Cookie Monster: Caramel Apple Crumb Bars
I went to a wedding a few years ago where out of town guests got awesome snack bags in their hotel rooms. (Yeah—sorry to everyone who went to my destination wedding. You got nothing but love.) One of the treats was a caramel-covered candy apple. I love the combination of apples and caramel, so much so that I left the reception early to go eat it. When my friend (ok, friend-of-a-friend just making the cost of the hotel room cheaper) came back with a new lady he'd picked up at the wedding, he was shocked to find me already there, sitting on the bed and gnawing at the apple. Yes folks, it was a caramel apple cock-block and you saw it here first.
My most recent iteration of caramel and apples is definitely more of a crowd pleaser. I took a shortbread bar cookie crust and topped it with spiced apples, homemade caramel, and a buttery crumb topping. There are multiple steps to making these bars, but once broken down, they're not hard, just a little time consuming.
The first step is making the caramel, which can be finicky but really just requires patience and close monitoring of the color of the sugar as it cooks. Once the caramel sauce cools, you'll be hard pressed not to eat the whole saucepan by the spoonful, and truthfully it'd make a pretty bomb topping for ice cream all on its own.
While the caramel was cooling, I tossed some sliced apples with all the traditional apple pie spices, plus sugar and a little cornstarch. While those got nice and syrupy, I whipped up a shortbread crust in the food processor. What I love about this type of crust is that you can just press it into the prepared pan with your hands. It should be about 1/2-inch thick, but a little more or less won't hurt anything. I spread the spiced, sweetened apple mixture over the base, then covered that all in a layer of beautiful, gleaming caramel sauce. On top of that, a layer of crumble, because crumb bars are the best bars and even caramel can't change that.
The resulting treat is possibly my favorite bar cookie yet. The shortbread is soft enough to easily glide your teeth through, but sturdy enough to support the cooked apples and caramel without getting soggy. It tastes like eating a bite of apple crumb pie, caramel sauce, and shortbread cookie all at once. Which, come to think of it, is probably something I should do.