Friday, June 14, 2013

Cherry Crumb Bars

It’s impossible to even imagine late spring or early summer without cherries.  As soon as they start appearing piled high at the market or roadside stand, they call for immediate devouring.  And every now and then, we glance at the pile of pits and stems in amazement that we were able to consume so many so quickly.  But our red-stained fingertips are a sure clue.

I’m a big fan of bar cookies with fruit filling, which are really in many ways more like luscious little bites of a fruit tart.  There’s a bottom crust, a gooey fruit layer and then some sort of crumble mixture on top.  There’s no rolling of crust or scooping of cookie dough or much of any fuss or muss, so they’re relatively easy to prepare.  And they are invariably chewy and delicious morsels.

These Cherry Crumb Bars are chubby little things.  There’s a thick layer of bottom crust because I like the texture contrast with the fruit in the same way that I love pie crust.  The cherries this season are very sweet and juicy and beautiful, so I really wanted to test them in this format.  And if you’ve ever had a piece of New York style Crumb Cake, you know how crazy delicious lots of buttery baked crumbs can be on top of anything.   

If you love cherry pies or cherry shortcakes, you will probably love these bars.  They’re full of fruit and flavor.  The aromatic spice in the cherries and the salt in the dough and crumb topping pique our taste buds and remind us once again of all the goodness of June and July.   Cherries!!

Bench notes:
- I happen to really like cherries with cinnamon and star anise but leave them out if you wish or subtitute your own favorite flavoring.
- The bars will be easier to cut once they are completely cool and the filling has a chance to firm up.  I use a serrated knife. 
- I left the pitted cherries whole but chop them just a bit if you’d like the bars to slice more neatly.

Cherry Crumb Bars
Makes 9 bar cookies

1 1/2 lbs cherries, pitted
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons cold water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 star anise
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon vanilla

Crumb Topping
1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 oz) flour
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 oz (8 tablespoons) butter, melted

Cookie Base
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) flour
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 lemon
4 oz (8 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons (1 oz) milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Lightly grease an 8” square pan and line with a piece of parchment paper large enough to form an overhang along two sides of the pan.

Place the pitted cherries and sugar in a saucepan.  Combine the cold water and cornstarch and add to the cherries.  Add cinnamon and star anise and simmer on low heat, stirring occasionally, until the juices thicken, about 10 minutes.  Take off the heat, remove star anise and add lemon juice and vanilla.  Set aside to cool.
For the crumb topping, combine the flour, both sugars and salt in a bowl.  Melt the butter and add.  Use a fork to stir until the mixture clumps and holds together when pressed.  Using your fingers, pinch the mixture to form bits and pieces.   Chill until ready to use.
For the bottom crust, combine the flour, both sugars, baking powder, salt and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor.  Process until ingredients are combined.  Cut the cold butter into 1/2” pieces and add to the dry ingredients.  Process until it looks like coarse meal.  Combine the egg yolk, milk and vanilla and add.  Process just until the mixture starts to clump and holds together when pinched.  Press the dough clumps into the prepared pan to form an even bottom layer. 
Bake until puffed up and the surface looks dry and slightly browned, about 15 minutes.  Pour the simmered cherries on top and spread to within a 1/4” of the edges.  Top with the crumb mixture, making sure to distribute to the edges and the corners to form a border.
Bake until the fruit is bubbling vigorously and the crumb topping is lightly browned, about 25 minutes.  Place the pan on a wire rack to cool completely.  Run a thin knife around the edges and gently lift out of the pan using the parchment overhang to assist.  Cut into bars.


The Devil's Food Advocate said...

Cherries are my favorite summer fruit. I'm adding this one to my list! Thank you :)

pastry studio said...

You're so welcome, DFA. I love these bars because they're loaded with CHERRIES!


Tiena said...

I'm making this for Father's Day, my dad loves cherries. Thanks for another great recipe.

pastry studio said...

Tiena, Happy Cherry Crumb Bars Day to your dad!

Luv'n Spoonfuls said...

These sound so very delicious...I am a cherry-a-holic, so I'm definitely bookmarking this!

pastry studio said...

Luv'n, cherry fiends unite! Get your cherry pitter ready - hope you get a chance to enjoy these.

Bryan said...

Ummm, yes!
Had to make this last weekend.
(And who doesn't love a good bar?)

I found a variety of cherry at the market that I'd never used before, Utah Giant, they were wonderful and insanely flavorful.

Sometimes star anise scares me, but here it imparts a lovely, mysterious quality. Works really well with plenty of vanilla.

One good cookie.

pastry studio said...

Wait. There's a new kind of cherry in town? Utah Giant? Supposed to be larger with more flavor? Wow!!

Bryan, star anise should scare you. It's delicious! But it has to be used sparingly as a back note. It works really well with vanilla, as you say, and cinnamon. And blueberries!

Laura Dembowski said...

Cherries are amazing and these crumb bars look so yummy!

Bryan said...

Also, salted butter in the crumb top, ftw.

Personally, I think bar corner pieces with maximum browned edges are the best part : )

pastry studio said...

HaHaHa, totally!!