This Caramel Apple Crisp has it all: tender baked apples, easy homemade caramel, and a flavor-packed oat streusel topping!
It pulls out all the (super flavorful) stops and still requires just a fraction of the time and effort of traditional apple pie.
Sure, you’ve had Apple Crisp before, and it was probably lovely.
But were the apples tossed in a bit of sugar before baking, or were they smothered in a creamy homemade caramel?
Was the streusel just an afterthought, or was it studded with deeply flavorful toasted pecans and rolled oats?
Did it make you go back for seconds? Did you even think about having thirds? Because that, my friend, is what this Caramel Apple Crisp does to a person. It makes you weak in all of the right ways.
WHY YOU’LL LOVE THIS CARAMEL APPLE CRISP
- It’s easy-as-pie to make. No wait. It’s easier. You know how I just was talking about weaknesses? Well crisps are the perfect solution if pie-baking is one of yours. There’s no finnicky crust to roll out and fuss with, and no hold-your-breath first slice to see if the filling will just wind up oozing out when you try to serve a sliver. All you have to do is grab a spoon, dig in, and let it be its gloriously sloppy self (with a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, for good measure).
- It doesn’t take hours to cool. Many desserts require an hour of sitting or an overnight rest before serving. But if you don’t have time for that, don’t worry, this apple crisp is best served while it’s still warm.
- It comes with built-in caramel topping. Since we’re already making homemade caramel to toss the apples in, I simply spoon out a bit to save for pouring overtop of vanilla ice cream when the dessert is served. You can never have too much caramel, right?
- It’s a good option for people with special dietary needs. Without making any alterations whatsoever, this recipe is an eggless dessert. It also can easily be adapted for the gluten-free crowd by using 1-to-1 gluten free flour instead of all purpose flour (which I did in one test batch so that I could share it with a friend who has a gluten allergy.) The nuts can be omitted without any issues, and other similar swap-outs are welcome. This recipe is VERSATILE.
- It tastes great the next day. If you’ve never had leftover apple crisp for breakfast, consider this your golden opportunity.
WHAT’S IN CARAMEL APPLE CRISP?
Let’s get into the nitty gritty here. What makes this particular Caramel Apple Crisp the best apple crisp? It’s all about the ingredients.
- Toasted Pecans. It’s optional, but I like to add pecans to my streusel for extra nutty flavor. Even though some of the pecan pieces will toast while the crisp is in the oven, I find that lightly pre-toasting them in a skillet gives the best results– ensuring that even the pecans that are hiding under a layer of flour and brown sugar have that deeply nutty, rich quality.
- Butter. Let’s not be shy about it: this is a dessert recipe, not a diet-plan approved recipe. Butter is key here for both making the streusel and making the caramel.
- Brown Sugar. Unlike plain granulated sugar, brown sugar has molasses in it, which creates a richer, more toffee-like flavor. This one also is used in both the topping and the caramel.
- Evaporated Milk. Evaporated milk is great because it’s a relatively inexpensive and easy-to-store alternative to heavy cream. (It also happens to be considerably lower in calories and fat content, but like I said, this isn’t a diet-plan approved recipe regardless.) I don’t always have heavy cream on hand, but I always have cans of evaporated milk in the back of my pantry that I can use to make the caramel nice and creamy.
- Vanilla Extract and Salt. Neither of these ingredients are the main features of this recipe, but just a bit of each works wonders to enhance all of the other flavors in the apple crisp.
- Flour. In order to make the crisp topping, you need flour, unsurprisingly. But I also use a couple of tablespoons of flour to thicken the base and prevent it from going runny from the apple juices that are released while baking. All I do is mix my flour right in with my caramel and I don’t have to worry about a watery crisp. (Side note: I tested it, and you can use 1 to 1 gluten free baking flour for this recipe without any issues!)
- Rolled Oats. Do you need to include oats in your topping? I suppose not, if you’d like to transform it into a crumble (more on this below!) But the oats add a whole different chewy texture to the apple crisp that makes it so much more enjoyable– almost like a sprinkling of oatmeal cookie on top!
- Lemon Juice. A little citrus goes a long way in adding brightness to the recipe and cutting through all of that rich caramel.
- Cinnamon and Nutmeg. Is it really an apple dessert if it doesn’t include warm spices? I think not.
- Apples. Of course there are apples in this apple crisp (though, I won’t lie, it would also be really good with peaches or pears, or even bananas), but the real key is using the right apples. Rule 1: Make sure you skin ’em. Some people leave the skins on, but the crisp filling will never get that “slightly chunkier apple pie” texture down pat if the skin is still attached. Rule 2: Include tart apples to help cut through the sweetness of the caramel. Rule 3: Add a second apple variety, if possible, for the best results. I like to use granny smith and honeycrisp, which stop the filling from feeling too “one-note”.
- Vanilla Ice Cream. Okay, it’s not in the recipe, but it’s kind of a must-have, wouldn’t you say? Nothing beats cold ice cream on a hot-from-the-oven crisp.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN APPLE CRISP AND AN APPLE CRUMBLE?
A crumble is a baked fruit dessert with a streusel topping which sometimes includes nuts. A crisp is almost identical to a crumble, but usually contains oats which crisp up as the dish bakes. However, both are interchangeable in the US, so feel free to call this a caramel apple crumble if you prefer.
Just don’t call it a cobbler- which use dollops of biscuit dough on top- or a buckle – which is like a hybrid of crumble and cake.
If you’d like to exclude the nuts and/or oats, you can by the way– just be sure to add enough extra flour to create the streusel.
WATCH THE “HOW TO MAKE CARAMEL APPLE CRISP” VIDEO
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 2 cups light brown sugar, divided
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, divided
- 1/4 cup evaporated milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup all purpose (or 1-to-1 gluten free) flour + 2 tablespoons, divided
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 8 apples, peeled and cut into chunks (I use granny smith and honeycrisp)
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Vanilla ice cream, to serve
- In a large, oven-safe skillet over medium heat, lightly toast the chopped pecans. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.
- Add 1 cup of the light-brown sugar, 1/2 cup (1 stick) of the unsalted butter, and the evaporated milk to the skillet and bring to a boil. Boil 3 minutes, stirring often, then reduce to low heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Continue to cook for 2 more minutes.
- Spoon roughly 1/2 cup of the caramel into a bowl and reserve for topping later.
- Add 2 tablespoons of flour to the skillet, along with the lemon juice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir, then add in the chopped apples and increase heat to medium. At first it will be difficult to mix and the caramel may seem to be solidifying, but continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples begin to brown and release their liquids, and the caramel has loosened to cover the apples.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F. Melt the remaining stick of butter in the microwave. Add the remaining cup of flour, cup of brown sugar, rolled oats, and a teaspoon of salt to the bowl of toasted pecans and pour over the melted butter. Stir with a fork and use your fingers, if necessary, to combine and form large crumbs for your streusel.
- Crumble the streusel over top of the apples and bake for 50 minutes, or until golden brown. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving. Reheat the reserved caramel to pour over top. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream.