Friday, July 21, 2017

Raspberry Crumb Bars

"I am beginning to recognize that real happiness isn't' something large and looming on the horizon ahead, but something small, numerous and already here." (Beau Taplin) It doesn't seem to take much to make me happy lately. Season seven of the Game of Thrones returned this past week, I bought a small 'kiddie' pool for running and exercise recovery reasons (partly true), having coffee with friends after running and/or working out, I absolutely loved a book (Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine) I came across unexpectedly, and the driveway went from looking like blight to brand new thanks to a long over due coat of sealer were some of the sources of happiness this week. It's true what they say. There is much to be said for finding joy in the small things. If you look back at your week, what would be those things that made your heart race or brought a smile to your face?

I thought these Raspberry Crumb Bars were really, really, really good, but having friends say they loved them was yet another of the week's highlights. Validation never ever gets old. I could say 'at least for me' but I don't think I am the only one who thrives on hearing kind words. One of the simplest gifts we can give to others, especially to those we love or value. Generosity comes in many forms, but gifting with words may be the most powerful of them all.

But let's not underestimate the power of a platter of home baked treats to let others know they matter to you. In the absence of words, the gift of anything homemade speaks volumes. Like these buttery, sumptuous Raspberry Crumb Bars for example. Amazon reminded me I bought the cookbook "Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery and Cafe" almost seven years ago. But it took seeing the luscious, ripe raspberries at this week's farmer's market to get me to make them.

I have made a number of fruit bar recipes before, but these may now be my favorite for so many reasons. All-purpose and cake flours help to create the tenderest of shortbread crusts. The butter adds the kind of melt in your mouth richness you come to expect from a really great shortbread. Granulated and confectionary sugars bring just the right amount of sweetness. The addition of fresh raspberries to the layer of raspberry preserves took these crumb bars to yet another level. 

Like the old adage 'don't judge a book by its' cover', don't judge these Raspberry Crumb Bars by their directions. At first look, they will appear to be a little on the cumbersome side. If anything, they are more on the time intensive than on the labor intensive side. 

The dough for the shortbread base is beautifully soft and supple. It all begins with beating the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy (approximately five minutes). This first step is key so don't rush through it. With the addition of the egg yolks and vanilla there is another 2-3 minutes of beating time. The sifted dry ingredients are added slowly and mixed only until fully incorporated. The consistency of the dough requires it to be chilled. At a minimum the chilling time is 30 minutes, at a maximum it is 2 hours. After following the original recipe as written, I am not convinced a quarter of the dough needs to be put in the freezer for two hours. I think the dough for the base and dough for the top could both be refrigerated for at least 30 minutes, although 60 minutes may be better. But more on the top layer of these Raspberry Crumb Bars later.

Instead of making free form bars, these were baked in a 9"x12" baking pan. After the lightly floured dough was rolled between two sheets of parchment paper, it was lifted and placed into the pan (top piece of parchment paper removed before baking). The base layer is baked in a preheated 350 degree (F) oven for approximately 20 minutes or until a very light brown. Before the raspberry jam/preserves and if using, fresh raspberries are evenly spread over the base crust, the baked base needs to cool for 10-15 minutes. 

A large hole box or hand held grater is used to turn the block of frozen dough into chards of dough. Honestly, this was a bit messy. Which made me think it might be easier to break off bits of dough and spread evenly over the top of the jam/fruit before returning the baking pan to the oven. Eliminating the step of freezing some of the dough for 2 hours and replacing it with a chill time of approximately 60 minutes would save considerable time in the making of these Raspberry Crumb Bars.

The baking pan returns to the oven and continues to bake for 20-30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. As it turned out my baking time was 30 minutes, but would recommend you begin checking yours for doneness at the 20 minute mark. Before they are lightly dusted with confectionary sugar, the bars need to cool to room temperature. Yes, I know, this seems like a day long project. Maybe its' a half day one, but the investment of time has an incredible pay off.

The ratio of jam/preserves to shortbread is crumb bar perfection. All of the expectations I had for these Raspberry Crumb Bars were exceeded. They redefine melt in your mouth deliciousness. After cutting them into 18 smaller bars, I understood why the original recipe called for cutting them into 9 larger bars. As one small bar turned out to be a bit of tease. 

