses a wet caramel sauce method.
❔ How to prevent caramel from crystallizing
Caramel sauce likes to crystallize and lump up when adding cream, butter, vanilla extract, and salt. Here are two steps you need to follow to prevent your caramel from lumping and crystallizing:
- Heat the cream: Heat the cream, butter, vanilla extract, and salt in a small saucepan before you start making the caramel. Bring it to a simmer while you start caramelizing the sugar. Heating the cream will reduce the temperature difference between the hot sugar and cream. It's the temperature difference that causes the caramel to crystallize.
- Whisk well: When adding the hot heavy cream to the hot caramelized sugar, it's very important to whisk vigorously - especially with the first few splashes of cream. Add the cream mixture little by little, whisking really well to prevent the sugar from lumping up and the mixture from crystallizing. You might get a little bit of crystallization on the sides of the pot but that's ok. Just don't scrape the pot when pouring out the caramel.
❔ Why you need to prebake the pie bar crust
Prebaking the shortbread crust helps keep it extra crisp, even when topped with the caramel apple filling. It tastes just like a crisp and buttery cookie with a gooey pie filling on top! If you don't prebake it, you risk the crust becoming gummy with all of the extra moisture.
It only takes 10 minutes to bake the crust - more than enough time you need to mix together the filling.
📖 Recipe FAQ
Yes! It's important to bake it briefly because it will allow the crust to crisp up much better. When it's topped with the filling, it can't get too crispy in the oven because of the moisture. It doesn't need to bake through completely in the pre-bake, 10 minutes is enough.
The best baking apples are a firm and tart variety such as granny smith or northern spy. The firmness allows them to retain their shape and the tart flavour brightens up the filling so that the bars aren't too sweet.
You can definitely use a storebought caramel sauce as an easy shortcut. To make it into a salted caramel sauce you can add a pinch of salt into the apple filling and sprinkle the bars with some extra salt on top.
You sure can! Use your go to caramel recipe if you have one.
🍂 More fall recipes
Salted Caramel Apple Pie Bars
Salted caramel sauce
- 4 tablespoons butter
- ⅔ cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ¾ cup butter softened
- ½ cup brown sugar packed
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups all purpose flour 240g
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon ground
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 3 tablespoons milk
- ¼ cup pecans chopped and raw
- ½ teaspoon flaky salt optional
Caramel Apple Filling
- 5 medium-large apples Granny Smith or Northern spy
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons salted caramel sauce
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon ground
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice freshly squeezed
Salted Caramel Sauce
- Combine butter, cream, vanilla, and salt in a small saucepan. Heat just until it comes to a simmer and set aside for later.4 tablespoons butter, ⅔ cup heavy whipping cream, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, ½ teaspoon sea salt
- Add the sugar into a clean heavy bottomed saucepan. Heat on medium-low heat, stirring constantly so that the sugar won't burn. The sugar will clump up as it melts but keep stirring.1 cup granulated sugar
- As soon as all of the sugar is melted and is a golden color (do not keep heating it or it will taste bitter) take it off the heat. Very carefully add the heated cream mixture in four additions. Whisk well while pouring and in between each addition. If the mixture separates, whisk vigorously to bring it back together. See caramel tips and troubleshooting in recipe notes.
- Place back on heat for one minute (optional). Take off the heat and pour into a heat safe jar or container to cool. This helps thicken the caramel sauce even more.
Caramel Apple Filling
- Peel and slice apples. Place into a large bowl and add the rest of the ingredients. Mix well to coat. Place on top of baked shortbread crust and smooth to an even layer.5 medium-large apples, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 4 tablespoons salted caramel sauce, 2 tablespoons all purpose flour, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Line an 8" or 9" square pan with parchment paper, leaving overhang on the edges for lifting the bars out. Preheat oven to 355°F (180°C).
- In a stand mixer or a large bowl, combine butter, sugar, and salt. Beat well until fluffy and increased in volume, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides a few times in between beating. Add vanilla and beat again.¾ cup butter, ½ cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- Sift the flour, baking powder, and cinnamon right into the bowl with the butter. Fold just until it forms a dough with no more dry bits. Add the milk to help it come together.2 cups all purpose flour, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, ½ teaspoon baking powder, 3 tablespoons milk
- Place ¾ of dough into the lined pan and press it in evenly. Use a spatula and clean fingers to help. Poke the base with a fork and bake for 10-12 minutes, until set. It doesn't need to bake all the way through. Prepare filling while it bakes.
- Crumble remaining uncooked shortbread base over the top and sprinkle with chopped pecans. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until bubbling on the edges. For a crunchier filling, bake for 40 minutes. For a jammy filling, bake for 50-60 minutes (watching so it doesn't burn). Let cool completely to room temperature.¼ cup pecans
- Lift the bars out onto a cutting board using the parchment paper handles and cut into 9 pieces. Drizzle with leftover salted caramel sauce and sprinkle with flaky salt.½ teaspoon flaky salt