I will not be intimidated by caramel. Not even when I completely fail at a recipe for caramel apple shortbread and turn said caramel into something that could have probably been used as a weapon, so sharp were its edges.
Full disclosure: I’m no confectioner. I’m far better with baked goods than I am with candies, which is what caramel is, really. So when the failed recipe didn’t turn out, I chalked it up partially to my inexperience with this finicky substance and partially to the blogger who wrote some less-than-clear instructions regarding the length of time one needs to cook her caramel and what it will look like at different stages in preparation. Hint: “bubbly” and “glossy” are rather subjective terms, and I clearly have a very different opinion about what those words mean. Step-by-step photos of the process would have been immensely helpful, but there were none to be had. Anyway…
Realizing that I definitely need more practice with caramel-ish substances, I found an apple crumb bar recipe that includes a caramel apple layer between two crumb layers, and it turned out very well. I’m not a big fan of cooked fruit, even apples, but Mike proclaimed these bars delicious.
For the crumb layers:
- 3 cups flour
- 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
- 3/4 cup white sugar*
- 3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar*
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
For the caramel apple layer:
- 4 medium apples, diced (I used 2 Granny Smiths and 2 Empires)
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
- 1 cup cold water
*If you prefer, you can use 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar instead of the white/dark brown mix.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 baking pan with parchment paper and spray lightly with baking spray.
In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, sugars, baking soda, and salt; stir to combine. Rub in the butter with your hands until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs; you can also cut the butter in using a pastry blender, but I found the rubbing method to be much easier.
Reserve 2 cups of crumb mixture for topping; press the remaining crumb mixture into the prepared baking dish and set aside.
Sprinkle diced apples evenly over the crumb layer.
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, butter, and water. Stir constantly and bring to a boil; once the mixture begins to boil, cook and stir for 2 minutes until the mixture is thickened and bubbly and looks like the photo below.
Pour the caramel mixture over the apples and sprinkle the remaining crumbs on top.
Bake for 38-40 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely before serving; I put mine in the fridge overnight so the caramel would set up well.
You’ll want your caramel spice mixture to look like this. Don’t be intimidated by the caramel!