Earlier this month, during the first group blog day about our favorite blogs, I mentioned that I was rather in a rut when it came to food blogs. Not that my favorite food blogs aren't worth visiting often, but I was beginning to realize that I wasn't straying too far from them, which really is a loss, given the quantity and quality of food blogs around these days.
So, one thing the blogathon has done is broaden my horizons. First, it led me to Jen Walker's My Morning Chocolate, and Jen, in turn, led me to Sweet Mary, who, in turn, led me to these rhubarb oatmeal bars, which I made a few days ago.
Clearly, I enjoy cooking with rhubarb (see 2008's Rhubarb Season, 2009's Rhubarb Redux and this year's Rhubarb Roundup), but again, I was in a bit of a rut, falling back on my favorite rhubarb-ginger-lemon combination. And, to be honest, only the fact that I still had no crystallized ginger in the house kept me from using that combo again in these bars. (That has been remedied since I made these.) I decided, instead, for this first time, just to follow the recipe and (mostly) not fiddle with it. It was instructive--I learned a new tasty rhubarb combination--and also inspiring--even as I was making the recipe, I was thinking of ways to tweak it.
This recipe shares some traits with the blueberry crumble bars we all fell in love with last summer. There is an oatmeal bottom and a fruity filling. This time, however, the topping is not a separate thing but more of the bottom layer sprinkled across the top, simplifying the recipe and the dishwashing both. I couldn't resist a single tweak and added some chopped walnuts to the topping. Mary uses orange juice and orange zest, along with vanilla and some powdered ginger, to flavor the rhubarb, and it's a nice combination. There's a citrus tang, but it's not quite as tart as the lemon/crystallized ginger combo. I have to admit, though, that next time I probably will try them using crystallized ginger and lemon zest, just for the hell of it.
The dough, which you mix with an electric mixer rather than by hand, is rather stiff, and I had to actively press it into the pan. I probably used slightly more than half of the dough for the bottom and the rest on top.
The rhubarb bars were bubbling and crumbly when they came out of the oven. I let them cool in the pan before I tried to cut them.
I have two brief stories about the response to these rhubarb bars. I brought the bulk of them to the office barbecue. When I offered one to a chocolate-loving colleague, she said, "No, I don't care for rhubarb." But later, in the kitchen when we were putting things away, someone else was taking a rhubarb bar home, and my rhubarb-disliking colleague was milling around looking for something to take. I jokingly pointed out that she'd spurned my rhubarb bars, and she said, "Okay fine, I'll take one little taste." She cut off a tiny piece, ate it, and paused. "These are really good," she said. "Do you mind if I take some home?"
Since I had still had some left (this barbecue was very well stocked with food, including the largest cookie platter I've ever seen), I left a few for Alex in his fridge. When I asked how he'd liked them, he said, "I hated them. Don't give me anymore." And then he went on and on about how much he hated them. This is not like Alex, and it seemed that perhaps he was protesting a bit too much, that maybe this was more about his propensity to eat too many rhubarb bars than about the rhubarb bars themselves. That became clear last night when he said, "Those rhubarb bars I hated? Do you have any left?"
barely adapted from Sweet Mary
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (1 stick)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup walnuts (optional)
3 cups chopped rhubarb (1/2 inch pieces)
3/4 to 1 cup sugar (I used 1 cup, but 3/4 is also fine)
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tablespoon orange zest
3 tablespoons orange juice
1/4 cup water
Heat oven to 350. Grease a 13x9-inch baking pan with butter or non-stick spray. (I lined the bottom with parchment paper and lightly sprayed that.)
Make filling first.
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Dissolve sugar and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low. Cook until rhubarb has broken down and mixture has thickened a bit. The mixture should be like syrup (meaning not entirely liquid and not as thick as jam). This will take about 10 to 15 minutes. Keep in mind that the mixture will thicken as it cools, too. Cool for about 10 minutes.
While the filling cools, make the crust.
Whisk flour, salt, and baking soda together in a medium bowl.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add flour mixture and mix until fully incorporated. Add the oats and 1/4 cup water. Mix until crumbly.
Firmly pat half of this mixture into the greased baking pan.
Then, add the rhubarb mixture. Spread evenly over the crumble mixture.
Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture on top of the rhubarb. I added a half cup of walnuts to the top as well.
Bake at 350 for 25 minutes until it starts to brown. Cool. Cut into bars.