Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars

I can tell spring is here and summer is around the corner, because rhubarb has been all over my Instagram feed.  I’ve had bakery desserts with the red celery-like stalk, but I had never made anything with it myself.  Everyone else is doing it, so why not?  The grocery store had a crazy deal on gorgeous juicy strawberries (2 pounds for $3!) last weekend and the rhubarb looked great, so last weekend was a good a time as any to take the plunge!  It was meant to be.  I also took the opportunity to nibble on a piece of raw rhubarb because I’d only ever had it baked in a dessert.  And boy there is a reason why rhubarb isn’t served raw – my mouth puckers just thinking about the bitter tartness!

Admittedly, I bought far too much rhubarb, and ended up doing some experimenting with the extras.  I made a rhubarb puree and then combined it with a lemon bar.  I think I need to tinker with the recipe some more, because Kevin said it tasted like a Fig Newton.  It was not supposed to taste like a Fig Newton.  Also, let it be known that I am fairly certain they used rhubarb puree for the Psychomagnotheric Slime in Ghostbusters II.  It was bright pink jelly, and I of course forgot to take a photo of it.  Fortunately, no psychokinetic events took place during the making of this puree.

Making Rhubarb Puree (not for this recipe)

But I digress.

Smitten Kitchen’s social media channels have had rhubarb recipes on repeat lately, and the recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars in particular caught my eye.  I doubled the recipe for a 9″x13″ baking dish, and used less fruit in proportion to the original recipe.  You can halve the recipe for an 8″x8″ pan, but the bars will be a bit thinner.  But why would you want less of these bars??  The recipe was originally written as a one-bowl recipe, but the OCD in me kicked in and I ended up using a separate mixing bowl so that I could guarantee the crust/crisp would be mixed evenly.  Here is the recipe as adapted from Smitten Kitchen.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • Heaped 1/4 teaspoon table salt
  • 14 TBSP unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tsp cornstarch (optional, but helps firm up the filling)
  • 2 TBSP lemon juice
  • 2 TBSP granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups small-diced rhubarb (from about 3 medium stalks)
  • 1 1/2 cups small-diced strawberries
  • Powdered sugar, for decoration, if desired

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat oven to 375 degrees F. For easy removal and clean-up, line bottom and two sides of 9″x13″ baking dish with parchment paper.

    Lets Make Some Magic!
  2. Mix together oats, flour, brown sugar and salt in a large bowl. Pour melted butter over, and stir until clumps form. Set aside 1 1/2 cups of the crumble mixture. Press the rest of the crumb mixture evenly in the bottom of the pan.
  3. Spread half the fruit over the crust. Sprinkle it evenly with cornstarch, then lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar. Spread remaining fruit over this, and top with second tablespoon sugar. Scatter reserved crumbs over fruit and bake bars for 30 to 40 minutes (firmer fruits will take longer), until fruit is bubbly and crisp portion is golden and your kitchen smells amazing.

    Ready for the Oven
  4. Let cool in dish.* Cut into squares and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving with (obviously) a scoop or two of vanilla ice cream. Store leftovers in fridge.

    Smells Amazing

*Smitten Kitchen recommends cooling in the fridge to make sure the bars are crisp, but using less fruit than the original recipe I think kept the bars from getting soggy.  I didn’t need to chill mine!

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp Bars
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Pumpkin Pie Crumble Bar

When I turned 30, IMAX surprised me with a cake and a batch of pumpkin pie bars from my favorite bakery in LA (arguably in the world).  I was obsessed with having these again, and scoured the internet for about a year to find a recipe that would help me replicate them.  I finally came across one that sounded and looked like the bars from Cookie Casa.

Pumpkin Pie Crumble Bar
Pumpkin Pie Crumble Bar

The annual IMAX Thanksgiving potluck is my time to do a test run of one of the dishes I’ll make the following week on Turkey Day.  This recipe was the perfect opportunity to try the bars out. I found the recipe on Brown Eyed Baker, but I wasn’t happy with the outcome.  The topping looked and tasted like crumbs instead of a chunky crumble.  Remembering what gave crumbles that great semi-chunky clumpy texture from the crumble I made a few years ago, I decided to start playing with this recipe.  I made this three more times between Thanksgiving and Christmas, tweaking each time and finally found something I was really happy with.  I bumped up the pumpkin content to a full can of puree to help bulk up the filling, as I thought the original was a bit crust- and crumble-heavy.  I also cut an extra 1/4 cup butter into the oatmeal crumb mixture with a pastry blender for texture, and I pared down the spice content a wee bit.

I brought these to the Annual Sho-Yu Holiday Party last night, finally happy with the outcome.  I am happy to share the recipe as I have edited it, after making this a total of 6 times since November!

