Blueberry Crumble Bars

by Carilyn on March 3, 2021

Shhh…don’t tell anyone, but I’ve never been a fruit pie lover. Well, except those cardboard-esque Hostess apple pies I used to get as a kid. And the deep fried pies from Whataburger. Okay, let me rephrase: I’ve never really liked fruit pies that would be considered “good” by anyone over the age of nine.

But Tim LOVES fruit pies, so alas, sometimes I make them because I LOVE Tim.

January was spent baking from “100 Cookies,” by Sarah Kieffer with my son, Spencer. Because he is in a rigorous Ph.D. program, his time is much more limited than mine, so while I was baking almost every day of the month, he focused on quality over quantity (which is why I gained five pounds and he lost two). I really got into Sarah’s “pan-banging cookie recipes,” while Spencer experimented with a lot of the bar recipes. We traded reviews and photos. Finally, at the end of the month, I decided I needed branch out from the traditional round cookie recipes, and try a bar. Tim, the resident taster, asked (begged) for a fruit bar, so I grumpily agreed. Ugh. Fruit + crumble = NutriGrain bar as far as I’m concerned.

On the last day of our baking challenge, I sat at the counter and perused the book for the hundredth time. I pined longingly for another batch of the Ginger Molasses Cookies (yes, they are amazing despite having MOLASSES). I rubbed my hand over the photo of my very favorite S’mores Cookies, remembering the graham cracker coating and the toasted marshmallows. What kind of person would want a dessert made out of fruit over something made with chocolate and marshmallows?!

I finally sucked it up and turned to the fruit section of the book. There, I saw a recipe for a Mixed Berry Crumble Bar. Only problem: I didn’t have mixed berries. I started to turn the page, fully intending to tell Tim, “Sorry. You got another sugar cookie because we had no berries. I’ll make them for you next week.” But, it was the last day of January, and I needed this challenge to end before I had to buy new pants. I dug a bag of frozen blueberries that I use for smoothies out of the freezer, and set them out to thaw. Love was turning out to be a whole lot of work.

I went about my business, running miles, checking on my mom, doing paperwork, answering e-mails and phone calls, passing by the defrosting blueberries every so often. They did not magically disappear. Finally, when all my work was done, I could ignore them no more. Blueberry Crumble Bars were going to be made whether I wanted them, or not.

And, in the parlance of culinarians, Whoa.

The Blueberry Crumble Bars were most excellent! First of all, they were super easy. Like, one of the easiest recipes in the book, which after an entire month of baking was a welcome surprise. Second, they tasted freakin’ amazing! They had a beautiful shortbread base on the bottom that gave the bars some heft. Then, in the center, was a bright, gooey blueberry center, zipped up with a nice tang of fresh lemon zest (blueberry and lemon, come on – the perfect combo, right?). All of this shortbread blueberry goodness was topped off with buttery crumble, further cutting the too-sweet fruit pie taste that normally makes people like me shun fruit pies.

It is possible, though not provable, that I left a fork in the pan just in case I needed to taste the bars (that never actually got cut into bars) every time I walked into the kitchen. It is also possible, though not provable, that I ate more than my share of said non-bar bars. There were no witnesses, and I will deny if confronted. Let’s just say that these Blueberry Crumble Bars will be made again, and possibly shared with people who don’t also share my last name.

 

Blueberry Crumble Bars

adapted from Mixed Berry Crumble Bars – 100 Cookies, by Sarah Kieffer

 

Base/Crumble

2 1/2 cups (355 g) AP flour

1/2 cup (45 g) rolled oats

1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar

1/2 cup (100 g) brown sugar

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup (2 sticks/227 g) unsalted butter at room temp, cut into 1 inch pieces

 

Filling

1/2 cup (50 g) granulated sugar

1/2 cup (50 g) brown sugar

1/4 cup (28 g) cornstarch

1/2 tsp ground cardamom or cinnamon (I used both)

1/4 tsp. salt

24 oz. (915 g) blueberries (if frozen, allow to defrost on paper towels to absorb excess liquid)

1/2 cup (75 g) grated apple (she recommends Gala – I used a honey crisp)

zest of one lemon (about a tablespoon)

2 tsp. fresh lemon juice

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

 

With rack in the center, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter/spray a 9 x 13 inch pan and line with parchment.

Crust and Crumble:

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle, mix flour, oats, both sugars, baking soda, and salt just to combine.

Add the butter and mix on low until the mixture resembles coarse sand.

Press half the mixture into the bottom of your prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes.

While the crust is baking, prepare the blueberry filling.

Filling:

In a small bowl, whisk together both sugars, cornstarch, cardamom/cinnamon/salt and lemon zest.

In a large bowl, mix together the blueberries, apple, lemon juice, and vanilla.

Pour the sugar mixture over the berry mixture, and fold gently.

 

Remove the pan and spread the blueberry filling over the crust. Sprinkle on the remaining crumble evenly over the filling. Bake for 35 – 45 minutes, or until the crumble is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Cool completely on a wire rack so that the filling has time to set up. Cut into bars (if you feel the need to share).

 

 

 

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A couple of years ago, Tim and I ran the length of the Thames River. It was one of the most magical adventures I’d ever been on. Whenever given the choice of vacations, I always prefer an active one. I’m not much for museums or shopping, and really only enjoy sightseeing when it is done on foot. My favorite part of any trip is always my morning run through an unfamiliar town before the crowds are up and about. So, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that running from pastoral town to pastoral town in southern England would be at the very top of the list of my dream vacations.

