Applesauce Bars 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 flavors and spices. These applesauce bars are no exception - they're sure to get you in a fall state of mind! They're similar to my applesauce cupcakes, but a little less fussy when prepared in a single 8x8 pan.
These bars turn out 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.
Serve applesauce bars at your next fall party like Thanksgiving, or as a sweet treat while tailgating at the next football game. They also make a great dessert for bake sales!
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 that you do have on hand.
- 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
- 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.
Tips and tricks
- Making brown butter - It's as simple as adding butter to a pan and allowing it to brown. 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.
- To cool brown butter quickly - Pour the butter into a bowl and refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes, or until it just begins to solidify. Ideally you want a "softened butter" texture.
- Properly measure your dry ingredients - 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 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.
- Oven temperature - Your oven can run hotter or colder than the next oven, so it's important to look at your bars and test for doneness rather than relying on time alone. Gently press into the center of the bars - if they pop right back up, they're done. If an indent is left, they need more time.
- Allow bars to cool - 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.
Frequently asked questions
Applesauce bars are very moist and cake-like, so they can be served with a fork or handheld (like a brownie). Slice your bars into smaller squares if serving them as handheld bites.
Yes, but sweetened applesauce will make your bars slightly sweeter. If you don't want a sweeter bar, reduce the brown sugar by 2 to 4 tablespoons (depending on the sweetness of your applesauce).
Since we're adding applesauce, which adds structure and moisture, there's no need for egg in this recipe.
Yes, but the icing will begin to taste like sweetened butter instead of icing. If you don't like a sweet icing (like icing on a cinnamon roll), I'd recommend omitting it entirely or lightly dusting the top of the bars with confectioner's sugar instead. You could also top individual squares with a dollop of whipped cream.
Bars will keep for about 2 to 3 days in a tightly sealed container at room temperature.
- 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
Brown 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
- 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 about 20-22 minutes, or until bars pop back when gently pressed in the center (or a toothpick comes out clean/with dry crumbs). Allow to cool completely before frosting.
Brown 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. Butter should be a soft solid consistency.
- 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.
- Icing can be omitted for a less sweet dessert. Dust the tops of the bars with confectioner's sugar or add a dollop of whipped cream to squares just before serving.