I'm going to be straight up-front with you on this. Although by most standards it's still not very much, this recipe contains more sugar than I usually include in my baked goods. I suppose I was feeling decadent when I developed this recipe.
So enjoy these Applesauce Bars as a dessert, or snack with afternoon tea, or even for weekend brunch. They are delicious. But please regard them as an occasional treat, and remember that just because something is "vegan," doesn't necessarily mean you should eat 25 of them.
Alternatively, you can absolutely still make these super yummy with a bit less sugar. I'll include notes on how to do this in the instructions below.
In each of the three layers of these bars, we'll use applesauce. So get yourself a nice 24-oz jar of the unsweetened kind, because we'll be using most of it.
More notes below on what's healthy about the ingredients in this recipe...
I hope you enjoy these as much as I have!
For the crust:
For the filling:
For the topping:
1. In a small saucepan, combine 1 cup unsweetened applesauce, ¼ cup sucanat (or 2 Tbsp sucanat for a lower-sugar option), 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Stir it all together, and set the heat to low. Continue stirring occasionally while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and line an 8x8-inch baking pan with a sheet of parchment paper.
Cut a sheet of parchment that will extend past the edges of the pan by 2 inches on each side.
Use a pair of scissors to cut four slits parallel to the edges of the pan, right at each corner, as shown below.
When you press the parchment to the bottom of the pan, the tabs you've cut will slide behind one another so the paper sits flat in the pan (see images). Set the pan aside for now.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine ¾ cup almond flour, ¾ cup oat flour, and ⅓ cup coconut flour. Stir it all together.
4. Add ½ tsp baking soda and ¼ tsp salt. Baking soda tends to be a little clumpy, so I recommend adding it to the bowl through a stainless steel mesh strainer, because no one likes baking soda clumps in their food. Stir everything together.
5. Continue stirring the applesauce in the saucepan. It should be simmering, so adjust the heat if necessary. The applesauce will become gradually thicker, but we don't want it to burn, so keep a close eye on it now, and keep it moving (keep stirring it) every minute or so.
6. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and then add ½ cup maple syrup and ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce.
7. Stir the wet ingredients together, and then gradually incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet, until everything is evenly combined.
8. Transfer the crust batter to the prepared parchment-lined baking pan.
9. Press the dough into the pan and make it as level as possible. I find that the back of a soup spoon is the easiest tool to use for this step.
Special note: If you're using a glass (Pyrex type) baking dish, slide the crust into the oven to pre-bake for 10 minutes now, to give it a little head start, since the glass pan will cause the crust to take a bit longer to bake. You can proceed with the rest of the instructions as indicated below.
10. By now, the applesauce will be very thick -- more like apple butter -- and will stand away from the sides of the saucepan when stirred. Turn off the heat and allow it to cool while you prepare the topping.
11. Using the same mixing bowl (now empty since you transferred the crust to the baking pan), combine ½ cup rolled oats, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, and 2 Tbsp sucanat (or 1 Tbsp sucanat for a lower-sugar variation).
12. Chop ¼ cup raw walnuts and ¼ cup raw almonds into small pieces.
13. Add the chopped nuts to the topping ingredients. Stir it all together.
14. Add ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce and ½ tsp vanilla extract.
Stir the applesauce and vanilla into the other topping ingredients until a crumbly consistency is formed.
15. Now that the applesauce filling has cooled a bit, we'll add that to the baking pan on top of the crust. Spoon it out over the crust.
16. Spread the applesauce filling as evenly as you can.
17. Spoon the crumble topping out on top the applesauce filling. Distribute it as evenly as possible on top.
18. Use your fingers to press the topping gently into the filling and flatten it out.
Once you've got it more or less level, the pan is ready to bake.
19. Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 25 minutes.
20. After 25 minutes of baking, pull the pan out of the oven and allow it to cool completely on a wire cooling rack.
21. When the pan is completely cool, lift the parchment carefully out of the pan, and set the cake down on a cutting board.
You can peel the parchment away from the sides, but it's not necessary to pull the paper away entirely; you can cut the cake into bars right on top of the parchment.
22. Use a sharp knife to slice the cake in half, and then slice each half into half again, lengthwise. Do the same thing in the perpendicular direction (turn it 90 degrees) to slice it into a total of sixteen Applesauce Bars.
23. Place the bars on dessert plates and serve with coffee or tea.
Note: You can store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge. If you're stacking them in your storage container, place a piece of parchment paper between the layers to keep them from sticking together.
Rolled oats are in the topping as whole rolled oats and in the crust as oat flour (which is finely ground oats). They are an excellent source of plant-based protein, and they also contain a lot of iron, Vitamins A and B6, magnesium and dietary fiber.
Applesauce (preferably without added sugar) provides dietary fiber, Vitamin B6, potassium, Vitamin C, iron, magnesium, Vitamin A and calcium.
Walnuts provide plant-based protein, and are some of the best vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3's promote brain health. Walnuts also provide magnesium, Vitamin B6, iron, potassium and calcium.
Almonds appear in this recipe in the crust (as almond flour) and in the topping (as chopped whole almonds). They have a similar nutritional profile to walnuts, and are huge on magnesium, fiber, protein, calcium, iron, and potassium.