This apple crumble is a nod to two of my favorite fall treats — caramel apples and oatmeal raisin cookies. If making your own caramel sauce and cookies sounds like too much work, you can still make this recipe with some time-saving shortcuts for an equally delicious apple crumble.
An Upgrade of the First Crumble I Made
I made my first crumble about five years ago. It was an apple crumble and I only had a microwave to cook with, so the “crumble” part wasn’t quite so crumbly. But it still made for a really tasty dessert that I enjoyed sharing with friends. Since those first apple crumbles, I’ve been experimenting and refining — the result is this recipe.
Inspired by Two Fall Treats
I know I’m not alone when I say this, but I love fall. I love pretty much everything about it — the colors, the smells, the clothes, the weather, and the flavors! There are foods I will intentionally not make or eat at any other time of the year because they represent fall to me. Two of them have inspired the current version of this apple crumble recipe.
I really like caramel apples. I couldn’t tell you when the last time is that I actually ate the kind on sticks. But I’ve eaten lots of sliced apples dipped in tubs of caramel found in the grocery produce departments. That counts, right? So it was a given that when I began making apple crumbles, the sweetener would be caramel.
Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
The first time I made oatmeal raisin cookies I was ten years old. That was the year I got a Better Homes and Gardens Junior Cookbook for either my birthday or Christmas. I’d already made several recipes from the book and I began noticing recipes were on all sorts of things, like the cardboard Quaker Oats container. I tried other oatmeal cookie recipes, but none of them compared to Quaker’s so I stopped looking elsewhere years ago. It’s my tried and true oatmeal raisin cookie and it’s always had a “Fall Cookie” status in my kitchen.
There are a lot of Quaker Oats oatmeal cookie recipes floating around on the internet. Many of them are not the one I made as a child. I had that recipe on an index card in a little metal recipe box I got as a gift when I went off to college. Since losing everything I owned ten years ago, replacing my cookbooks and all my printed/handwritten recipes that I accumulated over a 20-year period has been an ongoing project. This oatmeal cookie recipe was a biggie for me.
What I could remember about it was that it used brown and granulated sugar, there were a LOT of oats compared to the rest of the dough, and it used shortening — not butter. I’ve found a few versions (mostly it seems to be the amount of brown sugar that changes and all the other ingredients seem to stay the same).
I linked to the recipe on the Quaker Oats website that appears to be the one I made for so many years. I also made a note about another recipe I found that nearly all the reviewers said was the one they remember from lids of the old Quaker Oats tins.
Apples: Come One, Come All
I’ve made apple crumbles with whatever apples I had on hand. There were some crumbles that came out better than others, but even the “eh” apples made a respectable showing. The caramel probably had a lot to do with that!
I’m fortunate enough to have a few varieties on hand to work with, so I’m going with a mix of Granny Smith, Fuji, and Pinata apples for this crumble (I’ve been dying to use those Pinatas ever since I came across them!).
NOTE: Apple pie filling is NOT an option for this recipe because of the sugar and spices it contains. Other apple crumble recipes have a traditional apple pie flavor to them, but I’m going for that caramel apple taste. I’ve never tried using canned apples either, so I can’t tell you how they would work out. Cooking apples is so easy that I always do it this way.
Going Full Martha
I’m not going to take any shortcuts with this recipe. I’m making caramel sauce on the stove and I’m making oatmeal raisin cookies from scratch that I’ll use for the “crumble” part. I’m doing this because apple crumble is a really easy dessert overall, so I feel like I can channel my inner Martha Stewart for this recipe.
However, I know that not everyone has an inner Martha. Or maybe you do, but she’s tired and needs the day off (mine does, and more than people might guess). As long as things taste good, you’re doing it right! I use shortcuts when needed and I’ll share the two I have for this recipe.
Time-Savers You Can Use
Use one, or both, of these time-saving shortcuts if you’re pressed for time (or just don’t feel like blowing up your kitchen). Put the effort into this recipe you want to and then let your apple crumble speak for itself.
Instead of Homemade Caramel
As I mentioned, from the beginning I’ve used caramel to sweeten my apple crumble. I started out using pre-made caramel sauce before I began making it from scratch.
