Raspberry Oat Crumble Bars
I caved the other day and bought a box of raspberries.
When I saw the carton at Trader Joe’s, I remembered Bainbridge Island. Our family friends live there, a tiny island off the coast of Washington state, and my mom and I were lucky enough to visit last summer. I fell in love with the ocean, still icy cold in July, and with the sky, an endless band of blue pressed against the beach. One morning I woke at sunrise to go crab fishing. Another afternoon I walked “downtown,” which referred to two buildings – a general store and the post office.
But my happiest memories are the times I spent grazing in their garden. Fresh artichokes, several potato varieties, the sweetest snap peas I’ve ever tasted. And raspberries. I ate handfuls of raspberries until I just couldn’t. I craved the way each section burst with juice, still warm from the sunshine. Some berries were so tender they broke in my hand, staining my fingertips pink.
Standing there in the grocery store, I thought about all that, and about all the other good things that came with the garden. Sundresses and lolling dog tongues and a boat that smelled like crab bait. And I knew I couldn’t leave without those raspberries.
I hadn’t had a raspberry since July! I was so excited I didn’t even wait to get back to my dorm, just opened the carton right on the train. These berries definitely looked the part. Big as thimbles, red as lipstick, the tops curved into perfect “O”s. I popped one into my mouth and waited for magic.
I felt the seeds crack between my teeth. The berry barely yielded any juice. Bitter disappointment.
It’s not that I can never eat another raspberry unless it’s just-picked and still breathing. I’m not on Bainbridge Island. I don’t expect that level of fantasy perfection in everyday life. But I think I’ve learned my lesson about buying imported raspberries in the dead of winter.
Instead, I decided to make some new memories using a jar of raspberry jam. I still have my baking box – a steamer trunk my dad and I refurbished the summer before college – snuggled beneath my dorm bed. Inside, I’ve stashed cake pans, half sheets, piping tips, cookie cutters, ceramic ramekins for baking custards… and one very weathered, very humbled 9×9” pan. I washed the pan twice, piled it high with ingredients, and carried it down the hall to the kitchen.
Raspberry Oat Crumble Bars don’t disappoint. They look good on a picnic table in July, and in a college common room in February. The bars bake up into three layers of shortbread goodness, sweet raspberry, and buttery crumble. They taste like brown sugar and old-fashioned oats, with a healthy smear of jam oozing out the middle.
But what I especially like about these bars is that you can tweak them to make your own memories. Add toasted coconut or fresh fruit. Throw in a handful of pecans, some chocolate chips, or a couple healthy shakes of cinnamon. Use apple butter, blackberry jam, or your neighbor’s homemade peach preserves.
Here’s what I’ll remember next time I make these bars: the weight of the jar in my hand as I stood in the grocery store and considered the possibilities. Bubbling jam as I scooted the pan out of the oven. The crackle of parchment paper, buttery crumbs all over the table, and the look on my RA’s face when she walked in and blurted, “That smells so good!”
I like to think I’ll remember being a college student who still liked to eat well all year long.
My only note for this recipe – I decreased the sugar from the original recipe and thought they were great, but they’re definitely on the sweet side. I’d recommend using a quality jam that isn’t too sugary.
Raspberry Oat Crumble Bars
Tweaked from Gourmet
Makes an 9×9″ pan
1 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
5 oz (10 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tablespoon milk
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
3/4 cup seedless raspberry jam
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Mix the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor, then add the butter and pulse until a dough starts to form. Blend in the milk. (If you don’t have a food processor you could do this with an electric mixer, a pastry cutter, or even a fork and man power.) Transfer the dough-bits to a bowl and knead in the oats until well combined.
Put 3/4 cup dough off to the side (this will be used as the crumble.) Press the rest of the dough evenly into a buttered 9×9″ metal baking pan (I lined the pan with parchment paper and skipped the buttering). Spread the jam evenly over the top (if the jam seems tough to spread, heating it a little could help.) Crumble the reserved dough evenly over the top.
Bake in the center of the oven until golden, 20-25 minutes, and cool completely in the pan on a rack. Use a knife to loosen the sides, lift it out, and cut into bars on a cutting board.
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