When it comes to dessert, soft/smooth + crunch = THE. BEST. I love just about any dessert that has a bit of a crunch, especially when it’s unexpected. My husband and I greatly differ on this (though he’s slowly but surely coming over to my side). Take brownies, his favorite dessert. He’s a purist who wants nothing to do walnuts, pecans, peanut butter, cream cheese, not even chocolate chunks. Just a plain ol’ brownie, warmed up with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, please and thank you. I on the other hand am all about the add-ins. A plain brownie leaves me wanting more. This is actually a good thing the way I see it: It prevents me from eating them all, and the hubs gets to enjoy his dessert.
So a couple years ago when I saw Deborah Perelman’s recipe for rhubarb-strawberry bars on the fabulous Smitten Kitchen, I knew I had to try them. They are absolutely phenomenal. I love the crisp, cookie-like oat bottom layer (and topping) alongside the softness of the fruit. I’ve tweaked the recipe over the last couple years, and it’s one of the first desserts I make when rhubarb and strawberries are in season. Rhubarb ain’t in season now. But apples are!
So I decided to wing it and try a version with apples, and one of my favorite add-in fruits, dried sour cherries.You guys, these are beyond delicious. To give it more of an apple pie flavor, I also threw in some cinnamon, apple cider, orange zest, and pecans for a little more crunch. And in my ongoing quest to make foods a bit more healthful, I used half AP flour and whole wheat. In this recipe you can’t tell the difference. The next time I make this, I think I’ll try increasing the oat mixture by 1/4 or 1/3 so as to get a more substantial topping.
I also made a batch using the last of the delicious plums I bought a few weeks ago. One or two were dry, but the others will still juicy and slightly sweet. Yum! See photos of that version below, too. These were actually yummier than the apple version.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp Bars to include apples, cherries, cinnamon, apple cider, and orange zest, and to streamline the process to make the entire oat mixture and fruit mixture in separate bowls.
Yield: 16 small bars or 8 large ones; recipe can be doubled and baked in a 9×13-inch baking pan, where they will come out a little thicker.
80 grams rolled oats
42.5 grams all-purpose flour, plus up to 2 more tablespoons as needed
42.5 grams whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (95 grams) light brown sugar
Heaped 1/4 teaspoon table salt
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided
280 grams small-diced Granny Smith apples
50 grams or so of dried tart cherries
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
Splash of apple cider (optional)
Zest of one orange or tangerine (I had the latter)
1/2 cup roasted pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped (optional)
Powdered sugar, for decoration, if desired
Heat oven to 375 degrees F. For easy removal, line bottom and two sides of 8-by-8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. No need to bother (and no greasing needed) if you plan to serve them right in the pan, as I did.
Place apples, cherries, apple cider (if using), orange zest, cinnamon, granulated sugar, and lemon juice in a small bowl and set aside. Place oats, flours, brown sugar and salt in medium bowl and mix. Pour melted butter over, and stir until clumps form. If the clumps feel soft or look overly damp, add the remaining 2 tablespoons flour. Set aside 1/2 cup of the crumble mixture and add the pecans or walnuts, if using. Press the rest of the crumb mixture evenly in the bottom of the pan.
Add cornstarch to the fruit mixture. Spread the fruit (including the apple cider) over the crust. Scatter reserved crumbs over fruit and bake bars for 30 to 40 minutes (firmer fruits will take longer), until fruit is bubbly and crisp portion is golden and smells toasty and amazing.
Let cool in pan; I do this in the fridge, where they become crisp once chilled (less so at room temperature). Cut into squares and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving. Store leftovers in fridge.