Okay, that’s a lie. What I really used at first were soft caramel candies and then later I switched up to caramel sauce in a jar. I feel better now for having confessed that.
If you don’t have time to make your own caramel sauce — or you don’t like the idea of cleaning up a sticky pan and utensils — go the pre-made caramel route. Use either the kind in a jar or that tub of caramel in the produce section. Trust me, your apple crumble will be wonderful.
And if all you have in the pantry are a bag of soft caramels, use them. They work and no one has to know!
Let Someone Else Do the Baking
There are some pretty darn good cookies you can buy at the grocery store or in bakeries. I’ve used them when I didn’t feel like pretending I was on The Great British Baking Show.
What I do is break soft oatmeal raisin cookies into pieces on a baking sheet and then bake them in the oven for a few minutes before using them for apple crumble topping. If you use oatmeal cookies that aren’t the soft kind, then you can skip the baking and crumble them directly onto the apples.
Freezing and Storing Apple Crumbles
I always forget to say anything about freezing the things I make. I guess that’s because when it comes to desserts, it never occurs to me to make them if I’m not going to serve them within a day or two of baking them.
But I realize there are people who like to plan ahead and freeze meals for upcoming events like surgeries, new babies on the way, large holiday dinners, or even days when you just don’t feel like cooking anything from scratch, but you still want yummy things to eat. It’s hard to believe I actually used to be one of those people!
So I’m going to try to be a lot better about including information about freezing and storing my baked recipes.
Baked or unbaked apple crumbles can be stored in a freezer for three to four months.
When I used to freeze things in baking dishes, I’d tightly wrap the dish in multiple layers of plastic wrap, each layer running 90 degrees from the previous layer (I bought the ginormous rolls of plastic wrap at Costco, so I had plenty to use!). Then I’d tightly wrap the dish in aluminum foil and pop it in the freezer. All those layers of plastic wrap and foil seemed to do the trick for preventing freezer burn. I’m pretty sure no desserts ever stayed in my freezer for four months, so I can’t swear as to whether or not this storage method will go the distance.
Reheating Apple Crumble
Now I do reheat desserts often, so there’s no excuse for why I’ve been forgetting to provide this information. With this apple crumble, I recommend loosely covering it with foil to prevent the top from browning any further and then baking it at 350 for 15-20 minutes to warm it through.
I’ve also microwaved a serving when it was just me having some of the leftover crumble. It does affect the crunchiness of the crumble topping, but that’s something I’m willing to live with.
Making Caramel Apple Crumble
There are three main parts of this recipe. Baking the cookies, cooking the apples, and making the caramel sauce. After that, it’s simply combining the caramel and apples in a baking dish, topping them with cookie pieces, and popping it in the oven for a short bake time to finish it off.
If you’re not making the cookies or caramel sauce yourself, just skip those parts.
These are the classic Quaker Oats oatmeal cookies from the recipe dating back to the 1950s — the O.G., if you will. I’ve tried other recipes and they just don’t work for me. I always come back and wonder why I ever looked elsewhere.
Combine the shortening, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl.
Cream together the shortening and the sugars. This is what it looks like after a lot of mixing with a wooden spoon — I hate getting my hand mixer beaters dirty unless it’s for things like cake batters or puddings that are easy to clean off them.
Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well.
In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, salt…AND CINNAMON.
I can’t for the life of me figure out why the recipe doesn’t include that in the ingredients because, in my opinion, there’s no way you can make oatmeal raisin cookies and not include cinnamon in the dough. I added a heaping ½ teaspoon and called it good.
I guess if you don’t like cinnamon you can leave it out, as the recipe is written.
Gradually add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix well.
Stir in the oats, one cup at a time.
The dough will look like this once all the oats are stirred in.
Add the raisins and stir well.
Drop by rounded tablespoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
Okay, I know I just wrote “ungreased” because that’s the way the recipe says to do it. But I have trust issues. Especially when it comes to trusting things not to stick when you bake them. So my cookie sheets are always at least lightly greased. I’d rather be safe than turning the air blue because I trusted the recipe when it said I didn’t have to grease the cookie sheet, but I knew better and now my cookies are a hot mess (literally).
Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, until gold brown. The smell of these cookies baking is just amazing — I can never resist eating one as soon as they come out of the oven! (And by that, I mean I eat one from each batch that comes out of the oven.)
Cool one minute on the cookie sheet, then transfer to a wire cooling rack. (I don’t have a wire cooling rack, so I just transfer them to a plate while I prepare another batch for baking.)
It turns out I was RIGHT not to trust the “ungreased” cookie sheet instructions! Even with lightly greasing my cookie sheet these suckers wanted to stick. Granted, I’m not using non-stick bakeware because I haven’t found any that will fit inside my Ninja Foodi oven. That might make a difference.
After that first batch I also decided not to leave the cookies on the cookie sheet for that minute the instructions specified. As soon as I took the cookies out of the oven, I used a wide, superflat plastic spatula to get the cookies onto a flat stoneware platter to let them cool there. That seemed to give me the best non-sticking cookies.
You’ll need a little more than two dozen of these cookies for an apple crumble of this size. You can either freeze the leftovers to save for another crumble or you can just enjoy them as a treat all by themselves. I tend to go for Door #2.
Wash, peel, and core the apples..
I peel before coring because I don’t have an apple corer — I just use my chef’s knife to quarter the apples and then cut the core off at an angle. But if you do have an apple corer, you may prefer to core the apples before peeling them.
Rough chop the apples.
Put the apples in a large pot (or a dutch oven), cover them, and cook over low heat until they’re soft.
My apples were done in about 20 minutes. And then I forgot to take a photo. They were nothing out of the ordinary — just a lot of soft apples.
A Tale of Two Caramel Sauces
Once the apples are done, make the caramel sauce.
This is a caramel sauce I know I can’t screw up because I did screw up others. Oh, did I ever. The first (and worst) I ever tried looked, at first glance, like a Can’t-Miss recipe. It had three ingredients and the instructions were “Stir Ingredient 1, stir in Ingredient 2, and stir in that last Ingredient.” Who can mess up such a simple recipe of just THREE ingredients?
Me. I can and I did.
The entire experience can be summed up as the following:
- Multiple sugar burns, including my feet because I was wearing thong sandals (melted sugar is like lava on your skin)
- Nearly ruining the clothes I was wearing after splashing melted butter all down the front of me (which burned me some more; Dawn dish detergent saved my clothes)
- A hateful brown cement-like substance caramel ingredients turn into within seconds
- A spectacular come-apart-meltdown that ended with me dumping a mess that was both molten and chunky into the garbage and swearing off making caramel forever (mostly I was just swearing by that point)
But I’m stubborn, I hate failure, and after I did the “research autopsy” of my Caramel Catastrophe, I learned there are two methods for making caramel:
- The “dry method” (dump sugar in pot/pan, heat it, and hope for the best)
- The “wet method” (put other melty things in with the sugar that will help it dissolve and not turn into rock).
It turns out the dry method is basically a guarantee for sugar crystallization and pretty much never works for beginners (because how would we know that stirring melting sugar is bad?). It figures that would be the method I’d ignorantly attempted.
This is a “wet method” caramel recipe. It’s one I don’t screw up…most of the time. The trick is to NOT stand there and stir the ingredients like you’re making gravy or some other kind of sauce. Again, it causes the sugar to crystalize. Not stirring is totally counterintuitive and I still struggle with it because I’ve never met a sauce I didn’t think I needed to stir constantly. Don’t do this, unless you like grainy caramel sauce.
(I’m super curious about why food does what it does under certain conditions and this sugar crystallization thing obsessed me. If you’re also a food-curious person, here’s a link about why you don’t want to stir this recipe — at least not until after it comes to a boil.)
Put the sugars, butter, and half and half in a LARGE pot (another mistake is using a too-small pot or pan).
Melt everything down over medium-low heat. Don’t stir it! I know you’re going to want to because even I still get all twitchy and keep picking up the spatula to do it. But let chemistry do its job while the sauce is reaching the boil.
