Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mixed Berry Crumble Bars

I mentioned in my last post that unless I'm in the midst of testing a recipe (for a class...or a client...) frequent repeats don't show up on our table too often. But recently I made the same batch of bar cookies—Mixed Berry Crumble Bars—several times (three? four?...I lost count) within a very short span of time. First I wanted to use up some odds and ends of frozen berries to make space in my freezer. Then I wanted to make something to take to a casual dinner at my brother's house and the Mixed Berry Bars were fresh in my mind. And then... I can't remember why I made them again. I think it might have been that I was just hungry for them. But every single one is gone now... and it occurs to me they are a cookie that more people should know how to make.

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

Mixed Berry Filling:
12 oz. frozen mixed berries, thawed
135 grams (2/3 c.) sugar
1 T. lemon juice

Make the crumble: In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients. Add the melted butter and stir until well blended and crumbly. Press half of the crumble mixture (about 400 grams/14 oz.) into the bottom of a quarter sheet pan or a 13x9-inch baking pan. Chill the remaining crumble mixture until ready to use.

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.  

Printable Version


Katrina said...

Oh--I love these bars. I've made them numerous times and I don't think I've used the same thing in the middle twice. Thanks for the shout out!

Gloria - The Ginger Snap Girl said...

Hi Paige! I was just catching up on my Google Reader and saw your post. I can't resist a good crumble bar. I smiled when I saw your reference to my strawberry rhubarb crumble bars from last year. The funny thing is I've been thinking of making them again because I made up a big batch of strawberry rhubarb preserves about a month ago. I'm going to try your version this go round. Thanks for sharing!

Susan said...

Thank you for posting this; they are wonderful! Can you tell me how best to freeze them? I'm not sure how to pack/wrap them, and I just baked two pans of them this morning for a later event

Thanks so much.

Paige said...

Hi Susan.

Thank you so much for letting me know you tried these and liked them!

When I freeze them, I just layer them into a tupperware (or similar) container with parchment paper (or waxed paper) in between the layers. You can pack them pretty snuggly. Try to find a container they will fill--if there is a lot of extra space left in the container, press some plastic wrap against the top layer.

If you haven't cut them yet, (and you are planning on thawing all of them at once) you could just wrap the entire "cake" of bars in a double or triple thickness of plastic wrap and freeze it that way. (You might need to lay it on a cookie sheet and freeze it long enough for it to be hard so it won't break when you go to wrap it.)

The cookies will thaw quickly at room temperature. I like to leave them wrapped, or platter them still frozen and cover the platter with plastic wrap while they thaw. Baked goods lose moisture and can dry out if they are thawed unwrapped.

I hope this helps!


Susan said...

Thank you so much, for the quick reply, Paige! It helps enormously, since they're still in the pan (just cool now!) I'll wrap them whole and lay them both into one of the pans (glass) which I have a lid for. I'll bring them to a school function next week, so can cut them then. Perfect! I'm so glad someone pinned this on Pinterest!