Applesauce Bars with brown butter icing are the perfect quick dessert recipe for fall. Moist, cakey bars are filled with applesauce and cinnamon and topped with a sweet brown butter icing.
Fall has some of the best and most comforting flavors and spices. These applesauce bars are no exception - they're sure to get you into a fall state of mind!
These cake-like bars are so soft and moist from the addition of applesauce. They're filled with fall-favorite spices, like cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg - like a mini-spice cake in bar form.
Arguably the best part? The brown butter icing. It's silky, sweet, and filled with caramelized flavor. Plus, it's surprisingly simple to make!
All you need are a few simple pantry staples to get started. A great recipe for a novice baker! Plus, the applesauce does the heavy lifting in this recipe, so these bars are egg-free.
Ingredients and substitutions
Baking is an exact science, and each ingredient serves a purpose. I do not suggest making any substitutions (other than what I've listed here) for best results.
Melted butter - Unsalted butter can be substituted with salted butter (omit the salt listed in the recipe).
Applesauce - Homemade or store bought unsweetened applesauce can be used in this recipe. If using sweetened applesauce, you may want to reduce the brown sugar by 2 tablespoons.
All-purpose flour - Adds structure and stability to your bars. I have not tested this recipe with other types of flour. If you do not have AP flour on hand, I highly suggest searching for a recipe that includes the ingredients you do have on hand. This recipe was written specifically to work by using all-purpose flour.
Brown sugar - Adds sweetness, moisture, and a caramelized/molasses flavor to your bars. Also adds a bit of acidity that works with the baking soda. I do not recommend substituting with granulated sugar as you'll lose the added flavor and change the acidity of the recipe.
Spices - Salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg add depth of flavor to your bars. The spices could be substituted with an apple pie spice blend or pumpkin pie spice blend in equal amounts.
Baking soda - Helps your bars rise slightly, making them less dense. Make sure your baking soda is not expired. Can not be substituted with baking powder - these ingredients are different and not interchangeable.
Vanilla extract - Adds depth of flavor to your bars. Can be omitted if needed.
Brown butter icing ingredients
Confectioner's sugar - Also known as powdered sugar or icing sugar. Sweetens and thickens your frosting, adding stability. Using less confectioner's sugar will result in a runny frosting.
Milk - Any milk you have on hand will work in this recipe, like skim milk, whole milk, almond milk, or oat milk.
Brown butter - Icing can also be made with regular softened butter, if you don't like the added caramelized flavor of brown butter.
Vanilla extract - Adds depth of flavor to your icing. Could be substituted with maple extract for a slightly different flavor.
Making brown butter
Making brown butter is as simple as adding butter to a pan and allowing it to brown. No extra ingredients needed!
Keep a close eye on your butter and stir frequently. Eventually, it will turn a golden color and small brown flecks will form at the bottom of the pan.
Once you see a good amount of brown flecks in the pan, remove from the heat and allow to come to room temperature.
I suggest pouring your butter into a bowl and refrigerating for 10 to 15 minutes, or until it just begins to solidify. Ideally you want a "softened butter" texture.
Baking tips and tricks
- Properly measure your dry ingredients, especially the flour and confectioner's sugar. This is the most common issue I see in baking. Too much flour will make your bars dry. Too much confectioner's sugar will make your icing very sweet. To properly measure dry ingredients, either use a scale and weigh your ingredients, or gently spoon the ingredients into the measuring cup and level off with a knife. Scooping with the measuring cup from a bin compacts the ingredient into the cup, adding up to 25% extra to your recipe.
- Do not substitute ingredients. Using less/lower fat ingredients can dry out your baked goods. This recipe relies on the use of butter, brown sugar, and applesauce to add moisture to the bars.
- Ovens can run hotter or colder than the next oven, so it's important to look at your bars and test for doneness, rather than rely on time alone. Use a toothpick inserted into the center. Once it comes out clean, your bars are done.
- Allow the bars to cool to room temperature before frosting. Warm baked goods will melt frosting.
- Do not slice into hot baked goods. This releases steam/moisture, making your bars dry.
How to serve applesauce bars
Applesauce bars are very moist and cake-like, and can be served a few ways. First, they can be served as snack bars. Meant to be picked up and eaten like a brownie or cookie - no utensils needed. For this, I suggest cutting your bars into small, two to three bite squares.
If your bars turn out extra moist (this will depend on how wet your applesauce is), they may be too tender to pick up and eat by hand. These bars are practically like a piece of spice cake. In this case, your bars can easily be served like a slice of cake, with a fork.
Applesauce Bars with Brown Butter Frosting
Applesauce Spice Bars
- ⅓ cup (75 g) unsalted butter, melted
- ½ cup (107 g) brown sugar
- ½ cup (128 g) unsweetened applesauce
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup (120 g) all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ginger
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Browned Butter Icing
- ¼ cup (57 g) unsalted butter
- 1 ½ cups (170 g) confectioner's sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons (28 g) milk
Applesauce Spice Bars
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line an 8x8 pan with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a bowl, add wet ingredients: melted butter, brown sugar, applesauce, and vanilla. Stir to combine. Add flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. Stir to combine.
- Pour into 8x8 pan and use a spatula to spread evenly to the edges. Batter will be thick.
- Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean (or with crumbs, not batter). Allow to cool completely before frosting.
Browned Butter Icing
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and stir frequently. Butter will begin to foam and boil. After 3 to 4 minutes you will see brown flecks appear in the bottom of the pan. Continue to stir until butter is golden and flecks are a medium brown color. Watch closely, butter will brown quickly. Process will take about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Remove butter from heat and pour into a small bowl. Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes, or allow to set until butter is room temperature.
- Whisk confectioner's sugar in a bowl. Add cooled butter, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons of milk. Beat until light and fluffy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add more milk if needed, 1 tablespoon at a time until desired texture is reached.
- Pour icing onto bars. Use a knife to spread evenly over bars. Allow icing to set before cutting into bars.
- Bars can be served alone or with a fork to eat like cake. Depending on the moisture in your applesauce, bars may turn out more cake-like and tender.
- Leftover bars will keep for 2-3 days at room temperature in a sealed container.