These cozy apple crisp bars redefine a classic fall dessert

Bake this recipe now, and make sure you also keep it on hand for the holidays

By Joseph Neese

Deputy Editor in Chief

Published October 4, 2020 12:55PM (EDT)

Apple Crisp Bars (Courtesy Meghan McGarry/Buttercream Blondie)
Apple Crisp Bars (Courtesy Meghan McGarry/Buttercream Blondie)

Fall is officially in the air, as evidenced by the first apple-picking photos of the season already taking over your social media streams. And what better way to highlight the fresh fruit of the moment than an easy-to-bake, handmade crisp? 

The Spiked Apple Crisp Cheesecake Bars developed by Salon's resident pastry chef Meghan McGarry were a viral hit last fall. McGarry is known for making over timeless desserts, and the cheesecake bars spoke to the core of her popular Buttercream Blondie brand. They maintained the integrity of a classic fruit crisp, while sending it soaring to new heights.

Salon Food has invited McGarry to share her go-to bakes with us every week this season, and this Sunday we're turning back the clock to the OG Apple Crisp Bars. They're one of the most popular recipes ever viewed on Buttercream Blondie, and that's because all of the ingredients in this pastry work together to magnify the star of this dessert: ripe apples. 

"Warm brown sugar and spices are made for chilly fall mornings, and you taste the apple in every single bite," McGarry says of her dessert. "I recommend using granny smith apples for this recipe, because their tartness adds a brightness of flavor, which contrasts perfectly with the warmth of the fall flavors you expect in a seasonal dessert."

This is the traditional fruit crisp you know and love, except once again in bar form. These bars are three layers of fall bliss, each of which magnifies the flavor of the apples as they bake. We begin with a brown sugar shortbread base, which is like a beautifully buttery and flaky cookie crust. Pouring in an optional splash of whiskey adds an extra punch of fall coziness — and the opportunity to create hand-held boozy treats. 

RELATED: These spiked apple crisp cheesecake bars are a hit even if it's not fall

Next, spoon the apple compote on top of the cooled shortbread crust to build the fruit layer. To make the compote, you'll cook down your apples on the stove along with vanilla bean to intensify their flavor. The most important thing to remember when making any fruit compote is to cut your ingredient of choice the same size and length in order to ensure it cooks evenly. 

The final layer is a crisp topping, which combines brown sugar, cinnamon and oats to make one epic blanket of flavor. McGarry recommends making a batch of crisp topping ahead of time and storing it in the freezer. This way, when you want to make these crisps or their apple cheesecake twist, you'll already be ready to go. This comes in handy in a big way on busy days like Thanksgiving. 

RELATED: This spiked apple spice loaf cake is better than any pumpkin dessert you'll bake this fall

"My tip is to bake this recipe now, and make sure you also keep it on hand for the holidays," McGarry says. "It's a home run every single Thanksgiving when I make it."

Yes, this technically is a dessert. But you can have a little piece for breakfast or a square for a snack. It's totally acceptable to eat dessert all day if it's in bar form, right? While these bars taste perfect on their own, they're also excellent served warm with a scoop of ice cream or dollop of fresh whipped cream on top. 

RELATED: You can bake this quick loaf with ingredients on hand in your pantry, because substitutions are easy

The holidays aren't here yet, but everyone could use a little apple crisp in their life. So make an extra batch to take to bring to an outdoor dinner or leave on your neighbor's front door. They're guaranteed to warm up even the crispest of fall days. 


Recipe: Apple Crisp Bars


Crisp Topping

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, cold

Brown Sugar Shortbread Base

  • 8 ounces unsalted butter, room temp
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp. bourbon
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
    Crisp Topping:
  2. Stir dry ingredients together in a bowl.
  3. Cut in butter with your fingers until you have pea sized pieces.
  4. Store in fridge till ready to use.
    Brown Sugar Shortbread Base:
  5. Spray 9 x 13" pan with nonstick spray, line with parchment paper and spray with nonstick again.

Click here to access the remainder of Meghan McGarry's apple crisp bars. And don't forget to follow @ButtercreamBlondie on Instagram for more ways to bake through it.

By Joseph Neese

Joseph Neese is Salon's Deputy Editor in Chief. You can follow him on Twitter: @josephneese.

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Apples Baking Buttercream Blondie Crisps Fall Food Meghan Mcgarry Recipe