As soon as a hint of fall weather arrives, it officially becomes apple season. And while I love the bounty of summer fruit—berries, peaches, plums—I always look forward to the arrival of fresh apples. While I eat them out of hand, I also look for any and all reasons to bake with the versatile fruit. Apple pie, apple crisp, apple muffins, you name it.
I also happen to be oat-obsessed, and I love, love apple oatmeal. I’ve gotten really into baked oats the last couple of years and decided to develop a recipe for baked apple oats that are sliceable and portable. While I nailed down the formula and amped up the apple flavor, the recipe was missing something. That’s when these bars turned into caramel apple oatmeal bars.
The caramel adds fun texture and lots of buttery, toasty, sweet flavor. It’s like eating a caramel apple without any of the mess and the bonus of whole-grain oats. I eat these soft, chewy bars for breakfast and as a snack any time of day. They’re my new fall go-to.
While apples have plenty of flavor when eaten fresh, it can be hard to pack good apple flavor into a baked good. They tend to get lost in bready things like breads and muffins. To ensure these oatmeal bars have plenty of apple flavor, I add chopped dried apples to the batter along with apple cider or juice. The top gets a crown of thinly sliced fresh apple for extra oomph.
Brown sugar, vanilla, and chopped caramel candies complement the apple nicely, just like in classic caramel apples. To make these bars look extra special and give them even more caramel flavor, top with a drizzle of store-bought caramel sauce.
Tips for Tidy Bars
I’ve found that these bars slice terribly while warm. Let them cool completely to room temperature. For better-looking bars, chill the pan in the fridge for at least an hour before slicing, and wipe the knife with a damp rag in between slices. I recommend slicing between the apple slices on top.
For a bit of crunch and protein, add 1/2 cup of chopped, toasted walnuts or pecans. You can swap the egg for a flax egg, but the bars won’t hold together quite as well. You can leave out the caramel for just plain apple bars—if you do, I recommend doubling the cinnamon and possibly adding nuts or raisins for a bit more interest.
Fun With Oatmeal
- Monster Cookies
- Oatmeal Buttermilk Pancakes
- Tiramisu Overnight Oats
- Oatmeal Banana Cookies
Combine the dry ingredients:
Add the oats, brown sugar, flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon to a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Add the dried apples, breaking them apart as you do, and combine.
Add the wet ingredients:
Add the egg, cider or juice, milk, butter or oil, and vanilla and whisk well to combine.
Let the mixture sit while the oven preheats, 10 to 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Line a 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, so that it overhangs two sides. Spray with cooking spray.
Prepare the apple and assemble the bars:
While the oven preheats and the mixture sits, prepare the apple. Core and slice the apple into very thin slices (you can peel it or leave the peel on).
Add the bar mixture to the prepared baking pan and spread out evenly. Add the caramels to the top, evenly spaced, and gently press them into the mixture. Top with the apple slices, covering the top and pressing down slightly. Avoid overlapping the slices.
Bake until golden brown around the edges and set in the center, about 35 minutes. Set the pan on a cooling rack and let cool until barely warm, about 30 minutes.
Slice and top:
Run a knife around any edges that aren’t lined with parchment. For easy cutting, place the whole pan in the fridge until cold, at least an hour. Then lift the bars from the pan using the parchment.
If desired, drizzle the bars with caramel sauce and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Use a sharp knife to slice into squares or bars, cleaning off the knife with a wet rag after each cut.
Store the bars in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
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