You guys, vegan desserts are HARD. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve made a polenta cake, sea salt brownies, pecan squares, raspberry pudding, and two previous renditions of these apple crumb bars, all of which I deemed not good enough. Fortunately, Alex’s coworkers were more than happy to take the rejects off our hands!
It’s important to me that the desserts I offer up here are not only delicious, but also markedly healthier than non-vegan versions. The first time I made these bars, I straight up replaced butter with coconut oil. The results were yummy, and coconut oil is healthier than butter, but still…it was a lot of oil. The bars were no lighter than the non-vegan original version.
It’s also important to me that my ingredient lists are short and supermarket-friendly. I have a two-year old, people. I don’t have time to hunt down hemp seeds, or any kind of tofu other than the basic one they stock at my local Stop & Shop. Medjool dates are a common ingredient in vegan desserts. Sticky and sweet, they can stand in for both sugar and (some) butter. They are not that hard to find (any Whole Foods should have them), but I wondered if I could replace them with something even more ubiquitous. As it turns out, the humble prune worked wonders. At long last, I have the no-bake vegan apple crumb bars I set out for weeks ago. And they are gluten-free to boot!
You can use almonds in place of the pecans. This crust will vary slightly depending on how moist and plump your prunes are. If it feels too dry, add an additional tablespoon of coconut oil. It’s essential to refrigerate these bars before you cut them, and also to store them in the refrigerator. They need to be chilled in order to remain firm. They are delicious for dessert drizzled with unsweetened coconut cream, but I’m happy to report they also make a totally acceptable breakfast.
- 1 1/2 cups whole pecans (toasted is great but untoasted is just fine)
- 1 1/2 cups gluten-free oats (you can also use regular old fashioned oats)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/3 cup packed chopped prunes
- 1/4 cup coconut oil (solid, not melted)
- 2 large Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and finely diced
- 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1/2 cup water
- Line an 8 x 8-inch baking pan with foil so that it extends up the sides. Line the bottom of the pan with a square of parchment paper.
- To make the crust and topping, combine the pecans, oats, salt, and cinnamon in a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Add the prunes and pulse until well combined. Add the coconut oil and pulse until the mixture looks clumpy and moist. Pinch some between your fingers--it should feel tacky, not sandy. If it is too dry, add an additional tablespoon of coconut oil. Transfer slightly more than half the mixture to the prepared pan, reserving the rest. With clean hands, firmly and evenly press it into the bottom of the pan.
- To make the filling, combine the apples, brown sugar, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan. In a small bowl, whisk the cornstarch and water to blend. Pour over the apples. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the mixture is thick and the apples are soft but still hold their shape, 15 to 20 minutes.
- Spread the apple filling evenly over the crust in the pan. Crumble remaining pecan mixture over the apples and press it in gently. Transfer the pan to the refrigerator and chill until very firm, at least 4 hours.
- Using the foil as handles, lift the whole piece out of the pan and cut into bars. Store bars in the refrigerator.