Wednesday, September 9, 2009

September Blueberry Bliss

So, this post could have easily been titled "August Blueberry Bliss" or "Summer Blueberry Bliss," but alas, I didn't get my act together til now. But, it is still blueberry season, if the tail end, so there is still time to indulge yourself with these lovely blueberry bars.

As I've mentioned previously, I love blueberries and have made it a summer priority to pick berries so that I always have a supply in the freezer for winter blueberry treats. Emily and I went blueberry picking last week, along with Tommy, now 7. While we were picking, we reminisced about some of our earlier blueberry journeys with Tommy, including the year he was two plus, when he really, really, really wanted to knock the bucket of blueberries over with his stick and was only persuaded not to by force of parental will and repeated exclamations of how unhappy everyone would be if he did. And then there was the year he was three, when his little brother Jamie was a tiny baby. Em was stressed out about leaving Jamie, and Tommy was in no mood for blueberries and had to be set up amidst the blueberry bushes with his blanket and book. And he still didn't like it.

This year, overall, was much calmer. Tommy brought a Tin-Tin book to read, in case he got bored, and though he was mildly irritated by the bugs, he rallied and instigated a blueberry picking contest in which the loser (who picked less) would bake blueberry muffins for the winner. I won, by a very small margin, but I have not demanded my prize (yet).

Most of those berries are in the freezer now, but I saved just enough to make just one more batch of these blueberry breakfast bars. This is a recipe I discovered the weekend that Alex, in a fit of blueberry enthusiasm, took advantage of the 15 pints for $30 deal at the farmers market. Once he had the blueberries home, he was a bit overwhelmed by his blueberry bounty and gave me 3 pints to bake with. My usual blueberry treats include my beloved peach-blueberry crumble and my new standby, blueberry buttermilk cake. But I wanted something that used a lot of blueberries all at once, and I liked the idea of bars. I contemplated Smitten Kitchen's Blueberry Crumb Bars, but I wanted something that was more crumble-like. And then I stumbled on these Blueberry Breakfast Bars from Farmgirl Fare.

Their set-up is simple--a crumble bottom, a berry middle and a streusel topping. They are easy to make, adaptable, not terribly bad for you and totally delicious. I made a few changes to Farmgirl Fare's otherwise excellent recipe. I cut the amount of butter down rather significantly (from 2 sticks and 2 tbsps. to just over a stick) and added some lemon zest in with the berries. I also experimented with swapping out some of the white flour with whole wheat pastry flour (this works fine) and cutting down a bit on the sugar in the berries. (This had mixed results. The less sweet bars were still delicious, but I think they were better with a bit more sugar. Still, I think you can fiddle with the amount. Given the brown sugar in the crumble layer and in the topping, they will be somewhat sweet no matter what.) In most of my batches, I added walnuts to the top layer, which I'd definitely recommend.

What I love about this recipe, besides its sheer deliciousness, is that the bars travel well and keep well and stay delicious, if slightly smushed, for days. They're great plain or with ice cream, for breakfast, tea or dessert. (And on one fine night, Alex and I skipped dinner entirely and just ate blueberry bars with homemade peach ice cream. Yum.) The recipe also makes a generous batch, although the first time I made them, they were such a revelation that three of us managed to polish off half a pan in one sitting . . . and after a good dinner. They're that good. After three batches of the plain blueberry bars in a rather short span of time, I branched out and made the peach-blueberry version. I included her recipe variation below, but if you want more detail, Farmgirl Susan talks about it here.

And not that my handsome Kalu and sunflowers have anything to do with blueberry bars, but I couldn't resist. I decided that he liked lolling around next to the sunflowers because they complimented his eyes.

Blueberry Breakfast Bars
Adapted from Farmgirl Fare

Bottom Layer
2 cups old-fashioned oats
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (Can substitute 1/4 cup whole wheat (pastry) flour for 1/4 cup white)
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

5-6 Tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Top Layer
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (can replace some white flour with ww pastry flour if desired)
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 stick (4 tbsp.) butter
approx. 1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional) or more to taste (If you don't use the walnuts, you might want to up the amount of flour, up to 1 cup total.) 

Middle Layer
3-1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries (I usually upped this to 2 full pints.)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/2 - 3/4 cup granulated sugar (depending on sweetness of fruit and your own taste)
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (1/4 tsp. if freshly ground)
Zest of one lemon

For the Bottom Layer:
Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Grease a 9" x 13" pan. (I put a piece of parchment in the pan and lightly sprayed that with cooking spray.) In a large bowl, combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the melted butter and vanilla until thoroughly combined. (With the smaller amount of butter, you'll need to spend a bit more time on the mixing part to get everything combined.) Press this mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan with your fingers. (You can also use the bottom of a stainless steel measuring cup to help make the crust flat and even--Farmgirl Susan recommended this, and I concur.)

For the Top Layer:
Place the flour, brown sugar, and butter in a small bowl and use a fork, pastry blender, or your fingers to combine until the mixture resembles large crumbs (some pea-sized clumps are okay). You can also use a food processor or mini-chopper, pulsing briefly to combine everything. Set aside.

For the Middle Layer:
Place the blueberries in the bowl you mixed the Bottom Layer in and toss them with the rest of the ingredients. Pour them evenly over the Bottom Layer in the pan. (If the sugar/flour doesn't stick, you can sprinkle them over the blueberries once they're in the pan, but I didn't have any problem with this.)

Sprinkle the Top Layer evenly over the blueberry mixture. Bake at 425 degrees F for 15 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes, until the top is golden, and the edges are starting to brown. Let cool in pan on a wire rack. Store in a cool place or refrigerate. Bars may also be frozen.

Just Peachy Blueberry Breakfast Bars:
Substitute 3 cups of small peach chunks (about 2 peaches, no need to peel them) and 2 cups of fresh or frozen blueberries for the 3-1/2 cups of blueberries. (It also works vice-versa, with 2 cups of peaches and 3 of blueberries.) Toss the sugar and flour directly with the fruit before spreading it over the bottom layer. Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then lower the oven to 350 degrees and bake until topping looks "dry" but edges aren't too brown, about 30 to 40 minutes.


Sharon said...

You rock. This is our plan for Sunday morning....yay!!

Sue Dickman said...

Excellent! I told you I'd get it up here--it just took slightly longer than expected . . .