An Apple Bar a Day...

Ah life.  It's been crazy.  Let's just say, there have been places to go, a home to sell, and new things to do.  I've left my blog in the dust, and you too, my dear lone reader.  And I've been feeling guilty.  I wasn't sure if it would be right coming back after so long, but thanks to guilt trips from some (you know who you are) and sweet words of encouragement from others, here I am.  AND because it's cute, here's one of my reasons for being so busy...

The "excited for school" face.  I hope it never wears off.

Fall, Fall, Fall.  You're crazy if you don't love it.  Crazy.  It's just one person's opinion, but other than raking leaves, what's not to love?  If you haven't thought of a reason, then I'm going to give you just one. These scrumptious Apple Cristrudel Bars.  Wondering what "Cristrudel" is?  Its a made up word, thanks to your's truly.  I imagined these bars into existence, and had no idea what to call them.  And being the "original" character that I am, decided that since they seem to be similar in taste to an Apple Crisp and an Apple Strudel, why not combine the two into a Cristrudel?  Clever?  Probably not, but it works!  And these are serious yum in your mouth!

Apple Cristrudel Bars                                

Cookie Base:
-package sugar cookie mix
-1 stick unsalted butter, softened
-1 egg

Cream Cheese layer:
-8 oz. cream cheese, softened
-3.5 oz. marshmallow cream
-1/8 tsp. apple pie spice or cinnamon

Apple layer:
-4, medium-large Granny Smith apples, cored, peeled, and chopped (I prefer organic)
-1/2 tsp. salt
-1/2 tsp. apple pie spice or cinnamon

Caramel layer:
-10 oz. pre-wrapped caramel candies
-3 Tbsp. milk or cream
-sprinkle of sea salt (optional)

Crumb topping:
-1/2 c. brown sugar
-6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
-1/2 tsp. apple pie spice or cinnamon
-scant 1/2 tsp. salt
-1/4 tsp. baking soda
-1/4 tsp. vanilla
-1/2 c. flour
-1 c. old-fashioned oats

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9x13 pan, line with aluminum foil, leaving foil hanging over the edges for easy bar removal later.  Spray foil with non-stick cooking spray.

-Using a stand or hand mixer, combine sugar cookie mix, butter, and egg in medium size bowl until well combined.  Press dough evenly into the bottom of prepared pan.  Using damp hands prevents sticking.  Prick dough evenly with fork.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove and let cool.

-Prepare apples.  Sprinkle apples, in a bowl, with salt and pie spice.  Toss to coat evenly.

-Using stand or hand mixer, combine cream cheese, marshmallow cream, and pie spice until creamy and smooth.  Evenly spread over cooled cookie crust.  An offset spatula works best.  Evenly distribute apples over cream cheese, gently press down.

-In a microwave safe bowl, combine unwrapped caramels and milk (or cream).  Microwave on 1 minute intervals for 3 minutes, stirring after each minute, then 30 second intervals until completely melted and smooth.  (Times may vary based on each microwave)  Drizzle caramel evenly over apples.  Very lightly sprinkle sea salt over caramel, if desired.

-Using a stand or hand mixer, in a medium bowl beat together brown sugar, butter, pie spice, salt, baking soda, and vanilla until well blended.  Stir in flour and oats until it resembles a moist, crumbly texture.  Evenly cover apple-caramel layer with crumb topping.  Bake 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until caramel is bubbling.  Longer if you want a browner, crisper crust.  Let bars cool completely before removing and cutting into squares.  Squares look best if they've been cooled, refrigerated, removed from pan and cut.

The nice thing about these bars are that the ingredients are simple, and if it seems like one too many layers for you, I'm sure if you decide not to do the cream cheese layer or the caramel layer they will still be delicious!  Just call them Apple Strudel Bars if you go with the cream cheese layer, no caramel or Apple Crisp Bars with caramel layer, no cream cheese!  But these are sure to put you in the Fall spirit-ready to break out those cardigans, sip apple cider and carve some pumpkins!  Look for more Fall inspired recipes soon...

Caught you!  This monkey makes baking difficult; good thing he's cute!