Apple season is upon us yet again! Personally, I love the versatility of baking with apples because the possibilities are nearly endless— picture warm apple pies, apple cake, and, of course, apple crisp.
Autumn is all about apple season, and apple crisp will always be a staple dessert in my household this time of year. When creating this recipe, I wanted to take the flavor of fresh apple crisp and transform it into a mess-free bar that you can enjoy as a breakfast, snack, or healthy dessert.
And these healthy apple bars are now one of my go-to recipes.
In particular, I made these healthy apple bars more nutritious by substituting about half of the butter and flour for better-for-you ingredients such as a heart-healthy oil and oats. They are light enough to be a quick breakfast or an afternoon snack but sweet enough to enjoy as a healthy fall dessert.
What Makes These Apple Bars a Healthy Fall Dessert?
I love a dessert recipe that sneaks in some healthy ingredients without compromising taste. Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against regular desserts. I firmly believe that deprivation diets don’t work and that they only lead to more problems.
However, as a registered dietitian and dessert lover, I always walk that fine line between eating nutritious foods and not compromising on taste. And I think that these healthy apple bars are the perfect middle ground. They are soft and tender while still being higher in fiber and heart-healthy fat.
So what makes this recipe healthier?
First, this recipe replaces half of the butter with heart-healthy canola oil, resulting in a bar with less saturated fat. Using oil instead of butter has potential health benefits, especially if you choose an oil that is high in monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats (aka heart-healthy fats).
In particular, canola oil is a source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of plant-based omega-3 fatty acid. Plus, canola oil is one of the best oils for baking because it doesn’t impart a strong flavor and results in a moist and tender baked good.
If you’re not a canola oil fan, you can substitute avocado, sunflower, safflower, or coconut oil. These oils have a neutral flavor and can be used as a 1-to-1 substitute for canola oil. Additionally, organic canola oil is another great option for baking.
I also swapped about half of the all-purpose flour with old-fashioned oats for this recipe. The result is a light and fluffy bar but with extra dietary fiber, thanks to the oats. Dietary fiber is essential for gut health and may have other health benefits, including lower cholesterol levels.
Additionally, this recipe calls for less sugar, resulting in a baked good that is sweet but not overpowering. Want to make this recipe even healthier? Try skipping the crisp topping. Even without the topping, these bars still have a wonderful, cakey flavor packed with juicy cinnamon-sugar apples.
Finally, this recipe calls for a whopping six cups of fresh apples! Apples are a nutritional powerhouse packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
What You’ll Need to Make Healthy Apple Bars
This recipe is relatively straightforward and can be pulled together in about an hour and a half, including baking time. You will need the following to make these healthy apple bars:
- A stand mixer with a paddle attachment or an electric hand mixer
- 9×9 inch baking pan lined with parchment paper
- Unsalted butter: This recipe calls for unsalted butter. You can also use salted butter if you prefer, but you might want to omit some of the salt called for in the recipe
- Canola oil: You can also use avocado oil, sunflower oil, coconut oil, or safflower oil
- Brown sugar: You can use either light or dark brown sugar for these healthy apple bars
- All-purpose flour
- Old-fashioned oats: This recipe calls for the traditional unflavored, old-fashioned oats.
- Apples: Cored, peeled, and roughly chopped. This recipe calls for 6 cups of chopped apples, which is about 4 to 5 large apples. I used Gala apples since they are an excellent variety for baking.
- Unsweetened oat milk: You can also use low-fat milk or the milk alternative of your choice.
- Granulated sugar
- Vanilla extract
- Lemon juice: A small amount to help keep the apples from browning.
- Ground cinnamon and nutmeg: It wouldn’t be warm apple crisp without these cozy spices!
- Chopped pecans: These are optional but add extra flavor
What Are the Best Apples for Making Apple Crisps?
Not every apple variety is suitable for baking. In fact, certain kinds of apples are better suited for baked goods, such as bars, pies, and apple crisps, while others are good for making applesauce or apple butters.