These Raspberry Crumb Bars are what you would expect to find at a high quality bakery. When you serve these to your friends and family, I wouldn't at all be surprised if they asked you where you got them. I can tell you these bars will be good for several days if stored in a covered container. But it's highly unlikely they will last that long. When you travel to the grocery store to pick up some raspberry jam or preserves, you should probably buy two jars. I have a strong feeling you will be making these more than once. 

Raspberry Crumb Bars (a slight adaptation to Joanne Chang's recipe in her cookbook "Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery and Cafe")
Makes 9 large bars or 18 medium sized ones

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks/342 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons confectionary or caster sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups (175 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (180 grams) cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups (510 grams) raspberry jam or preserves, with seeds. See Note.
1/4 cup (35 grams) confectionary sugar
Optional: 1/4 pint fresh raspberries

1. In a medium sized bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder, and kosher salt. Set aside.
2. In a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter, granulated sugar, and confectionary sugar on medium speed for approximately 5 minutes or until mixture is very light and fluffy. Stop the mixer intermittently to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
3 Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla at medium speed for 2-3 minutes or until yolks are fully incorporated. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.
4. On low speed gradually add in sifted flour mixture. Mix until flour is totally incorporated. Again stop the mixer as needed to scrape the bowl to make certain all of the flour is fully incorporated.
5. Scrape the dough onto a large sheet of plastic wrap. Remove 1/4 of the dough and transfer to a separate sheet of plastic wrap. 
6. Form large piece of dough into a rectangle, at least 1 inch thick. Form the smaller piece of dough into a small brick shape. 
7. Place the large piece of the dough into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Note: If freezing small piece of dough for 2 hours, chilling time on the dough will be approximately 90 minutes.
8. Place the small piece of dough into the freezer for 2 hours. Note: Alternately, place small piece of dough in the refrigerator as well.
9. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F). Position a rack in the center of the oven.
10. On a large sheet of parchment paper, trace the outline of a 9"x13" or 9"x12" baking pan. Turn paper over so ink or pencil is facing down. Lightly sprinkle the top of the dough with all-purpose flour. Top with another piece of parchment paper. Roll out large piece of dough to the size of the baking pan selected (see above).
11. Transfer parchment paper to baking pan. Remove top piece of parchment paper.
12. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until the shortbread is very light brown. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes. Keep oven on.
13. Spread the raspberry jam/preserves evenly over the slightly cooled crust. Optional: Sprinkle with 1/4 pint of raspberries if using.
14. Remove small piece of dough from the freezer. Using the large holes of a handheld or box grater, grate dough into large flakes over the jam/preserves. Make sure dough is evenly distributed. Note: If the small piece of dough was refrigerated but not frozen, break up into small pieces and evenly distribute over the jam/preserves.
15. Return baking sheet to the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until top is lightly browned. Remove from oven and place pan on a wire rack to allow the bars to cool completely.
16. When cooled, sift confectionary sugar evenly over the top. Cut into bars. Note: For large sized bars, cut into 9 pieces. for medium sized bars, cut into 18 pieces.
17. Serve immediately or store bars in an airtight container for up to 3-4 days. Note: Can also wrap bars individually and store in the refrigerator.

Notes: (1) A 13 ounce jar of Bonne Maman Raspberry Preserves yielded exactly what the recipe called for. (2) Instead of the free form method of rolling out the dough into a 9"x12" or 9"x13" inch rectangle and transferring to a baking sheet, recommend rolling out dough to fit into a baking pan so all of the edges are even and there is no waste. (3) The use of fresh raspberries is optional, but they took these bars to an even higher level of deliciousness. (4) It may have been my oven, but the bars on the second bake didn't get to a golden brown color. But their taste/texture were perfect after 30 minutes of baking. However, recommend checking for doneness at 20 minutes. (5) These bars were made with Raspberry Preserves, but these would be equally delicious with Mixed Berry Preserves or Blackberry Preserves.

Summer's bounty at the local Farmer's Market (July 2017)

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