Mixed Berry Crumble Bars are a homey little cookie made up of a simple crumble of butter, flour, sugar and oats sandwiched around a cooked fruit filling. Variations abound. Martha Stewart published a recipe in her book Cookies that uses a compote of dried cherries and apples for the filling. If you are from Canada, Australia or the U.K., you might recognize these cookies as something called a Matrimonial Bar. Matrimonials are typically filled with a cooked date compote—but I have seen them filled with a cooked dried apricot compote. Sometimes you will find them made with jam—store bought or homemade. (Gloria at The Gingersnap Girl published a delicious looking Strawberry-Rhubarb Jam version a little over a year ago.)
My recipe is based upon a bar cookie I learned to make while working at a pastry shop called The Pastry Goddess. There, these bars were called "Berry Betty Bars". They were more like a crisp than a cookie—thick and substantial and so large that one was big enough to be dessert. They were delicious and very popular. I have altered the recipe a bit...and made it more petite. I have kept the delicious mixed berry compote filling that we used to use, but obviously you can fill them with just about anything you like—dried fruit compote, fresh/frozen fruit compote, homemade/store bought jam...even fruit butter (check out the tasty looking version Katrina at Baking & Boys made with fresh apples and apple butter).
If you have never made a sandwiched crumble bar cookie, I encourage you to give this one a try. I have never met anyone who didn't like them. They are extremely easy to make, and since they freeze beautifully are easy to keep on hand. One or two make a great afternoon or late-night snack. And they are especially good for satisfying that craving for "just a little something" sweet after lunch or dinner. You will also find that they are sturdy and therefore quite packable--making them excellent for taking to a picnic or a pot luck...or tucking into a lunchbox...or a brief case....
Mixed Berry Crumble Bars
Cookie Base and Crumble Topping:
2 c. all purpose flour (8 oz.)
1 1/2 c. quick or old fashioned oats (4.5 oz.)
1/2 c. sugar (3.5 oz.)
1/2 c. golden brown sugar (3.5 oz.)
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1/2 lb. melted butter
1 T. lemon juice
Make the berry filling: Place berries in a medium saucepan along with the sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer. Cook until thickened (about 10 to 12 minutes)—you should have about 1 1/4 cups (340 grams) of thick berry compote.
At this point, there are a couple of ways to proceed for building and baking the bars:
Method 1 (pre-bake the crust): Place the crust in a preheated 350° oven and bake until puffed and golden—10 to 15 minutes. Set aside while you make the compote. Spread the hot compote over the baked crust (it should cool for about 10 minutes before topping with the warm compote) and evenly scatter the chilled, reserved crumble over the berry compote. Return to the oven and bake until golden brown and firm—25 to 35 minutes.
Method 2: After pressing the crust into the pan, chill the crust and crumble. Chill the compote until cold. Spread the cold compote over the chilled (unbaked) crust and scatter the reserved crumble over all. Bake in a preheated 350° oven until golden brown and firm—35 to 45 minutes.
The first method is good if you want to make the crumble and compote and bake immediately. The second method works well if you want to make the components (crumble and compote) ahead. It also is the method you would use if you wanted to use a purchased jam or fruit butter for the filling instead of a homemade compote.
Let the bars cool. Flip out of the pan and then back onto a cutting board. Cut into 24 bar cookies or 40 petit fours (I prefer this smaller size). Place the bars on a double thickness of paper towels for a few minutes to absorb excess butter. If you like, sprinkle with powdered sugar.
(Recipe adapted from The Pastry Goddess)
Note: If you prefer a softer, more cake-like texture to your Mixed Berry Crumble Bars, use cold butter instead of melted butter. Slice the butter into 1/4-inch slices. Using your fingers (or a pastry blender) to rub/cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is homogenous and crumbly/clumpy. Use building and baking method 2.
Holiday Variation (22 December 2012): Use a thick cranberry compote (8 oz. cranberries, 2/3 cup sugar and 3 T. orange juice. Put everything in a saucepan and bring to a brisk simmer over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium/medium-high and simmer briskly until thickened...about 5 minutes) instead of the mixed berry compote. Scatter 1 1/2 to 2 oz. of chopped white chocolate over the compote before topping with the remaining crumbs.