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. The perfect addition to your fall/winter dessert menu!
Why you will 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!
How to make salted caramel sauce (dry method)
You're going to love making homemade salted caramel sauce! It tastes way better than any store bought caramel and keeps for a while in the fridge so you can confidently make it ahead of time.
Start by placing sugar into a dry saucepan. Heat on medium low heat and it will start to melt. Stir constantly so that it melts evenly and doesn’t burn. As soon as all of the crystals melt it will be the perfect golden caramel colour. Do not continue to cook it further because the sugar will burn and taste bitter.
Once all of the sugar crystals are gone, slowly pour in the heated cream, butter, vanilla, and salt. Whisk well during the process. Be careful not to splash yourself because it’s very hot. Put the sauce back on the heat for one minute before pouring into a heat proof container to store.
Benefits of using dry caramel method over wet method
I prefer the dry caramel method for caramel sauce because there’s less chance of crystallization and it’s always the perfect shade of gold as soon as all of the sugar crystals melt. It’s so satisfying to watch it melts in front of your eyes.
The wet method will crystallize 1 out of every 3 times for me so I definitely prefer the dry method.
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.
Full steps and ingredients in recipe card below. But read through these for all the tips you will need for success!
Apples: Use a tart and hard apple variety like granny smith or northern spy. This will make for a much more flavourful filling.
Cream: Heavy or whipping cream (35%) works great to make a thick and rich salted caramel sauce. Don't substitute with half and half cream or milk. The caramel sauce will be too thin.
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 walnuts.
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!
Step by step
Step 1 - Salted caramel sauce. Make a dry caramel by heating the sugar on medium low heat until fully melted, stirring constantly. As soon as it is completely melted and golden, pour heated cream, butter, vanilla, and salt into the sugar gradually. Whisk well to combine and heat again for 1 minute before pouring into a heat safe container to cool.
Step 2 - Brown sugar shortbread crust. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Sift the dry ingredients in and fold to make a very dry dough. Add the milk and fold.
Step 3 - Bake the crust. Press ¾ of the dough into a lined 8" or 9" square pan smooth it out. Poke with a fork and bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.
Step 4 - Caramel apple filling. While the crust bakes, mix together all of the filling ingredients. Set aside.
Step 5 - Bake caramel apple pie bars. Once the crust is baked, top it with the apple filling and crumble the remaining shortbread dough on top. Sprinkle with chopped pecans. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until you can see the filling bubble on the edges.
Step 6 - Cut into bars. Let cool completely and cut into 9 squares. Drizzle with more salted caramel sauce and sprinkle with flaky salt (optional).
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.
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Did you make this recipe? I would love for you to rate this recipe and hear what you think in the comments below!
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
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 colour (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 in between each addition. If the mixture separates, whisk vigorously to bring it back together.
- Place back on heat for one minute. Take off the heat and pour into a heat safe jar or container to cool.
- 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.
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
- Crumble remaining uncooked shortbread base over the top and sprinkle with chopped pecans. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until bubbling on the edges. 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.