So yeah, summer happened.
Between my baby brother’s wedding, numerous trips, out-of-town visitors, weeks of ungodly and unrelenting heat, and general life, I blinked and it was September. It was an unusually busy summer, topped only by last year’s, with the graduation and internship and job hunt and cross-country move AGAIN, but even in an average year I seem to be prone to blogging lulls during these months. Not sure why, really. Maybe the sunshine scrambles my brain.
Anyway, to make up for the lapse, here are the best oatmeal bar cookies ever. No, really. Really and truly. I know I’ve made rhubarb and oat cookies before, but as good as those were, these are a mile beyond that, and I have about a dozen testimonials to back that claim up.
The underlying cookie recipe is from my second-favorite bakery in Seattle. There’s no shame in second-favorite status either, because as good as Macrina is, there’s no way it could hope to compete with the bakery of a pastry chef who won the Coupe du Monde de Boulangerie. If you’ve never considered that the words “croissant” and “orgasmic” could belong together, you’ve either never been to Paris or never been to Bakery Nouveau. Seriously, this place is so good that I’m actually a little glad I didn’t visit it until just weeks before we moved away, because there is no way my student budget could have sustained the number of trips I would have wanted to make there, and there would have been much heartbreak.
So my point is that the basic oat bar recipe is, if not Bakery Nouveau good, still really freaking good, because the Macrina people know what they’re doing. The bottom layer is a fantastically buttery and almondy shortbread, and the oat streusel on top is just generous and crumbly enough without being ridiculously chunky or going pasty. The watermelon-pink middle layer is all my doing, a tangy-perfumy blend of rhubarb and quince jam which — I realized when making it — ends up being almost tropical and rather reminiscent of guava.
If you happened to both have the foresight to freeze some rhubarb back when it was flooding the farmers markets and have a source for quince jam, you can make this recipe as-is. If one or both of those is not an option, don’t despair. This cookie can be made with any kind of good-quality jam, and it will still be well worth the effort.
Rhubarb-Quince Oat Bars
(Adapted from Macrina Bakery and Cafe Cookbook)
Makes 24-32 bars
For the almond shortbread:
3 tablespoons ground almonds
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoons almond extract
3/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
For the filling:
1/4 cup granulated sugar
4 cups (around 1 pound) rhubarb, in 1/2 inch slices
1 pinch salt
1 1/2 cups quince jam
For the streusel:
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/4 cups rolled oats
1 pinch salt
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, in 1/4 inch pieces
Toast the ground almonds in a small nonstick pan until just starting to brown and give off a warm nutty aroma. Combine the toasted almonds with the sugar and flour in a large bowl. Stir the two extracts into the melted butter, then pour the mixture over the dry ingredients and mix to create a sandy dough.
Line a quarter sheet pan with foil or parchment paper, leaving enough overhang on all sides to be able to lift the finished bars out of the pan. With your fingertips, gently press the almond dough in an even layer covering the bottom and halfway up the sides of the pan. Chill for half an hour while preparing the filling.
In a medium saucepan, combine the rhubarb, sugar, and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then lower heat and cook until the rhubarb is soft and falling apart, 10 minutes or so. Remove from the heat and stir in the quince jam.
Preheat the oven to 325. Remove the bottom layer from the fridge, top with a sheet of parchment paper, weigh it down with pie weights or dried beans to prevent puffing, and bake until light gold all over and slightly brown at the edges. Remove the top layer of parchment and the weights, and let cool a bit on a wire rack.
In another bowl, mix together the brown sugar, flour, oats and salt. Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, work in the butter until a crumbly mixture forms. Spread the filling over the almond layer, then sprinkle the oat streusel over the top, completely covering the filling.
Bake the bars on the middle rack for 35 minutes or until the top is a dark golden brown and some of the filling is bubbling around the edges. Cool completely, then use the foil or parchment lining to lift the slab onto a flat surface. Using a large knife or a pizza cutter, slice into thin bars.
Since they’re quite rich, I like to make eight vertical slices and four horizontal ones, for a total of 32 bars, but you can be more generous if you like. If either amount ends up being too much for your needs, leftover bars freeze very well, wrapped tightly in plastic and foil or tucked into a freezer-safe bag.
If you want to make your life a little easier, albeit less interesting, just spread the almond layer with 2-3 cups of your favorite jam, perked up with the juice of half a lemon.