When we were brainstorming our ideal apple dessert, two classic supporting ingredients came to mind. No, not cinnamon and caramel! Sharp cheddar cheese and buttery Ritz crackers. But after trying (and failing) to achieve a cheesy taste that came through even after baking, we had a thought: Why not harness the super-powered cheesiness of cheese crackers instead? Incorporating Cheez-Its into the dough results in a toasty, buttery flavor that your friends will be able to identify as deliciousness, but not necessarily as cheesiness. (Trust us, we did a blind taste-test!) The crisp crust, which also turns into the crumb topping, comes together in the food processor, and a finished slice is as beautiful as a slice of pie—but way easier.
Place a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 375°. Line a 9" round pan with foil, pressing it so that it hugs the sides. Leave about 2" overhang—you’ll use that to lift the bars out later. Grease foil with unsalted butter. (Lining with foil makes it a cinch to lift out your bars for easy slicing. But if you prefer not to use it, butter generously and then cut out wedges straight from the baking pan.)
Make the streusel: Pulse 1½ cups Cheez-Its, 1½ cups all-purpose flour, ¾ cup sugar, and ½ tsp. kosher salt in a food processor until a fine, light orange mixture forms and no visible Cheez-Its remain.
Cut ¾ cup (1½ sticks) cold unsalted butter into small pieces. The easiest way to do this is to slice once lengthwise, then turn butter block on its side and slice lengthwise again. Now that you have 4 long butter columns, keep them stacked and cut crosswise. Cute butter cubes! Add butter to food processor and pulse until pea-size pieces of butter remain. Scoop out 1¼ cups Cheez-Its mixture and set aside—you’ll use this for the crumb topping.
Time to make the shortbread crust: Separate 2 large eggs, placing yolks in a small bowl; reserve whites for another use. (Those yolks are going to give this portion of the dough the moisture and fattiness it needs to come together into a crisp, sturdy base.) Mix with a fork just to break up yolks. Add egg yolks to remaining Cheez-Its mixture in food processor and pulse to incorporate. Continue to pulse in 10-second increments until dough starts to hold together in big clumps (this will take 5–6 increments, and the machine will start to make a different noise when you reach the stopping point).
Scatter dough clumps in prepared pan, using lightly floured hands to gently press it into an even later. Poke all over with the tines of a fork.
Bake crust until dry to the touch and edges are starting to brown, 18–22 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the filling. Cut 2 lb. (about 4 medium) Pink Lady or a mix of Pink Lady and Granny Smith apples around the core into 4 sections each. Lay apple chunk on its flat side and thinly slice (you’re aiming for ⅛"—but really, the slices should be thin but not paper-thin). You should have 8 cups total.
Juice 1 lemon (you should have 2 Tbsp.) into a measuring cup. Add ½ cup apple cider and remaining ½ tsp. kosher salt and stir to combine.
Transfer apple slices to a large skillet and heat over medium-high (no need to add butter or oil, as the apples are going to release their juices). Sprinkle remaining 3 Tbsp. sugar over and cook, tossing frequently, until sugar melts, about 1 minute. Pour in apple cider mixture and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally and gently, until apples are very tender (if you’re using half Granny Smith, those pieces will start to break down) and almost all of the liquid has boiled off (you’ll want 1 Tbsp. or so remaining in the pan), 8–10 minutes. Let cool slightly.
When both the crust and apples are cool enough to handle, transfer fruit and any leftover goop to pan. Spread evenly, then press gently to compact apples (this will make the bars easier to slice and eat). Sprinkle reserved streusel over (for bigger clumps, squeeze the streusel in your hands as you crumble).
Bake bar until topping is firm, toasty-smelling, and darker in color, 35–40 minutes.
Let cool in pan, then use foil overhang to carefully transfer to a cutting board. Using a sharp chef knife or a long serrated knife, cut into 12 triangles. Cover and store in the fridge for up to 4 days.