Hot damn, are these bars delicious! The toasted oat crust—nutty and buttery, and the mixed berry filling—fruity and sweet-tart, all add up to one pretty spectacular bar cookie. Is it mad skills or did I just get lucky? That’s entirely beside the point—which is to run right out, buy the ingredients and give this recipe a whirl!
I’m working backwards at the moment—no opening tale of inspiration, or process, or thinking—I’ll get to that in a minute. For now, it’s just eating and telling (and beseeching). Here goes:
Taking a bite, my teeth easily break into the chewy, yet tender bottom crust, then through the jam-y fruit center, the crumbly streusel topping, and then finally the creamy, sugary glaze which melts by the warmth of my tongue. The first taste reminds me of my favorite childhood coffee cake, Entenmann’s Raspberry Danish Twist, only exponentially better. The second taste reminds me of the berry Bomboloncini (jelly donut-holes) I had at Osteria del Circo in the mid 90’s. Followed remotely by the idea of glazed raspberry Pop-Tarts—I say idea because even as a kid, I realized that they could never quite live up to the expectation of a gooey, fruit-filled flaky pastry.
In the end, what I’m left with is the memory of a raspberry bar cookie my mother made at Christmas—her famed Raspberry Chews. Hers had a short bread crust, jam-y filling and a coconut-walnut meringue topping. They were delicious and would’ve been more suited to the palette of a 9-year old if only she’d have left out the walnuts—my 9-year old self says “Yuck” while my XX-year old self says “Mmmm”. I hadn’t thought about them much until my brother, Frank came over for dinner and was reminded of them after eating mine for dessert. When she died (sadly, 2 years ago today) my mom left me with a ton of cookbooks and recipe cards but nowhere in that endless pile is a recipe for her raspberry chews. I did an internet search and found several listings, but alas, no source. An email to one poster put me no closer to the origin, but at least I now have the recipe that I’ll make for Christmas with the dozen or so other “Fran” cookies.
My bars are fresh in my memory and on my taste buds and are pretty easy, requiring no special equipment or hard-to-find ingredients. For the crust, my intention was to use oats and almonds, both of which I keep on hand for granola but I don’t love the raw, powdery taste in baked goods without toasting them first. A quick flash in the pan yields a nutty, fragrant aroma and eliminates that powdery taste. The crust is simply a streusel/shortbread dough that gets pinched together with your fingers. A portion of the crumbs get packed into a pan and then the rest get crumbled over the fruit filling. For the filling, I cooked down a mixture of berries with sugar until thick and shiny like jam. I suppose store-bought preserves would be fine, but quite a bit sweeter and cooked down than fresh. Berries were on sale in my grocery store, but now that autumn is truly here, I ‘m excited to try this again with more seasonal fruit. In fact, I have a pot of quince-apple sauce (quinces courtesy of Quinciple) cooking down on the stove right now.
After baking until golden and fragrant, the whole “bar” gets carefully inverted onto a cutting board, flipped again right side up and cut into pieces. The powdered sugar glaze is kind of like a hard sauce—confectioners’ sugar, butter and a touch of cream. It hardens and crackles when cool but softens as soon as you take a bite.
The problem (at least in my experience) with things this delicious is that they disappear quickly, leaving me with the not-so-distant memory and longing for more. I suppose now, I’ll have to get cracking on another batch with that rosy-hued quince-apple butter once it cools. And as soon as my hands are free (these are bar cookies after all) I’ll report back with the results.
TOASTED OATS AND BERRY STREUSEL BARS
Active: 30 min; Total: 2 hrs, plus cooling
Makes 32 bars
6 cups mixed berries, such as sliced strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 cup old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup sliced almonds
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
14 tablespoons (7 ounces) unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon heavy cream or milk
- Make the filling: In a large saucepan, combine the berries, sugar and water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until very thick and jammy and reduced to 2 1/2 cups, 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool completely.
- Preheat the oven to 350° and butter a 9-inch square or 12-inch round baking pan. Make the crust: in a large skillet, toast the oats and almonds over moderately high heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool completely.
- Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. Add the butter and using your hands, work the mixture until it resembles very coarse meal. Add the oats and almonds and work until evenly combined. You should have 6 cups of crumbs. Press 2/3 of the mixture into the pan and press to compact. Spoon the berry mixture on top and spread to an even layer. Using your fingers, press the remaining crumbs into clumps and scatter them evenly on top. Bake in the center of the oven until the top is golden 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool completely. Run the tip of a blade all around the edges to loosen the bar. Place a cutting board on top and holding both, invert. Carefully remove the pan. Set another cutting board on top and holding both, invert again. Cut into 32 bars.
- Make the glaze: in a bowl, whisk the confectioners’ sugar with the melted butter and cream until smooth. Drizzle the mixture over the bars and refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes. Serve. Make ahead: the bars can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.