One of those rare baking fits has come upon me, and I have no idea why.
It isn’t that I want to eat sweets, necessarily. I am still more likely to crave beans, rice, corn tortillas and a good stir fry than sweets.
But I have the desire to bake sweet things and then feed them to other people.
Last night, while Zak was at his doctor’s appointment, after I cleaned the dinner dishes up, I asked Morganna if she would like to bake something with me.
“Sure!” she said, predictably.
So, we frolicked off to the kitchen to determine what exactly we would like to bake.
Cookies were decided upon, though cake was a close second. I just figured that we could more easily get rid of cookies, as I can just send them to school with Morganna and she can pass them out among the students and teachers. Cake is more difficult to transport and give away. Unless one makes cupcakes, which I might do at some point, but last night was a cookie night.
But again–what kind of cookies, eh? I mean, really. We’ve been through this before.
However, it is spring, and my fancy turns lightly to thoughts of fruit. That narrowed the choices.
The world outside is alight with blossoms and fresh floral scents, and the sun is as bright as it is in summer, which made me think of raspberries.
Raspberry-filled crumb bars are a classic cookie, and I posted a recipe for the usual way I make mine a long while back, but as I looked at it, and looked in my pantry, I realized that I could improve upon it.
For one thing, I had that lovely Pakistani rose petal preserve just sitting on my shelf waiting to be utilized in another creative way.
And for another thing, I was stymied in my desire to add oats to the last batch of cookies, and there, lonely on the pantry shelf were some organic rolled oats. They didn’t exactly jump up and down, waving an arm and saying, “Ooh, ooh, ooh, me, me, me!” but they got my attention anyway.
Besides, I didn’t have the usual amount of almonds to add to the dough, so I grabbed the oats and set them on the counter.
Morganna didn’t even flinch when she saw the oats. I think she only objects to them in the context of chocolate.
These little flavor-packed bars come together quickly and easily. The thing that takes the most time is preparing the pan. You can just grease and flour a glass baking pan, but I prefer lining it tightly with foil, and spraying it with Baker’s Joy. That way, you can just lift the foil out by the flaps on the outside, when the bar is done baking, and set it on a wire rack to cool. Out of the glass pan (which helps the cookies bake more evenly), the cookies cool much faster, and the cleanup is not traumatic. You can also cut the bars more cleanly into neat-edged squares if you take them out of the pan before cutting them.
The dough is simple–it is basically a pastry dough that is put together in a mixer until it resembles coarse crumbs. There is an egg in the dough, which helps hold it together when you pat it into the pan; it also adds cohesion to the cookies once they are baked. After it is mixed together, you then take two cups of the dough out, gently knead the almonds in by hand, and set it aside.
The rest is simply dumped into the prepared pan and patted down into an even layer to form the bottom crust.
Then, the rose preserves and raspberry jam are spread evenly over the crust. The rose preserve is very strongly flavored, so we opted to use it very sparingly. We found that a mere 5 1/2 teaspoons spread in a very thin smear over the bottom crust was sufficient to add aroma and a delicate floral flavor to the filling. The 3/4 cup of raspberry jam was simply spread over that.
Placing the crust on top is done in a different technique; instead of dumping it in and patting it evenly, I just take up the dough by the handful and working it with my fingers, crumble it evenly over the jam, letting most but not all of it get covered by little lumps of dough. Then, I gently pat it down to create a more even-looking, slightly more compact top crust. The sliced almonds stud the top crust and add a good amount of crunch and good looks to the final cookie, while most of the almond flavor comes from the almond extract in the dough.
They smell incredible while they bake. The first fragrance to waft into the living room where we were watching Dr. Who, was the almond-scent, kissed with butter. Then, the raspberry and rose drifted into our awareness, rich and redolent of a sun-drenched summer garden. When we took them out of the oven and pulled the foil up and out of the pan, setting the cookies onto a rack, it was hard not to dive instantly onto the cookies.
However, they really are better served to be cut after they are fully cool. If they are still warm, or even worse, hot, several things are bound to happen.
One–you -will- burn your lips and tongue on the jam and preserves. Two, the bars will fall apart. Remember, Raspberry Rose Crumb Bars are essentially a type of pastry and while the oats help give them structure, these cookies are delicate.
The flavor, however, is worth the wait. The subtle spices in the dough, along with the almond extract and almonds are a perfect frame for the richness of the raspberries mixed with damask roses. The oats really add a lot of texture to the cookies, making them slightly chewy, in addition to being crumbly and rich with butter, with the layer of sticky jam in the middle.
All in all–they turned out to be a delightfully grown-up cookie that still satisfies the kid inside.
Raspberry Rose Crumb Bars
2 cups all purpose flour (or 1 1/2 cups white and ½ cup whole wheat flours)
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 cup raw sugar
1 cup softened butter
1 tsp. almond extract
¼ tsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. ground cardamom
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 cup sliced almonds
5 1/2 teaspoons rose petal preserves
¾ cup seedless raspberry jam
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Combine all ingredients except almonds and preserves in mixing bowl and beat on low speed until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Reserve 2 cups of crumb mixture, and gently knead sliced almonds into the crumbs.
Grease an 8 or 9 inch square baking pan (you can line with foil first to ease lifting bars from pan after baking–if so, grease foil–I use Baker’s Joy).
Press remaining crumb mixture eveningly ontop bottom of pan.
Sparingly spread rose preserves in an even layer within ½ inch of edge. Spread raspberry preserves on top of the rose jam.
Top with remaining crumbs fairly evenly, then gently pat down.
Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the top is lightly browned.
Cool completely, cut into bars.
Makes 25 small bars.
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