INGREDIENTS:

For the Oatmeal Crumb:

  • 1 1/4 C all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 C quick oats
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 C granulated sugar
  • 1/2 C light brown sugar
  • 3/4 C unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1/4 C unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the Pumpkin Pie Filling:

  • 1/4 C granulated sugar
  • 1/4 C light brown sugar
  • 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 pinch ginger
  • 1 pinch ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 can pureed pumpkin
  • 1/3 C evaporated milk

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Make the Oatmeal Crumble: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and adjust oven rack to middle position. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing excess to hang over the sides; set aside.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, baking soda and salt to combine. Add both the granulated sugar and brown sugar and mix until no clumps remain. Add 3/4 cup melted butter and vanilla extract, then stir with a fork until the mixture is evenly moistened. Press two cups of the mixture into the prepared pan and bake on the center rack for 15 minutes.

    Press Crust with Bottom of Measuring Cup
    Press Crust with Bottom of Measuring Cup
  3. Make the Pumpkin Pie Filling: Meanwhile, in another medium bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and salt. Add the egg, egg yolk and vanilla and whisk until well blended. Finally, whisk in the pumpkin, and then the evaporated milk until the mixture is smooth and thoroughly combined.
  4. When the crust has finished baking, pour the pumpkin pie filling over the bottom crust and return it to the center rack of the oven for 15 minutes.
  5. While the filling is baking, cut 1/4 cup butter with a pastry blender into the remainder of the dry mixture until the butter is about pea size, trying to disperse throughout the remainder of the dry mixture. Set aside. This extra step will really give the topping that “crumble” texture, versus just being lots of crumbs on top.

    Cut Extra Butter for Crumble Topping
    Cut Extra Butter for Crumble Topping
  6. Remove the dish from the oven, pinch the oatmeal crumble mixture into small pieces and sprinkle over the top of the pumpkin pie filling. Return the baking dish to the oven, placing it on the upper-middle rack, and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until it is golden on top and the center only jiggles slightly.
  7. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature, at least 1 to 2 hours. Then, transfer the pan to the refrigerator and chill for at least 2 hours. Cut into squares and serve. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Are these as good as Cookie Casa’s?  They’re not, but they are still pretty darned close!

Pink Lemonade Bars (Raspberry Lemon Bars)

As a fruity compliment to the decadent Chocolate Cake with Espresso Buttercream that I made for our extended family potluck last month, I made a batch of Pink Lemonade Bars (a.k.a. Raspberry Lemon Bars) just to make sure I had all my bases covered.  And yes, this bar is the more fibrous sister of the Gorgeous Strawberry Blonde Bars I made a couple of years ago.Pink Lemonade Bars (Raspberry Lemon Bars)

Here is the recipe as adapted from Smitten Kitchen:

INGREDIENTS

For the crust:

  • 1/4 C sugar
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 C all-purpose flour

For the pink lemonade layer:

  • 1 C raspberries
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 1/4 C freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons’ worth)
  • 1/3 C all-purpose flour
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F and line an 8x8x2-inch baking pan or Pyrex with parchment, letting it extend up two sides. Butter or coat the bottom and sides with a nonstick spray and set the pan aside.
  2. Make the base: In a food processor, pulse together the sugar, zest and salt until combined. Add the butter and pulse until it is evenly dispersed in the dough. Add the flour and pulse the machine until it’s just combined and the mixture is crumbly. Press the dough into the prepared pan and about 1/2-inch up the sides. Don’t worry about making this perfect – no one can tell once the filling is in it.  Bake for 15 minutes, until lightly browned at edges. Let cool on a rack while you prepare the filling. Leave the oven on.
  3. Make the pink lemonade layer: Puree the raspberries in a food processor until they’re as liquefied as they’ll get. You don’t have to wash the food processor in between steps, but just make sure there aren’t any huge chunks of dough in there before adding the raspberries. Run the puree through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing out all the raspberry puree that you can.  Leave the seeds behind. You’ll net about 1/3 cup strained puree, but don’t worry if you have a little less than that.

    Strain Raspberry Puree
    Strain Raspberry Puree
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of raspberry puree. Stir in flour. Pour into cooling crust and return pan to the oven, baking the bars until they’re set (they’ll barely jiggle) and slightly golden at the edges, about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into rectangles. (You can speed this up in the fridge.)

    Filling Mixture
    Filling Mixture
  5. I cut these into 16 2×2-inch squares and each one fit snugly in a standard cupcake liner.  Dust with powdered sugar just before serving. You can store these in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week.

I didn’t get to try these because they were eaten up by our family potluck attendees, but I typically assume running out quickly is a good sign!

Apricot Pistachio Squares

Finally, a more recently made treat. I went on a solid 3-month hiatus from baking to try and have less temptation laying around the apartment. Our pre-wedding healthy eating habits went out the window during our honeymoon trip to Big Sur and Napa. It was the weekend after we got back from our honeymoon, and I had the biggest hankering to bake something. With it being summer (my favorite time of the year to make desserts), I thought I’d give this recipe a try.

