A few weeks ago, in the midst of birthday and anniversary celebrations, rock climbing, hiking and mountain biking excursions, and all around amazing-Fall-weather craziness, Tai & I went to a house party hosted by one of his colleagues and fellow rock climbing guides up in the Gunks. It was sort of a potluck, with friends requested to bring either a dessert or a side dish; Tai brags about my cooking to these guys all the time, so of course I wanted to bring something special. Problem being: Tai was working that morning, I was heading up to the Gunks with him at crack-o-dawn o’clock to go hiking, and whatever we brought would have to be made the night before and survive for 12 hours in the car before showtime.
Tai was all for another early summer napa slaw, which has been a big hit at a few gatherings this summer. But I knew that, dressed or not, the salad would be wilted and sad if allowed to sit at room temperature for that long; even in a cooler, the vegetables would not be happy nearly 24 hours after prep. I thought about a pie, but simply didn’t have the time to make, roll, & shape the dough, let alone cook the pie (see aforementioned Fall craziness). So, I went searching for a dessert bar: a quick, easy, no-stress dessert, one that would come together easily and hold up for a day of sitting in the parking lot at the Trapps. After a bit of searching around on Ye Olde Interwebs, I landed, of course, on Martha. She always has the answer, no?
A simple crumb bar with a dough that comes together in minutes and a filling consisting of whatever jam jar has been kicking around for a bit too long. For the party I made a version with a jar of plum, nectarine & chile jam and a dash of cardamom added to the dough. In this version, a cherry, rhubarb & red wine preserve did the trick, with a bit of ground ginger in the dough for a hint of spice. There’s a lot of flexibility in the recipe: swap in different nuts, flours, seeds, spices. I imagine you could even substitute coconut or olive oil if you wanted to keep it vegan. Mostly, it’s a handy dessert that is quick to put together, stores well and still manages to impress. Not that I am ready to utter the “H” word, but this one might come in handy for certain impending festive occasions.
Adapted from Almond Fruit Bars by Martha Stewart
- 4 oz (1 stick, or ½ cup) butter, at room temperature
- 1 ½ cups (scant 7 oz) whole white wheat flour
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp ground ginger (or cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg: match it to the jam you choose)
- ½ cup light brown sugar
- ¼ cup granulated sugar (organic evaporated cane juice), plus extra for sprinkling
- 1 egg
- 1 cup chopped almonds
- approximately 1 cup jam
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder and cardamom. In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy (about 3 – 5 minutes with a hand mixer). Add egg and mix in well. Gradually add flour. Fold in about ¾ of the almonds.
- Press half of the dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. In a small bowl, whisk the jam (add a tablespoon or two of hot water if jam is quite stiff) to loosen. Starting with about ¾ cup, spoon jam over the dough, spreading evenly with the back of a spoon. Add jam, spreading to within ¼-inch of the edge, until you have a nice thick layer, but it is not threatening to overflow to the edge (I used just about 1 cup, with a tablespoon or two left over). Take a ball of the remaining dough in your hand and pluck off little pieces, scattering evenly over the top of the jam. Continue, covering the top as evenly as you can, until you’ve used all the dough. Scatter with the remaining chopped almond and a bit of coarse sugar.
- Bake in the preheated oven until the top is puffed and golden and just slightly firm to the touch, about 35 – 45 minutes. Cool completely in the pan prior to slicing.
Yields about 15 1″ X 2″ bars.
- I see lots of room for tinkering in this basic recipe: alternative flours, different nuts, jam & spice combinations. It’s easy enough to whip together and a fairly small batch, so let your imagination go wild.
- The dough is sticky and dense, like a cookie dough, so a bit hard to work with your hands. It spreads nicely upon baking though, so don’t worry if you don’t get the top completely covered or the bottom exactly evenly spread.
- For the party, I should have doubled this recipe: the bars were gone in a flash. I suspect a straight doubling would fit nicely in a 9″ X 13″ lasagna pan.
At room temperature, lightly covered with a clean kitchen towel, for about 3 days.