Look, I have no business giving dating advice. Or marital advice. I didn’t, like, scope the scene or learn the rules or think big thoughts about what kind of person would be the right person for me when I walked into a bar 11 years ago and met this guy for a drink. Nevertheless, if you were to try isolate a single trait essential in a life partnership, I think you should look for a person who is pro-whim — that is, encourages you to have whims and pursue them, for better or for worse. Does that sound too abstract? Okay, fine; let me propose instead the Strawberry Rhubarb Pie Bar Test, which should be enlisted as follows. 1. Find a potential mate. 2. Say, “Do I need to good reason to make strawberry-rhubarb pie bars?” 3. If they answer, as mine did on Monday, “Nope. I think they’re always welcome,” you’re probably on the right track. If nothing else, your weekend is about to get tastier.
I’d been daydreaming about a late spring riff on an apple-crisp-in-the-pan bars since I got the One Bowl Baking book last fall. I’m not sure I’ve ever met a pie-like cookie bar I didn’t like, but still, these made me nervous because they seemed so (ewww) wholesome. There are more whole grains than white flour, less sugar and less butter than any other cookie bar I’ve ever made. How could this be good? Silly Deb, I should have just trusted the author implicitly. Yvonne Ruperti is a former Cook’s Illustrated writer, America’s Test Kitchen on-air host and bakery owner, so you could say she knows a few things about baking.
But I love that she didn’t just go for the kind of perfectionism or obsessive, detail-oriented baking you’d expect from someone with her resume. Instead, she wrote the kind of cookbook book that I imagine a lot of people would rather have on their shelves because it’s realistic about the way we really want to bake, that is, no multiple mixing bowls, no mise-en-place and questioning everything, i.e. “Does this really taste worse if the ingredients aren’t sifted?” “So what if I don’t mix the wet ingredients separately?” I mean, don’t you wish every recipe writer would ask these questions before adding to your pile of dirty dishes? And the recipes are for not just stand-bys (basic chocolate layer cake, snickerdoodles and creamy diner-style cheesecake) but clever innovations (hellooo, sweet and salty pretzel crunch cupcakes, we are going to be good friends) too.
These bars, though, they win. They’re too easy and delicious not to make a habit of. You dump your dry ingredients in your baking pan and pour melted butter over them and mix up the mixture until it crumbles. You press most of it in to form a bottom crust, sprinkle diced fruit of your choice, a spoonful of sugar and lemon over it and sprinkle the remaining crumble on top. It’s out of the oven in 35 minutes and, you know, I’d thought these would be ideal for a picnic or pot-luck dessert, or maybe for when it’s our turn to bring snacks into preschool. But I can tell you as of 9:32 this morning that these are ideal breakfast bars, too, with a dollop of plain yogurt on top.
One year ago: Two Classic Sangrias
Two years ago: Tzatziki Potato Salad
Three years ago: Vermontucky Lemonade
Four years ago: Spring Asparagus Pancetta Hash
Five years ago: Cinnamon Raisin Bagels
Six years ago: Martha’s Macaroni and Cheese
Seven years ago: Pickled Garlicky Red Peppers
Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp Bars
Adapted from One Bowl Baking
I’m starting to think that these bars might be magic. First, they taste like dessert, not health food, thank goodness. But, they just happen to be pretty low in sugar, butter and use a chock-ton of oats. You could replace the butter with coconut oil to make these dairy-free, and as there’s no egg in it, they’d also then be vegan. You could use white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour to make them even more wholesome, and although I didn’t audition it, I suspect a gluten-free baking flour mix would work here too, because the plain flour isn’t a majority ingredient. You could eat them warm with a scoop of ice cream or cold for breakfast with a dollop of plain yogurt. And you can make them with whatever is in season; the original recipe calls for thinly sliced apples and adds cinnamon to the crumb mixture but too impatient for spring/summer, I used strawberries and rhubarb. Oh, and did I mention you make the whole recipe in your baking pan so it literally could not be faster? Seriously, what are you waiting for?
* Updated with two changes to reduce softness 5/17/14: I did a bunch of retesting and have come to the following conclusions: the bars are more crisp and cookie-like (as photographed here, and sadly, not what everyone was getting, based on comments) without the heaped 1/8 teaspoon baking soda and with an additional 1/4 cup (and even up to 2 tablespoons more, yes, really) flour. These amounts are now reflected below. They’re tender when they come out of the oven but once chilled in the fridge, become cookie-like in their crisp base; I recommend keeping them in the fridge. I’m so sorry if any of you were disappointed in these bars; I hope you’ll find the recipe now to be as wonderful as promised.
Yield: 16 small bars, as shown, 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
1 cup (80 grams) rolled oats
3/4 cup (95 grams) plus up to 2 tablespoons (15 grams) extra all-purpose 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 (optional, but helps firm up the filling)
1 tablespoon (15 ml) lemon juice
1 tablespoon (15 grams) granulated sugar, divided
1 cup (125 grams) small-diced rhubarb (from about 1 1/2 medium stalks)
1 cup (155 grams) small-diced strawberries
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 oats, 3/4 cup flour, brown sugar and salt in bottom of baking pan 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. Press the rest of the crumb mixture evenly in the bottom of the pan.
Spread half the fruit over the crust. Sprinkle it evenly with cornstarch, then lemon juice, and 1/2 tablespoon of granulated sugar. Spread remaining fruit over this, and top with second 1/2 tablespoon sugar. 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.