I hear you

It’s a good thing cookies are what they are:  chewy in all the right places, crisp where they’re meant to be crisp.  A little chocolate, maybe, a few salt flakes on top.  Cookies done right are the best.  And frankly, after so much scooping and chilling or rolling and dredging, so much lifting from pan, to rack, to plate; with eight, or ten, or twelve to a sheet, and multiple sheets to bake, they’d better be.  Cookies need to be worth it and, with any luck, they are.

Still, they’re a tough sell this time of year.  There are people, I hear, who experience a certain correlation between the temperature outside and the desire to turn on their ovens.  For this set, the normal set, we’ll call them, summer is no time for cookies.  It’s one thing to fill a pie with cherries, or peaches, or berries that won’t wait for cooler climes, flip the oven door shut and retreat to the furthest and, presumably, coolest corner of your home to wait it out.  Cookies, on the other hand, like to keep you.  (See above: scooping, chilling, rolling, dredging.)  And those great gasps of heat billowing forth at each turn and switch of the pans… It’s no wonder that if cookies have a low season, summer is it.

I bake cookies year-round.  (Much to the relief of a certain cake averse cookie man whose birthday was earlier this month.)  I drink hot tea and eat hot oatmeal for breakfast year-round, too.  I don’t mind the heat.  But normal people of the world, I hear you.  And I bring you crumb bars:

These bars have a lot going for them any time of year, but especially mid-summer.  (Yes, I said mid.  Summer’s not over until September 21st.)  They’re the very definition of unfussy, requiring only a bowl, a sharp knife, and your fingers for tools.  And unlike better known bars like brownies and blondies, they’ve got fruit!  A summertime sweet if ever I’ve seen one, a cookie-like thing that you can hold in your hand, no dough scooping or other attending shenanigans required.  

The only wrinkle in this story is that today is August 31st and, as you can see from the photo, these were rhubarb bars in their original form.  It was the first week of July when I first made these, and I was going to tell you about them then, but there was that rhubarb polenta crumble we’d just discussed.  (Why a similar fear of ingredient saturation never occurs to me when I’ve got a new corn bread on my hands, I don’t know.)  And now here we are slurping our way through high stone fruit season, rhubarb but a rosy memory.  I’d tucked this recipe away for next season, but then I changed my mind and decided to trot it out today.  First of all, because this weekend I plan to swap in some thinly sliced plums or peaches – whatever looks good at the market today – in place of the rhubarb, and I thought you might want to follow suit.  But also because I found this recipe back in May on Kelly Carámbula’s site The Best Remedy (formerly known as eat make read), and I’ve got some other Kelly-related business to tell you about today.

Kelly is, to put it mildly, extremely cool.  She’s a designer, and a caterer, a mixologist extraordinaire, and the creator and editor-in-chief of Remedy Quarterly.  (Is there anything you don’t do, lady?)  The latest issue – their tenth! – is a collection of essays, photos, and recipes on the theme of discovery.  It came out last week, and if you flip to page 58, you’ll find a story about drinking vinegar that’s written by me.  It’s the first time I’ve ever seen my name in print in something like this and, whoa, what a kick!  You’ll have to get your hands on the issue to read the full story but, in short, it’s the tale of a pregnant Jess who wants nothing more than to pour vinegar down her throat until, one day, she does.  (In the form of something called shrub.)

Now, about those bars.  I say, make them with what you’ve got.  I have a feeling that this recipe is forgiving.  If you’re going the berry route, a simple swap should work.  If you opt for stone fruit, like I plan on doing this weekend, try thin, overlapping slices, no other filling ingredients required. 

Enjoy the long weekend, all.

Rhubarb-Ginger Crumb Bars
Adapted from The Best Remedy (where Kelly adapted them from Smitten Kitchen)

Kelly uses fresh ginger in her bars (2 tablespoons, finely chopped, mixed in with the rhubarb) but that's not Eli's cup of tea, so I went with ground ginger instead.  I also upped the amount of fruit by one cup.  The first time I made these, I went with a 50-50 split, half of the dough on the bottom, the other half crumbled on top, per Kelly’s instructions.  That’s what you see in the photo, above.  The next time around, I reserved only about a third of the dough for the crumb topping.  I prefer it that way, with a thicker shortbread base and a less crumby top.  Let's the fruit really shine.

