These brown butter apple crumb bars are simply the perfect fall treat. The fragrant brown butter in the crust and crumble topping adds nutty richness, the filling is a little tart and spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, and a drizzle of sweet maple icing on top is just delicious.
I’ve never had the pleasure of going apple picking, but it’s always been on my list of things I’d love to do in the fall. With such a wide variety of apples available this time of year, we keep lots of apples on hand for eating and baking. There’s nothing like a cold, crunchy apple with a slice of cheese for a delicious and healthy snack. And of course, I love baking with apples in the fall. Apple pie is a given, but for something that’s a bit quicker and easier than pie, I love making apple pie bars.
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Best Apples for Baking, Cooking & Eating
With hundreds of varieties of apples to choose from, it can be hard to decide what you should use when baking an apple pie or tart. And the best pies for baking are not necessarily the best ones for eating plain, and vice-versa. You don’t want an apple that will turn to mush in your pies and tarts, so a good baking apple is one that’s firm and holds its shape well after it’s been cooked.
Granny Smith. These are my personal favorite for baking pies, crisps, crumbles and bars, and they’re what I used in today’s apple crumb bars. They are very tart, which creates a nice balance with the sugar, so that your finished dessert isn’t too sweet. The skin is thick, and the apples need to be peeled before cooking. Actually, no matter the type of apple, I would always recommend peeling the apples before cooking with them, unless you’re making apple butter, and the peel will be strained out later.
Honeycrisp. With their sweet, crisp flesh and thin skin, these are a fantastic eating apple, but they’re also great for baking. It’s always a happy day when Honeycrisp apples are on sale, since they can be more expensive than other varieties.
Fuji & Gala. These apples are less expensive, and on the softer side, so I don’t really enjoy eating them fresh, but they are my go-to apple for cooking in recipes like homemade applesauce, since they break down quickly and make a great applesauce with a few spices for more flavor.
Other Good Baking Apples: Jonathan or Jonagold, Cortland, Braeburn
- Apples. You’ll need two pounds of apples (about 4 large apples), preferably Granny Smith.
- Sugar. Plain granulated sugar sweetens the apples and adds moisture.
- Flour. A little all-purpose flour thickens the filling.
- Spices. Cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves add wonderful flavor and complement the tartness of the apples.
Crust & Topping
- Butter. Unsalted butter adds delicious flavor to the crust and crumb topping.
- Flour. Gives the crust and topping structure and strength.
- Sugar. Dark brown sugar adds sweetness and moisture.
- Salt. Balances the sweetness.
- Baking Powder. Gives the crust a little lift.
- Powdered Sugar. Sweetens and thickens the icing.
- Maple Extract. Flavor.
- Cream. Thins the icing to a drizzling consistency.
How to Make Apple Crumb Bars
Prepare the apple filling.
I pre-cook the apple filling, just a for a few minutes, before assembling these apple crumb bars. Pre-cooking the apples ensures that they don’t end up too crunchy, and that the filling thickens correctly. Peel, core and chop the apples, then toss with the sugar, flour and spices. Cook on the stove for about 15 minutes on medium low heat, until the liquid is thick and syrupy and the apples have begun to soften. Now you can set them aside to cool while you make the crust.
Make brown butter.
This past May, I developed a recipe for Brown Butter Strawberry Cardamom Crumb Bars. They were such a huge hit, that all summer long I knew I would be making them again in the fall, but with apples. The brown butter adds such a rich, nutty flavor that’s simply fantastic. I’ve been baking with brown butter quite often lately, because it’s just such a delicious ingredient.
To make the browned butter, you’ll first melt the butter in a saucepan on the stove. Then, continue cooking the butter for about 10 minutes, until nutty brown solids form on the bottom of the pan. It’s now ready to be used in your crust.
Make the crust and crumble topping.
As with any recipe, you should read it thoroughly from beginning to end before getting started. Because the dough for the crust also doubles as the crumble topping, be sure to pay attention to the steps for reserving some of the flour and dough to use for the crumb topping.
To make the crust, stir together the browned butter with flour, brown sugar, salt and baking powder, to make a soft dough. Press 2/3 of the dough into the bottom of your baking pan and bake for 20 minutes.
While the crust bakes, add a little more flour to the remaining 1/3 of the dough, to make the crumble topping.
Now that your apple filling has been pre-baked and cooled, and you’ve prepared the crust and topping, you can put it all together.
Take the hot crust out of the oven, top with the apple filling, and then sprinkle on the crumb topping. Bake for about 30 minutes until golden brown and bubbling.
Drizzle with maple icing.
These apple crumb bars are great on their own, but the maple icing drizzled on top just takes them over the edge. It’s a simple glaze, made of just powdered sugar, maple extract (although you could use maple syrup) and cream. After cooling the bars completely, drizzle the icing over the crumb topping. These will be the best apple crumb bars you’ve ever tasted!
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I have to precook the apple filling?
You really do need to. This ensures the apples are well-cooked, so that you don’t have any hard, crunchy apples in your apple bars.
Can I skip the step of browning the butter?
You can, but the browned butter adds the BEST flavor. If you don’t brown the butter first, reduce the butter by 1 tablespoon.
Will this recipe work if I double it?
Yes, you can double the recipe and bake it in a 9×13 pan.
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Brown Butter Apple Bars with Maple Drizzle
- 2 lbs apples (preferably Granny Smith), about 4 large apples
- ⅔ cup granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
- ¼ tsp cloves
- 2 tbsp water
Crust & Topping
- ¾ cup unsalted butter
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
- ⅓ cup dark brown sugar
- 1 tsp coarse Kosher salt (if using table salt, use half the amount)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tsp maple extract
- 1-2 tbsp cream
- Peel and core the apples, then chop into 1/2 inch pieces. Place in a saucepan.
- Add the sugar, flour and spices, and toss the apples to coat in the mixture. Stir in the water.
- Bring the apples to a simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently. Reduce to medium low, and simmer, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes, until the liquid is thick and syrupy and the apples have begun to soften.
- Set aside to cool slightly.
Crust & Topping
- Preheat the oven to 350. Line an 8×8 inch square baking pan with parchment paper.
- In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Continue to cook the butter, swirling the pan occasionally, until nutty brown solids form on the bottom of the pan. This should take about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine 2 cups of the flour (reserving 1/2 cup of flour for later) with the brown sugar, salt and baking powder.
- As soon as the butter is browned, use a spatula to scrape the bottom of the pan to scrape up all the browned bits. Pour the hot butter over the flour mixture. Stir with a spoon to form it into a soft dough.
- Scoop 2/3 of the dough (reserving 1/3 of the dough for the crumb topping) into the prepared baking pan, and use your hands to press the dough evenly into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 20 minutes.
- Take the reserved 1/2 cup of flour and add it to the remaining 1/3 dough. Use a fork or pastry cutter to work the flour into the dough until you have a crumbly topping. Set aside.
- After the crust bakes for 20 minutes, take the pan out of the oven. Pour the apple filling over the hot crust, then sprinkle the apples with the crumb topping. Bake for another 30 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the topping is golden brown.
- Cool completely before cutting into squares.
- Before serving, combine the icing ingredients in a bowl and stir vigorously with a spoon until smooth, adding more or less milk depending on how thick you want your icing to be.
- Immediately drizzle the icing over the bars. It will set in about 10 minutes.