Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Raspberries on Sale Equals Raspberry Bars

I think raspberries have been top of my list of favorite fruits, like forever. Growing up we had a yard with so many fruits already growing there, it was a little paradise. Raspberry bushes had taken over a large area, and there were also some black raspberries. We were sent picking for Mom to make raspberry jam every summer. A friend of mine, Tetiana, had given me a bunch of raspberries after the open house last Sunday, and I said something about raspberry pie. She said, "Make bars. They are so much prettier when cut!" 

And I thought, wow, I guess bars have so rarely been in my vocabulary, that might just be an excellent idea. I had been hoping to combine raspberries and rhubarb, and I still probably will, but yesterday, on a trip to the grocery, there was NO RHUBARB! Gasp! 

My Raspberry Bars
Okay then, raspberry bars it would be. But just as bars have not been part of my vocabulary, neither has that kind of crust been. Most every recipe I read online had some mixture of flour, sugar and butter. Some had eggs. Some had oats. Actually a lot of them had oats. And there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for the amounts. Some had a recipe (that would be part bottom crust and part topping) using 4 cups of flour to be crust and topping for a 9 x 9-inch pan, and some had 1 1/2 cups flour to make crust and topping for a 9 x 13-inch pan. This made me wonder, for sure. That is quite a spread between extremes.

I really like crusts. And I love things like streusel. In my recipe for my Best Apple Crisp, Ever, the topping mixture is quite unusual, in that almost every apple crisp has oatmeal in the topping. I love oatmeal; truly love, love oatmeal. For some strange reason, it just is not my "cup of tea" when it is in Apple Crisp toppings. Since the topping for my Best Apple Crisp Ever is such a spectacular (oat-less) mixture, I thought I would try a sort of riff on that concept. 

Making the Crust and Topping Mixture

I wanted to use the same idea for bringing the mixture together into a streusel-like mixture as I use in the Apple Crisp Recipe. Eggs are whisked together and then tossed in to moisten the flour, butter and sugar until crumb-like. The difference is that the topping on the apple crisp has melted butter poured over top before baking. That wouldn't work for the raspberry bar crust, so I opted to grate in the cold butter and cut it in quickly with a pastry cutter. As an alternative, just pick up handfuls and rub the butter between the palms to combine with the dry ingredients. 
In the photos here:
  • #1 dry ingredients in the bowl
  • #2 the cold butter grated in
  • #3 toss the dry ingredients over the butter shreds
  • #4 cut in with pastry cutter or hands
  • #5 pour whisked eggs over the crumbly mixture
  • #6 mix quickly with a fork to moisten
This method worked excellently, and the crust is both flavorful and perfectly textured. On this method I would not change a thing.

Thoughts on the Filling

In early April, I tried to make a raspberry pie for the first time, ever. I had 4 little packages of the most perfect raspberries I had seen for a long while. I read about a dozen recipes for raspberry pie. Why in the world would I never have made a pie of raspberries? Mom never did, in my memory, even with all those berries growing in the yard. Somehow, this was just missing from my childhood, and after that never came up as a concept. So I was all ready one morning. We still had our guests visiting, so I thought I would get a jump on the pie while it was still quiet, before breakfast. I mixed up a recipe as I had it created, adding in some sugar and cornstarch to the berries and set them aside while preparing the crust. I was all set, bottom crust in pan, and I looked at the berries, expecting a soupy mixture. 

Bottom crust partially baked, the berry mixture poured over and the topping set in place, ready to bake

Imagine my shock when they were totally dry, and the sugar and cornstarch still all there, dry as can be. Well, I figured (wrongly, as it turned out), they will surely burst open and mix once in the oven, so I proceeded, pouring in the berries and all the dry sugar and cornstarch, then topping with a pretty lattice crust and popped it in the oven. Nearly an hour later the very first tiny bit of bubbling occurred. The crust was way done. The berries and sugar were still dry for the most part. There was a soupy mess in the bottom, but it never got a chance to thicken. A total disaster. It was great scooped over vanilla ice cream though!

Perfection! Raspberry Bars
I have not made a second attempt at a raspberry pie, though I will sometime this summer! I believe that partly crushing some of the berries and mixing in the sugar and cornstarch  to combine would aid in making the proper outcome. This is what I did for the bars. Half the berries went in a bowl with the sugar and cornstarch and once mixed well, the remaining whole berries were added, and the mixture, while completely watery going in, came out perfectly thickened once baked, as shown here in this gorgeous photo.

Here is my recipe, which came out wonderfully well and is most decidedly one of my new favorite desserts. I am looking forward to rhubarb raspberry bars, and peach bars . . .  Here is my recipe:

Raspberry Bars

makes one 9 x 13-inch pan


4 cups fresh raspberries (from 3 1/2 to 4 six-ounce containers)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated finely
pinch salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon rosewater, optional

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups cold, unsalted butter
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk

1/2 cup sliced almonds

Place 1/2 of the berries in a medium mixing bowl. Using a potato masher, a spoon, or hands, partly crush the berries. Add in the sugar, ginger, salt, cornstarch and rosewater, if using. Mix well until all the dry ingredients are moistened, and then add the remaining berries and toss to combine. Set the mixture aside to macerate while making the topping.

Parchment-lined pan                                 |               berries partly crushed with sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees (350 on Convection Bake). Line a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with parchment, allowing a 2-inch overhand on the long sides. Use cooking spray to coat the inside of the parchment lined pan. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the crust. Grate in the cold butter on a large holed grater, or cut the butter into very small cubes and add to the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter, or rub mixture between palms to incorporate, until the mixture will briefly hold clumps. In a small bowl, whisk together the 2 eggs and the yolk. Pour this into the bowl and using a fork, quickly toss the mixture until it is fairly moistened. Scrape up dry bits to moisten as well as possibly. Use fingers to bring the mixture to point, when it will hold clumps very easily, but is still loose. 

Pour about 2/3 of this mixture into the prepared pan, gently maneuvering the crust to the edges and corners. Do not tamp down, but just use fingertips to press down slightly. Bake this crust for 10 or 15 minutes. It will still be soft and only have a spot or two of golden to the top. Remove from the oven. Stir the berry mixture once more and pour the berries over the partly baked crust, gently pushing the fruit to the edges and corners without disturbing the crust too much.

Add the sliced almonds to the bowl with the remaining crust mixture, tossing to combine. Sprinkle this mixture over the top of the berries. Bake the bars for 25 minutes at 375 degrees, then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for about 20 minutes more. The top crust should be golden and the filling bubbling. Allow the bars to cool completely. The parchment overhang can be used to lift the entire dessert free of the pan, making for easier slicing.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.