Thursday, July 01, 2010

Cranberry-Date Bars

I adore those fruity, oatmeal-based dessert bars that everyone makes. No matter the filling choice, I'm always drooling over the toasty taste of baked oats. They seem to be so friendly with fruit of all kinds, so open to forming new relationships. I spent the last couple of years perfecting my raspberry oat bar recipe, and then making it about a half billion times for my farmers market booth, and now the triple-berry variation I adapted for the bakery. These are bars that I crave at home despite having baked them so frequently. Now I simply vary the fruit — peaches, blueberry-coconut, blackberries, even apples and caramel — and know I can rely on my trusty oat base to make a fabulous dessert.

When I stumbled over the Fig-Cranberry Oat Squares recipe at Dinner with Julie, I remembered the bag of cranberries I'd frozen in January, back when prices were low and my inspiration petered out (pregnancy hormones are like that). Cranberries aren't simply a holiday item, I postured, then completely forgot about their existence. I wanted to use them, especially since we're packing to move, and couldn't pass up another oat bar recipe. I tweaked the recipe a bit, me being me, and ended up in love with the sweet-and-tart, jammy flavors of cranberries and date cooked together with an apricot and a squeeze of lemon. Add in whole wheat flour for the base, and the whole thing starts to feel like it might be healthy. I assure you it's not. There's enough sugar and butter to fully satisfy your sweet tooth. But the fat, gooey ratio of fruit sandwiched between crisp oat counterpoints is a beautiful thing. Trust me.

Cranberry & Date Bars
Makes an 8"x 8" square pan

12 oz package fresh or frozen cranberries, picked over
10 medjool dates, pitted
1 apricot, washed and pitted (optional, but it's good!)
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup brown sugar
squeeze of lemon juice

Crust & topping:
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt

In a saucepan, combine the filling ingredients and cook over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil. The cranberries will burst in the heat, so make sure to keep the area clear! Turn heat down to medium-low and let simmer until berries crumble and dates soften. The mixture will thicken and turn a beautiful maroon shade. Take off the heat and use a potato mashed or a fork to smush up the dates into the cranberries. Set aside.

Turn oven to 350ยบ and grease an 8" x 8" baking pan.

Measure crust/topping ingredients into a bowl and use a pastry cutter or a fork to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until crumbly. Press half of the mixture into the bottom of the baking pan, then layer the jammy filling over it, spreading to even it out. Then use your fingers to sprinkle the remaining oat crumbs over the jam, pressing down lightly. Bake for 30 minutes, until the oats at the top are golden brown and the filling bubbles at the edges. Let cool in the pan before cutting.

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