But, I was surprised, to be honest. I really don’t like “dirty” vacations – animals, mud, bad weather – and England has those things in spades, so I was a little reticent. I had initially signed up to do a race on the Thames Path, which for me is a whole different kettle of fish than a multi-day slogfest. But then Tim said he would love to run the Thames Path. The problem was that Tim was not in good enough shape to tackle the 124 mile trek in one fell swoop. If we were going to do it together, we’d have to do it in stages. I couldn’t decide if I was relieved I didn’t have to race the 124 miles all at once by myself, or if I was disappointed. It was rare moment, though, that Tim wanted to join in one of my adventures, so I agreed with zero hesitation. Slogging through the English countryside with him would be way more fun than racing by myself under any conditions.

And it was magical.

We arranged our accommodations to give us between 25 and 35 miles per day. Our goal was to reach the next town by late afternoon, while having plenty of time to stop for breakfast, lunch, and coffee. We wanted to be challenged, but we still wanted to enjoy this part of England. Other than hotels, we made no plans for where we were going to eat, relying on the novelty of discovery – if something sucked, so be it, that would be part of the adventure.

But absolutely nothing sucked. Amazingly, just through word of mouth as we trekked through the countryside, people were more than happy to give us suggestions for great places to eat in the next town. We ate at a Michelin star restaurant, The Coach, just by accident after our waiter at our first stop for lunch told us that one of the best chefs in England, Tom Kerridge, just happened to have a couple of restaurants in the town we were staying in on the first night, Marlow. And our luck continued through the whole trip. Each stop brought with it another chance to try some spectacular food. We were truly blown away.

Now that we’ve been more or less locked down for the past 8 months, Tim and I have been pining away for a vacation and an adventure. Saturday night, we sat side by side on the couch, sipping cocktails, and scrolling through our photos from our Thames adventure. At the very end of our adventure, after we ran through our last field to touch the rock at The Source, signaling the end of our journey, we made our way to the pub down the road that had been recommended in the last town. The special that day was a parmesan risotto with peas. I love risotto. I mean, LOVE risotto. But it can be a bit fussy, so I don’t make it often. The bowl of warm, cheesy rice that I got that day after running through the mud in the pouring rain for hours has stayed in my brain for two years. Sometimes (no exaggeration here), I will lull myself to sleep thinking of that dish and how comforting it was. We were both sopping wet, covered in mud, wearing packs, and basically looking like someone had just dragged us out of the sewer, but the people in this pub could not have been nicer. They didn’t look twice at our bedraggled selves, dripping water and mud in the foyer. The English know bad weather, and seem to just accept that even people going out to a nice meal are often going to look like they haven’t seen a shower in a few days. We were seated at a nice table (not even out by the kitchen or the “loos”), where we proceeded to practically weep with joy at all the choices in front of us for the last meal of our adventure.

But then the waiter discussed the risotto, and that was all it took. Tim was shocked. I am a huge sucker for Sunday Roast when we are in England, and it was Sunday, but I was not going to be deterred. He asked me three times if I was sure that I “just” wanted risotto. Yes, yes indeed I just wanted the risotto.

And it was glorious. Perfectly cooked arborio rice, soft but not mushy, bathed with just the right amount of parmesan so that you could still taste the rice and beautiful English peas. Oh. My. Goodness.

Thinking about it now still makes me a little weepy. So after spending last Saturday going down English Memory Lane, I decided I wanted, no NEEDED, some risotto. I had a quart of chicken stock in the freezer, and a little white wine left from cocktail night. It was serendipity, right? I remembered that Spencer had told me about making risotto in the Instant Pot, but at the time, I scoffed (silently, of course, because I’m his mother), but when confronted with a busy day and no extra time, I decided I might as well give it a try. And it worked! I couldn’t believe it, to be honest. No, I don’t think it is exactly like a risotto you tend to like you would a small child, but is perfect for a quick weeknight dinner when you MUST have risotto. And it is beyond simple, which is what we all need right about now – especially since we aren’t going to England any time soon. Sigh.

 

Instant Pot Risotto with Parmesan and Peas

(adapted from Delish)

4 cups chicken broth (homemade, preferably since the rice itself is a blank canvas)

4 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 onion, finely chopped

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh thyme

2 cups arborio rice

1/4 cup dry white wine

1 cup grated parmesan

1 cup peas, cooked

salt and pepper to taste

 

In a saucepan, bring stock to a low simmer. You want to add the stock while it is warm.

Turn the Instant Pot on to saute. Add 3 tablespoons of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add chopped onions, and cook until very soft, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and thyme, and saute for one minute.

Add rice and stir. You want the rice to just toast very lightly (if you like a soupier risotto, skip this step) – about one minute.

Deglaze the pot with the wine, and allow to simmer until almost all of the liquid is absorbed.

Turn off the Instant Pot and add the warm stock.

Put the lid back on and seal. Turn the pot on manual for 5 minutes.

When the Instant Pot is done, wait one minute and then do a quick release. If you do a natural release, you will end up with really flavorful rice, but it will not be creamy like risotto is meant to be. I learned this the hard way.

Mix in the cooked peas and parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.

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