The key to baking with apples is choosing an apple variety with a firm texture that will hold up to the heat. Firm apple varieties retain their shape and don’t release much liquid during baking, meaning that they don’t turn to mush in the oven. Apples that aren’t firm enough tend to seep into the batter and cause the apple crisp to be more like applesauce.
Some apple varieties that are best for baking include Gala, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, and Golden Delicious apples.
How to Make These Bars
These healthy apple bars come together in three parts. You start by making the apple bar batter. You then top the batter with the cinnamon apple filling and finish by sprinkling on the apple crisp topping.
Here are the details…
Step 1. Make the batter
Start by creaming the butter, sugar, and canola oil in a standing bowl mixer with the paddle attachment or with a hand mixer until light and fluffy. This will take about 2-3 minutes. Creaming the fat and sugar helps add texture to baked goods.
Add in the wet ingredients (egg, milk, vanilla extract) until combined.
Next, mix the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined and spread the batter into a prepared baking pan.
Step 2. Make the apple filling
Next, you’ll make the cinnamon apple filling. To do this, combine the chopped apples, brown sugar, lemon juice, three tablespoons of all-purpose flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Ensure the chopped apples are evenly coated with the flour and spices before gently adding the apple filling on top of the crust batter.
Step 3. Make the apple crisp topping
To make the apple crisp topping, stir together oats, flour, brown sugar, and melted butter in a medium bowl. Sprinkle the apple crisp topping over the apple filling and top with chopped pecans if desired.
The chopped pecans are optional but add a delicious flavor to this recipe.
Step 4. Bake
Then it is time to bake your apple bars in the oven. Begin by covering the pan with tin foil and bake in a preheated oven for 30 minutes. After the first 30 minutes, remove the foil and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes or until the crumb is golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center of the crust comes out cleanly.
Storing Healthy Apple Bars
These healthy apple bars can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Be sure to keep them in an airtight container to help maintain flavor and texture.
You can enjoy these apple bars chilled straight from the fridge or try heating them in the microwave for 15 to 30 seconds for a warm apple crisp taste. If you’re feeling decadent, try serving these healthy apple bars with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or a caramel drizzle sauce.
Other Recipes That You’ll Love
If you enjoy fall baking as much as I do, then you’ll love some of my other autumn-inspired recipes.
- Vegan pumpkin cookies
- Healthy spiced pear muffins
- Pumpkin chia seed pudding
- Cinnamon apple smoothie bowl
- Cranberry oatmeal bars
There you have it! A healthy and delicious apple crisp bar that you can enjoy all season long! I would love to hear from you. What are some other apple recipes that you love? Be sure to leave a comment below.
Healthy Apple Bars
Apple Bar Crust
- 4 tbsp butter unsalted
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup canola oil
- ¼ cup unsweetened oat milk or low-fat milk or milk alternative of your choice
- 1 large egg
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup old-fashioned oats
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- 6 cups Gala apples, peeled, cored, and chopped (about 4 to 5 apples)
- ¼ cup brown sugar packed
- 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp nutmeg
Apple Crisp Topping
- ¼ cup old-fashioned oats
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup brown sugar packed
- 3 tbsp butter melted
- ¼ cup chopped pecans (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9×9 inch baking pan with parchment paper and set aside.
- Begin making the apple bar crust by creaming the butter, granulated sugar, and canola oil in a standing bowl mixer with the paddle attachment or with an electric hand mixer for about 2 to 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, oat milk, and vanilla extract until combined.
- Mix the all-purpose flour, oats, baking powder, and salt in a separate, large bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the bowl with the wet ingredients and mix until just combined. Evenly spread the apple bar crust batter into the prepared baking pan and set aside momentarily.
- Prepare the apple filling by combining the chopped apples, brown sugar, lemon juice, 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir to coat the apples evenly.
- Gently add the apple filling on top of the crust batter.
- Make the apple crisp topping by combining the oats, flour, brown sugar, and melted butter in a medium bowl. Sprinkle the apple crisp topping over the apple filling and top with chopped pecans if desired.
- Cover the baking pan with tin foil and bake for 30 minutes. After the first 30 minutes, remove the foil and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes or until the crisp topping is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the crust comes out cleanly. Cool on a wire rack before serving.