These apple crumb bars with their oatmeal-pecan topping and tender spiced apple cake are so irresistible, we’re proclaiming them to be better than pie.
Anna generously agreed to share her apple crumb bar recipe. Anna and I met at a cooking contest years ago. She was a cooking contest champion, which is no surprise at all. Anna sticks with a recipe and works it until she gets it just right, which I think is a hallmark of all of the best bakers. They don’t quit until they achieve perfection. I didn’t even try to develop my own recipe because Anna’s recipe is already perfect. I make it every September—and sometimes for Thanksgiving—since I think these bars are even better than pie.–Erin Renouf Mylroie
☞ Table of Contents
☞ Like bars and squares? Try these:
Apple Crumb Bars
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/8 teaspoon salt
- 10 tablespoons (5 oz) unsalted butter cold
- 2 to 3 small (about 12 oz) unpeeled apples cored and thinly sliced or chopped
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/2 cup cold water
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Line a 9-inch (23-cm) square metal pan with nonstick foil or parchment paper.
- In a bowl or food processor, combine the brown sugar, oats, flour, baking soda, and salt. Cut in or pulse in 9 tablespoons of the butter until the mixture is coarse and crumbly.
- Reserve about 3/4 cup of the mixture for the topping. Pat the remaining mixture into the bottom of the pan. It will seem dry, but it’s supposed to be.
- In a large bowl, toss the apples with 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice. Arrange the apples in a single or double layer on the crust. Sprinkle with the cinnamon.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the granulated sugar, cornstarch, and water and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture begins to boil and thicken, about 3 minutes.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla, the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, and 1 teaspoon lemon juice. Pour the mixture over the apples. Sprinkle the reserved oat crumbs on top and then sprinkle with the pecans.
- Bake until the top is lightly browned, 35 to 40 minutes. Let the bars cool completely. The bars will hold together better if you tuck them away in the fridge for at least several hours before cutting. Bring them back to room temperature before serving.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Maybe because today is a perfect fall day with sun shining, leaves crunching under foot, a bit of a nip in the air; maybe all those delicious looking apples at farm stands look so beautiful; and maybe all of that has heightened my taste buds, but these Apple Crumb Bars are DELICIOUS!
I used Granny Smith apples which added a bit of tartness. The cinnamon smelled wonderful as these cooked and added just the right cinnamon undertone. My partner had his with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, but I was a purist—no ice cream—and enjoyed every bite. The bars are a little sweet, but not too sweet. In fact, I had one for dessert tonight and plan to have another for breakfast tomorrow.
I cut the bars in the pan while they were still cooling. I had left the parchment come over the pan on 2 opposite sides so I could lift the parchment to remove the bars. I was able to nudge them apart and they kept their shape and I could serve them while still warm.
This is a really good recipe that yields absolutely fabulous apple crumb bars. Goodness! The crust and crumb topping (2 for 1) is perfect. Although it feels a little dry when you press it into the pan, it bakes up crisp with a little chew and a whole lot of flavor!
I can’t decide my favorite part of this comforting treat: the delicious pecans that get all toasty on top or the fact that I didn’t have to peel the apples! What a bonus! The sugar syrup makes this delectable as the apple filling is tender and juicy, but not goopy or runny.
I let them cool for about 15 minutes before serving and the bars held together fine. They were still warm enough to welcome a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. This is a keeper!
I might have to agree with the recipe author—these may be better than pie. The bars remind me of a Dutch Apple Pie recipe I make most Thanksgivings—the crust is a press-in sweet crumbly dough similar to the bars with an oat and nut crumble on top. What I like about these bars is you can choose to have one sensible bar portion size—or eat 3 or more to equal a slice of pie!
I think the key to the deliciousness in this recipe is the apples you choose—in my case I used Haralson, a wonderfully tart apple with origins in my home state of Minnesota. I prefer sliced over chopped for nice cohesive flat layers in the bars.
I used my pastry blender to cut in the butter with the dry ingredients. My crust mixture seemed not at all dry and easy to press into the pan. I later realized I used all 10 tablespoons, instead of the 9 tablespoons noted – this may have been a blessing in disguise because I thought the crust held up nicely to the rest of the layers, no separation or falling apart.
These apple crumb bars are genius in that they take your favorite part of an apple crumble—the salty, sweet, slightly caramelized topping—and use it to sandwich cinnamony apples from above and below. It’s also a lovely dessert when you accidentally pick 15 pounds of apples because you’re trying to embrace fall to the fullest. (I may have done this…)
I had a few hesitations while making this, but everything turned out for the best. While I used the right pan size, I didn’t know whether it could handle all the apples I had chopped. I would probably use 2 apples instead of 3 next time around to get the even layer the recipe states, but I never mind extra crunch. Also, I wasn’t initially sure why the cornstarch was used in this capacity. However, it managed to absorb all the Cortlands’ juices to create a sweet, elevated glaze underneath.
One thing we always love about fall is apple picking. With bags of fresh apples and a kid who loves to bake, we got together to bake up these bars together! We love the result. Great texture with bites of fresh apple, and a wonderful topping of sugar and nuts. The apple bars are perfect for after-school snacks, coffee, or as an easy dessert with lashings of cream and ice cream.
I must admit I could not for the life of me work out how to measure 3/8 of a teaspoon for the salt and baking soda. I used 1/2 teaspoon (4/8).
We used Rome apples for the filling (for no other reason than these were the apples the orchard was picking the day we visited). We chose to chill the bars before cutting as straight from the oven they would not hold their shape.
This recipe is sure to become one of our favorite recipes to make with apples each fall.
The apples did not fit in a single layer—in fact we ended up with about 3 layers of apples. I actually feel the recipe could take more apples!
Originally published November 14, 2020