Most people I know, when asked to list my top five traits, would probably have “daredevil” listed somewhere in there. Well, some of them might use “risk taker,” instead. Don’t believe me? Look at these bars. Who would dare to make these bars?!
You are probably confused and starting to wonder if I’ve been huffing a little too much almond extract. (The answer to that is yes.) No, I realize these bars aren’t totally wacky. No exotic spices or soy sauce or broccoli. But the daring thing about these is that I am not well-versed in bar cookies, and instead of cowering in fear, I just totally winged this recipe. With a one day deadline, no less! See? Daredevil.
Phillip whined about me making bars. And using rhubarb. He’s not a huge fan of either. I’m not sure when we became prejudiced against bars, because we certainly love both brownies and cookies around here, but it happened. And that’s really a shame. Because when it comes down to it, you can take pretty much any cookie recipe, press the dough into a baking pan, and voilà. Bar cookies.
I haven’t even mentioned that bars can have real fruit in them, whereas it’s much harder to swirl compote into drop cookie dough. And trust me, I have been longing for fruit. Sure, citrus counts. Kind of. But with citrus you just use some of the zest and little juice sometimes, but that’s just flavoring. I’m ready to bite down into the meat of some fresh produce.
I learned how to look for ripe strawberries a week or two ago before I went to California. No white or green tips or tops. Red all the way through. Nice green leaves on top. They should be fragrant, so really get your nose in there. If you can try before you buy, they should be sweet, not tart. I put these tips to work at the farmers’ market in California, where they had locally grown strawberries, and walked out of there with some amazing berries that we ate for breakfast the next day.
Alas, since I’m back in Ohio and we don’t have strawberries until late May, I’m still relying on the ones at the grocery store that are shipped from The Golden State. I daydreamed for a week about picking out my ripe berries from the grocery store, mentally going through all the steps so I wouldn’t forget. When the time finally came, I hunted through a mountain of cartons to find berries that I thought met the criteria. They weren’t bad strawberries! Not farm fresh, but not bad, all things considered. Next time I think I’ll pop the cartons open and turn the berries over, since they seemed to be packed to hide their flaws. Nevertheless, they certainly came out on top in these bars.
I shelled out for rhubarb despite the fact that it allegedly grows all over the place around here. (Where are you, Rhubarb!?) I can never seem to get any of that deep red rhubarb, only the pink stuff. It’s okay, I like pink. And once you throw it into a pot with the strawberries and make a compote, it’s a gorgeous ruby color. It’s hard to not just eat the compote straight, but I had to reserve it for the recipe because I like you. And I want you to have bar cookies, friends.
I tweaked my favorite oatmeal raisin cookie recipe for the base, adding cinnamon and ginger because they go so well with both strawberries and rhubarb. I thought about chopping up some dried strawberries in here, but I decided the texture might detract from the fruit filling. I’m glad I didn’t put them in! I think these are perfect just the way they are. I think that about all my dessert babies, though. (Except for Clafoutis. Clafoutis is the kid I love less, and all the other kids know. I hope I’m a better real mom than I am a food mom.)
- 2 cups (280 grams) strawberry slices
- 2 cups (220 grams) ½-inch rhubarb slices
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 4 teaspoons (15 grams) cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1¾ cup (210 grams) all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)
- 1 cup (225 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature (plus more for greasing)
- 1 cup (215 grams) light brown sugar
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 cups (270 grams) rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
- Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and toss with a wooden spoon to coat the fruit with cornstarch and liquids. Cook over medium heat until strawberries begin to break down, rhubarb is fork-tender, and juices have thickened, about 6-8 minutes. Set aside to cool.
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter one side of a long piece of aluminum foil, then press the foil, butter side up, into a 13x9-inch baking pan. There should be overhanging foil on two ends of the pan. (These will act as "handles" to lift the bars out later.)
- Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and spices in a medium mixing bowl.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat butter on medium speed for 2 minutes until smooth and silky. Add sugars and beat until fluffy, another 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl twice. Turn mixer speed to low and add eggs, one at a time, and vanilla, and mix until combined.
- Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until just combined. Mix in oats on low speed. Scrape down the bowl and stir by hand a couple turns to make sure all ingredients are incorporated evenly.
- Press ¾ of the dough evenly into the foil lined baking sheet. (You can use parchment or wax paper as a barrier to keep your hands clean and create a more even surface.) Place the bowl with the remaining dough in the freezer for 10-15 minutes.
- Pour strawberry-rhubarb compote over top of the pressed dough, spreading it out over the surface with a rubber spatula. Crumble remaining chilled dough over the top of the compote layer. There should be some fruit peaking through.
- Bake for 50-60 minutes, until the crumble layer is golden brown. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack.
- Once cooled, carefully transfer the bars to a cutting board by lifting them out by the foil handles. You may need to support the center with a spatula or someone else's helping hand during the transfer. Peel back the foil from the edges, then cut the slab into 24 squares and serve.