Pistachio is hands down my favorite flavor in both sweet and savory dishes, and it had been a while since I last whipped up a pistachio dessert I really liked. I had never had anything with fresh apricots before, but I’ve taken a real liking to minced dried apricots in my stews or with some plain oatmeal. I saw this recipe on the ever-faithful Smitten Kitchen and had to give it a whirl:

INGREDIENTS:

Crust

  • 1 C all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 t table salt
  • 1/4 C granulated sugar
  • 1/2 C (or one stick) unsalted butter, cold is fine

Filling

  • 3/4 C shelled unsalted pistachios
  • 1 tablespoon (10 grams) all purpose flour
  • Few pinches of sea salt
  • 6 T sugar
  • 5 T unsalted butter, cold is fine
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 t almond extract (vanilla extract will work too, but almond extract really tastes the best for this recipe)
  • 1 pound firm-ripe apricots

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Cut two 12-inch lengths of parchment paper and trim each to fit the 8-inch width of an 8×8-inch square baking pan (I used my handy dandy Pyrex).  Press it into the bottom and sides of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, perpendicular to the first sheet.
  2. Make the crust: Combine the flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Cut the butter into chunks, and add it to the bowl, then run the machine until the mixture forms large clumps.  It should take 30 seconds or so for it to come together.
  3. Transfer the dough clumps to your prepared baking pan and press it evenly across the bottom and 1/4-inch up the sides. Bake for 15 minutes, until very pale golden. For the sake of speed, transfer to a cooling rack in your freezer for 10 to 15 minutes while you prepare the filing.
  4. Make the filling: In your food processor bowl (which does not need to be washed between these steps), grind your pistachios, sugar, flour and salt together until the nuts are powdery. Cut the butter into chunks and add it and the egg and flavorings to the machine. Run the machine until no chunks of butter are visible.

    Filling Hungry?
    Filling Hungry?
  5. Spread the filling over mostly cooled (warm is okay but hopefully the freezer will have firmed the base enough so you can spread something over it) crust. Cut the apricots in half (or, you might find that you can tear them open at the seams with your fingers) and remove pits. From here, you have a few decoration options: you can place the apricot halves in facedown or up all over the pistachio base. You can do as I did, which is cut them into strips, then slide each cut half onto a butter knife or offset spatula, tilt it so that it fans a little, and slide it onto your pistachio filling decoratively. (With this method, I ended up not using all of my apricots.) You could also arrange the strips like petals of flower around the pan, like the apple tart I did a few years ago).

    It was pretty going in...
    It was pretty going in…
  6. Bake the bars for 60 minutes, or until they are golden and a toothpick inserted into the pistachio portion comes out batter-free. This might take up to 10 minutes longer depending on the juiciness of your apricots and the amount you were able to nestle in. Let cool completely in pan; you can hasten this along in the fridge.
  7. Cut bars into squares.  Chilled bars cut with a sharp knife will give you the cleanest cuts. Keep leftover bars chilled.

 

Hands down the most hideous looking thing I’ve ever made. Ever.

Apricot Pistachio Squares
Apricot Pistachio Squares

But as tasty as they were ugly!

Peach Shortbread

Back from a long hiatus – and married at that!

Stone fruit season is finally here again!  I’ve been waiting a long time to post this recipe until peaches were in season again.  I made these for Kevin and his mom’s family birthday celebration last September and they were a delicious hit.  Shortbread is absolutely delicious, but I generally find it a bit too rich and heavy during hot months.  The peach in this really livened up the shortbread flavor, as did the crumbly topping.  Loved these – and they looked pretty too!

Here is the recipe, as adapted from the ever-faithful Smitten Kitchen:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 C sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 3/4 C plus 2 T all-purpose flour (or you can measure 3 C and remove 2 T flour)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 C (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 ripe but firm peaches, pitted and thinly sliced (between 1/8 and 1/4-inch thick)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Brown the butter: Melt butter in a small/medium saucepan over medium-low heat. It will melt, foam, and then turn clear golden and finally start to turn brown and smell nutty. Stir frequently, scraping up any bits from the bottom as you do. Keep your eyes on it; it burns very quickly after it browns and the very second that you turn around to do something else. Set it in the freezer until solid (about 30 minutes).  Note that once you freeze the butter, the brown bits will sink to the bottom.  That’s totally fine since they’ll be thoroughly creamed together with the flour mixture!
    Frozen Browned Butter
    Frozen Browned Butter

    [Side note: You don’t HAVE to brown the butter, but it does make a big difference in taste!  If you don’t have time for this, just add two more tablespoons of flour (making 3 cups flour total) and cut softened butter into the flour with a pastry blender.]

  2. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter a 9×13 inch pan, or spray it with a nonstick spray. In a medium bowl, stir together sugar, baking powder, flour, salt and spices with a whisk. Use a pastry blender to blend the solidified brown butter and egg into the flour mixture. It will be crumbly.

    Crumble Mixture
    Crumble Mixture
  3. Pat 3/4 of the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan, pressing firmly. Tile peach slices over crumb base in a single layer. Scatter remaining crumbs evenly over peaches and bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, until top is slightly brown and you can see a little color around the edges. Cool completely in pan before cutting into squares.
Out of the Oven
Out of the Oven

According to Smitten Kitchen, these hold up really well in the fridge. She also reckons these would freeze well, between layers of waxed paper, with the container sealed well in plastic wrap.  I can’t vouch for any of that because there were no leftovers from the birthday gathering to test this out with!

Peach Shortbread Squares
Peach Shortbread Squares

Now go take advantage while peaches are still in season!