For the dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Zest of one small lemon
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 large egg

For the filling:
5 cups ½-inch slices of rhubarb
3 teaspoons ground ginger (see note, above)
Juice of one small lemon
½ cup sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch

Heat the oven to 375 degrees and butter a 9x13 inch pan.

Blend the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  Stir in the lemon zest.  Add the egg and the cubed butter and work into the dry ingredients with your hands.  The dough will be crumbly.  Put 2/3 of the dough into the prepared pan and pat into place. 

In another bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch, ground ginger, and lemon juice.  Add the rhubarb and mix gently.  Spoon the fruit mixture in an even layer over the shortbread base.  Crumble the remaining dough over top. 

Bake for 45-50 minutes, until the crumb top is golden brown.  Cool before cutting into squares. 


A Plum By Any Other Name said...

Congrats on the story! I'll have to see if I can track down a copy. I'm with you ... I prefer hot coffee throughout the summer and have a hard time shutting off my oven(even without air-conditioning). The bars sound great. I just can't get over not wanting to have cake on your birthday. (Though I've known a few souls like this in my day, too.) Happy dog days!

megan said...

I'll eat cookies and drink hot coffee any day! (Although /making/ cookies, well...) I've discovered Walker's shortbread here in Scotland and have temporarily (?) forgotten all about chewiness and chocolate, wow!

Miss you -

Jess said...

Plum - Thanks! Magpie in Davis Square stocks RQ, I'm pretty sure. It's also available online. Want to hear a dirty little secret? I'm one of those people, too! Sort of. I so enjoy baking cake that I usually bake one for myself on my birthday. But I'd rather eat a cookie any day.

Megan - Helloooo over there, my friend. I love Walker's shortbread! Eat a whole bunch for me, okay? Can't wait to hear about your trip. xoxo

Kelly Carambula said...

Jess, you're so sweet! Thank you for the thoughtful post. And oh boy, plums! What a perfect way to use plums. That's what I love about this recipe—it's so adaptable—swap out whatever fruit and adjust the the crumb vs. crust ratio. You've actually got me itching to turn on the oven...

thelittleloaf said...

I bake cookies all year round but I do find myself more drawn to fruity things in the summer. These look absolutely perfect :-)

Rogue Unicorn said...

Congrats on the story!
Those bars sounds like bars after my own heart. There is very little in the world that I like more than rhubarb.

alanachernila said...

I think I have the only rhubarb plant in New England that pumps it out from Spring deep into the Fall. So if anyone needs some, come on over! I'll try to have cookies ready...

Delishhh said...

First i have to say you have a gorgeous blog! Just love it. And Rhubarb bars are some of my favorite things :)

Caz said...

These bars look so good and I love fruit filled treats in summer. I too drink hot tea and eat warm oatmeal all year round. It's the best :)

talley said...

The tea kettle is a constant companion, whistling away through the hot summer months. And if the oven could whistle it would keep in tune, singing about the cakes and the cookies and the roast chicken baking away inside. I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one listening to the hum of warm and cozy kitchen appliances. I'm also glad that you decided to post this recipe post-rhubarb because I think you're right, it will be killer with plums. I think I'll try it with the surprisingly sweet green Reine Claude plums that are overflowing the market right now. A green cookie/crumble - it might not be the prettiest, but I bet it will be good.

Looking forward to getting my hands on Remedy Quarterly.

Jess said...

Kelly - My pleasure! And yes, plums. (I did it. So good.)

thelittleloaf - I know what you mean. Best of both worlds here, right?

Rogue Unicorn - Thanks, T! If rhubarb is scarce in your part of the world (and it is, right?) try it with plums (Just posted the recipe today.) You will love. xo.

alana - Party at your house!

Delishhh - Thank you so much!

Caz - Just clicked over, and I love the name of your site. Yes, three cheers for hot food and drink every day of the year!

talley - Such a beautiful scene you paint here. I don't think I've ever seen a Reine Claude plum, but I believe you that it would be wonderful. xo.

Beglaubigte Übersetzung said...

Completely agree, for some reason I never bake cookies in summer only fruit cakes, pies etc. however looking for winter time with cookies at crackling fire...

Vicki Chislett said...

I don't bake a lot, but I find myself experimenting in summer with all kinds of delicious confectionery.

Such as cookies filled with Nanobytes.

Check them out here : http://www.lotsoflittlesweets.com

The crunchy texture of the cookie, and the chewy sweets make for a great treat.

Thanks Jess !