If you are patient, hit the “I Believe” button while you wait, stir infrequently once it boils, and let the sauce do what it needs to do for about 5-10 minutes, this is what you’ll get. It’s not thick enough caramel to coat apples, but it’s a consistency that’s perfect for this apple crumble recipe.
Assemble the Apple Crumble
I mentioned in my cherry crumble recipe that even though I KNOW a traditional crumble is only fruit on the bottom with some kind of crumbly topping, this ratio of soft/crunch doesn’t work for me. I can dig a “fruit-only bottom” for a cobbler, but something in me wants more crunch in a crumble. So, rebel that I am, I put a bottom layer (in addition to my top layer) of crumbly stuff in my apple crumble, just as I will do with any crumble I make.
It took 11 cookies to create this bottom layer. That number will vary depending on the size of the cookies you use.
Spread the apples over the cookie layer.
Pour the caramel sauce over the apples. Use a spatula to make sure the apples are completely coated and spread evenly in the baking dish.
At this point, I meant to sprinkle a cup of chopped walnut over the caramel apples…and I forgot. I didn’t remember that I forgot until the crumble had already been in the oven for about 10 minutes. I thought “Aw, man! Now I’ll have to take the walnuts out of the recipe and the instructions.”
But then Martha said “I WANT WALNUTS IN THE CRUMBLE!” (You remember Cybil Shepherd doing the Merlot scene, right?). So I yanked that bad boy out of the oven, sprinkled the walnuts on top of the cookies, and then put it back into the oven for the rest of the bake. The walnuts are not a discreet little ingredient hidden under the topping like I’d planned. Instead they’re right out there in the open as a reminder of my mistake.
But you know what? Martha’s got her walnuts in her crumble. And the walnuts actually don’t look bad on top of the crumble.
Obviously I don’t have a photo of what I didn’t do, but you can use your imagination. Now, moving on to the final crumble layer.
Crumble the oatmeal raisin cookies over the apples and walnuts to form a topping layer. I used 14 cookies for the top layer. I would have used 15 except I was tired of crumbling up cookies and making a mess with crumbs going all over the place.
Now the apple crumble is assembled and ready to go in the oven.
Bake the Crumble
Bake in the oven at 350 for 30 minutes. Once it’s out of the oven, let it sit for 15-20 minutes before serving it.
I’m so ready to make this apple crumble and I hope you are too. Going the full homemade route does take some time, but I don’t see the bad in making cookies and caramel sauce. It makes me feel like a homesteader baking at harvest time!
- For Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
- ¾ cup shortening, soft
- ¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar (the other recipe I found increased this to 1 cup)
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup water
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- *½ teaspoon (heaping) ground cinnamon* (This is my addition to the recipe)
- 3 cups oats, uncooked (can use rolled or quick-cook -- not instant!)
- 1 cup raisins
- 9-10 medium-size apples
- For Caramel Sauce:
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- ½ cup butter
- ¼ cup half and half
- ½ cup chopped walnuts
- To make the cookies, I’ll refer you to the recipe on the Quaker Oats website, rather than duplicate it here. The instructions are the same if you choose to increase the brown sugar to 1 cup.
- Wash, peel, core, and rough chop the apples.
- Place the apples in a large pot, cover, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally until soft for about 20 minutes.
- While the apples are cooking, make the caramel sauce.
- Pour the granulated sugar, brown sugar, butter, and half and half into a large pot.
- Cook over medium heat, NOT STIRRING, and allow the sauce to come to a gentle boil.
- Once the caramel is boiling, reduce the heat to low, stir a few times to mix the butter in, and cook the sauce for the next 5-10 minutes.
- Remove the caramel from heat.
- Crumble enough cookies to form a bottom layer in a 9x9 square baking pan/dish.
- Spread the cooked apples over the crumbled cookies.
- Pour the caramel over the apples, using a spatula to make sure all the apples are coated and spread evenly in the baking dish.
- Sprinkle 1/2 cup of crushed walnut pieces over the apple mixture.
- Crumble more oatmeal raisin cookies and sprinkle them over the crumble to form a topping layer.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and cool for 15-20 minutes before serving. If you like, add whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.