Fine spring, you win- I will embrace you with somewhat open arms, but only to grab as much rhubarb as I can carry. Short of lilacs, rhubarb is probably my favorite thing about this season. As I’ve said before, I’m not a fan of warm weather, so while most people flock to the nearest park the second the temperature hits 70, I’m mourning the loss of bulky sweaters and the low energy bills.Wow, even reading that is a bummer. Okay, never mind, forget I said all that and let’s just talk about how exciting it is to start getting produce beyond apples and greens. Ramps! Asparagus! Peas! I’m not even going to start on being able to start my herb garden, because that’s an entire other post. [Though you can sneak a peek here]Another thing I’ve talked about before is my sister’s strawberry obsession. While I am forced to turn to others to get feedback for recipe testing for anything that contains chocolate, berry concoctions go straight to her. [Well, until January, when she betrayed our NY roots and moved to LA]. At which point I get yelled at for giving her desserts, because that is sister (maybe all sibling?) logic. [Hey sis! It’s me, your sister, embarrassing you on the internet!]Yet I risk it anyway, for two reasons. The first is that I find strawberries significantly harder than others (i.e. blueberries, blackberries, etc) to anticipate results in baking because the amount of water released during baking varies greatly between the different types, sizes and levels of ripeness, so I usually experiment a few times. Which results in a lot of extra food, the wasting of which is a cardinal sin in my family. So I turn to my go-to strawberry enthusiast.The second reason I go to her because she will always be honest about her opinions. Brutally so, sometimes, but even then I’d rather get that kind of feedback than the “wow, great” kind you get from friends that are actually grateful for free desserts. Not to knock friends or anything, seeing as they’re kind of important, but over the years I’ve found that aside from my immediate family, only a few close friends will actually give constructive criticism. So anyway, these bars are always one of the first things I make once rhubarb shows up at farmer’s markets, because not only are they delicious, they are crazy easy to make, can last up to a week in the fridge (if I don’t steal some for breakfast), and best of all, aren’t actually that bad for you. Granted, healthy food is obviously not a big concern on this site, but it’s still nice to have at when it works out, as I refuse to try and remake desserts “guilt-free”. Those “skinny” dessert recipes are bullshit. Give me butter or give me death.FYI I bought this cutting board solely to make whatever food I put on it look fancy as hell. That, and it was on sale. Okay, tangent over. So yeah, the fruit is the main part, and fruit is good for you, so by the transitive property, these are good for you. [Shhh, don’t fight the logic] Aside from that it’s most oats, which are also good for you…? Yeah, let’s go with that. Onto the sugar: half a cup? Pfft, considering I’ve used a pound in one recipe, that hardly seems bad. I mean, in the scheme of things, this is easily a lesser evil than compared to a donut or a muffin (*cough* cupcake *cough*).Regardless of whether or not you try to justify eating a fruit bar/dessert, you should make them. Easily transportable, they are perfect for picnics, pot lucks, snacks, and so on. What’s more, baking them a few hours or a day in advance only makes them better, and how often can you say that for baked goods?Seeing as the base is mostly oats, I’d imagine it wouldn’t be hard to swap out the AP flour for a gluten free option, or even the butter for coconut oil (though I’m skeptical of how that would affect the flavor)
As always, sample your fruit first- ripe strawberries are often much sweeter than what you find in a grocery store, and since rhubarb’s tartness decreases once cooked, you may want to dial down the amount of sugar.
- Don’t fret if you don’t have a lemon on hand (or forget to add it). While it is a wonderful addition (the acidity both helps balance the sweetness and enhances the fruit), the bars will still be delicious
- The cornstarch does help the filling from making the bars soggy, but it’s another ingredient I have forgotten more than once and will not make or break the end result.
- While you can just cut the bars in the pan as done in the original recipe, I usually transfer them to a cutting board. Not only is it a lot easier to cut evenly, but you also don’t risk damaging your knife and pan.
- I usually forgo the powdered sugar topping- it’s nice to do when serving at a meal, but for me it’s just more mess to clean up, and I don’t think the extra sweetness does much
- FYI, the photos are of the recipe doubled (in case that wasn’t obvious) and baked in a 9×13 pan, with approximately the same baking time (maybe 5 minutes extra?). The recipe listed below is for the original 8×8 inch pan.
- I usually err on the lower side of the cooking time (30-32 minutes) because a) my oven runs hot and b) once cooled and chilled, the filling will set regardless.
Strawberry Rhubarb Oat Bars
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Yield: 16 small bars or 8 large ones; recipe can be doubled and baked in a 9×13-inch baking pan [aka what I did]
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 (optional)
- 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. If serving right away, you can get away without greasing the pan.
- Place oats, 3/4 cup flour, brown sugar and salt in a 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 a heaping 1/2 cup (or 3/4 cup, if you prefer more topping like me) 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 for at least 20 minutes, then move it to the fridge for around 1 hour, where they will firm up***.
- If you can, lift the bars out of the pan by the ends of the parchment paper and place on a cutting board. Cut into squares and sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving***. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge.
* The original recipe has you mix the ingredients straight into the pan, and while I’m all for using as few dishes as possible, I find it much better and easier to do it in a bowl. Also, you have to reserve some of the base for the topping anyway, so either way you end up using the same number of dishes.
**I have forgotten on several occasions to only add half the fruit at first (to sprinkle half the sugar and cornstarch) so I end up just sprinkling it all on the top and gently stir it with a spoon. Ok, real talk, sometimes I don’t even bother stirring. Regardless, they end up fine, though the bottom may be a bit soggy if you opt for the lazy route.
***If you don’t have time to chill for a full hour, cool at room temperature for the 20 minutes, then place them in the freezer for 10 minutes to expedite the process. After that move it to the fridge for as long as you can.
****If you’re not serving these right away, hold off on the powdered sugar until you do.