Friday, May 22, 2015

Apricot Oatmeal Bars

Despite our very gloomy local weather, another thrilling apricot season has arrived. And, as luck would have it, my first purchase of apricots is gorgeous.  They are a good size with a beautiful ripened color, great texture and wonderful flavor.  I am blissed.

My first project of the season is Apricot Oatmeal Bars.  With fruit this good, I like to veer in the direction of keeping things very simple.  These are very easy to prepare and are more like a slice of easy crumbly pie.  I add oatmeal to the pastry because I am an oatmeal freak and wanted to pair off two of my favorite ingredients in a happy marriage of pastry deliciousness.  The apricots are simmered for just a few minutes with sugar and honey to coax out their juices.  The whole batch is baked in no time, a very good beginning to this season of plenty.

People, do not forget that apricot season is hideously, devastatingly brief, so do not waste your time ruminating about it.  Get yourself to the market, STAT!  

Bench notes:
- As they simmer, taste the apricots for sugar.  Baking does bring out their tartness, so add enough to take it right up to your preferred level of sweetness.
- Don't let the fruit boil.  Keep the apricots at a low simmer to preserve their flavor.  Cook them just long enough so they’re softened and pliable, not mushy. They can be made a day or two ahead. Store in an airtight container in your refrigerator.
- For the apricots, I just used a piece of vanilla from my vanilla sugar jar, where I keep all my used pods.  If you don’t have any, you can substitute 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract.  Add once you take them off the heat.
- Rinse your vanilla pods and dry.  Add to a jar of sugar to hold for future use.  Both the sugar and the pods can be used again and again.
- This crust/topping is crisp and very crumbly.  If you prefer a chewier version, change up the flour/oatmeal ratios, substitute some brown sugar and add some baking powder as follows: 1 cup (5 oz) flour + 1 3/4 cups (5 1/4 oz) oatmeal; 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (2 3/4 oz) granulated sugar + 1/4 cup (1 3/4 oz) brown sugar; and 1 teaspoon baking powder.
- I used old-fashioned oatmeal rather than quick oats.
- If you’re a fan of cinnamon, add a pinch to the topping and/or the apricots.  It’s a great flavor combination.
- If you have an ice cream maker, save your apricot pits and make the unforgettably sublime Noyau Ice Cream.

Apricot Oatmeal Bars
Makes 16 bars

8 (1 lb, 4 oz) ripe apricots                                      
3 tablespoons (39 grams) sugar, to taste                     
1 tablespoon (1/2 oz) honey
1 tablespoon (1/2 oz) water                                                                                               
1/4 vanilla bean

1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) flour                         
1 1/4 cups (3 3/4 oz) oatmeal                                          
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (4 1/2 oz) granulated sugar                                     
6 oz (12 tablespoons) cold butter
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  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.

Cut the apricots into 1/2" slices.  Place them in a saucepan along with the sugar, honey and water.  Split and seed a 1/4 portion of a vanilla bean and add the seeds and the pod.  Cook on low heat for about 5 minutes at a slow simmer or until the apricots just begin to become tender.  Take off the heat and cool.  Remove vanilla pod.

Combine the flour, oatmeal, salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Process until ingredients are combined and the oats are chopped up a bit but not ground completely.

Cut the cold butter into 1/2” pieces and add to the dry ingredients along with the vanilla. Pulse until the mixture starts to clump. It should remain a bit loose but hold together when pinched.  Pour into a bowl and toss with your hands.

Press about 2/3 of the oatmeal mixture into the prepared pan to form an even bottom layer.  Bake until the surface is puffed up and looks dry and slightly browned, about 15 – 20 minutes.
Pour the simmered apricots on top and spread to within 1/4” of the edges.  Top with the remaining crumb mixture, making sure to distribute to the edges and the corners to form a border.  Press down gently to secure.

Bake until the crumb topping is lightly browned around the edges, about 20 - 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.


SallyBR said...

I simply love your 'bench notes" - they add so much to each recipe you post, it gives us insecure bakers a lot more confidence to stretch our limits

I saw a different type of apricots at the store today, they had a bit of red on the skin, I should have paid attention to the name. Almost brought some home... should probably get back there tomorrow ;-)

pastry studio said...

Thank you, SallyBR. I do like to provide as much guidance as possible so everyone can enjoy the process. I hope your apricots prove to be as delicious as mine!

Katie said...

This looks so amazing! I've never baked with fresh apricots. Time to try.

I'm on the hunt for a rhubarb crumb bar . . . trying to figure out if I could adapt this to rhubarb. Cook the rhubarb with sugar and some kind of thickening agent and then use as you do the apricots here?

Thanks for the baking inspiration!

pastry studio said...

Thanks, Katie. You should be able to substitute just about any fruit in bar cookies. Hope you find a way to thoroughly enjoy your rhubarb!!