Here is cherry treat number two! I never thought I'd be posting two recipes containing cherries back to back, but here I am. While I loved both cherry treats I made over the weekend, I'm back to enjoying cherries fresh off the stem. I don't need to go back and explain my love affair with fresh cherries all over again, so let's move on to these Cherry Breakfast Bars, shall we?
The name of these bars might be a little misleading- they're not really breakfasty. I mean, they can definitely be enjoyed for breakfast, and I'm not going to deny that I ate a bar one morning alongside a glass of orange juice and called it a meal, but I think they're best enjoyed later in the afternoon, or ideally, as a midnight snack. I suppose they're called "breakfast" bars because they have oats in them...which is reason enough. Sounds good to me! These breakfast bars are from one of my favorite cookbooks ever, written by the wonderful Matt and Renato over at Baked in Red Hook (I still haven't been there, but it has become my mission to make it over to Red Hook one weekend before summer is over to have pupusas for lunch at the ball fields and then a giant brownie at Baked for dessert, because that just sounds like the most splendid day ever). I've become a much bigger fan of bar cookies in recent weeks; it wasn't so much that I didn't like them as much as the fact that they just didn't occur to me as naturally as regular cookies did. Bar cookies are perfect for summertime baking because they're always easy to assemble, yield a ton, and can last a decent amount of time, making them a great option for summer picnics and barbecues. When your cookie bars are filled with delicious and fresh summer fruit, they're even more perfect! The breakfast bars from the Baked cookbook use fresh raspberries, but I thought that making a cherry version would be a fun twist on an already delicious recipe.
These bars are a piece of cake to put together. There's three main components to the recipe; make the crust, make the filling, and assemble. It's really simple and quick when get to it. The only annoying part is pitting the cherries, but there's no real way around it if you want to use fresh cherries. I'm sure that using frozen cherries would be just fine in a recipe like this, and it would certainly be a quicker process! If you're crazy like me though, you'll pit the cherries as fast as you can (you don't need a cherry pitter for this recipe, since the cherries will be sliced in half) and get on with the rest of the recipe. Actually, the timing works out just fine if you use fresh cherries for the filling. The crust takes all of about two minutes in your food processor to make, and while it bakes in the oven, you can get to work pitting the cherries. You might still be pitting cherries by the time the crust comes out of the oven, but that's ok because it needs to cool anyway. The cooling phase gives you just enough time to finish up with your cherry pitting and mix up the cherry filling.
The filling for these bars couldn't be any simpler. It's just a matter of whisking together a little brown sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon and flour, and combining that with our freshly pitted cherries, lemon juice, and some melted butter. It's the simplest of fillings, but it's perfectly delicious. I found it a little on the sweet side, so if you like your desserts a little less sweet or don't mind if your cherries are slightly tart, I think you could easily make this with just three tablespoons of brown sugar and be fine. It's probably what I'll do next time I make these bars, along with adding a touch of almond extract and maybe browning the butter in the filling, if I'm feeling daring. I think the almond extract would pair really nicely with the cherries, and brown butter makes everything better, so I'm sure it would be a fine addition to the filling.
I was in love with these cherry breakfast bars when I finally got to try one. They were sweet and slightly tart, and every now and then you get a big bite of cherry in your mouth- that's definitely the best part, in my opinion. The bars are actually something like a really delicious oatmeal sandwich cookie with a thick layer of sweet, plump cherries. They're a little bit much for breakfast I think, but are amazing at any other time of day. Late afternoon is my time of choice, so maybe these should be called Cherry Afternoon Bars? I'm not sure how I feel about that name, so for now, they'll just be cherry breakfast bars. These cherry bars are delicious any time of day, so make a batch and enjoy!
Cherry Breakfast Bars
recipe adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking
For the Crust and Topping
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 1/4 cups old fashioned rolled oats
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, diced, cold
For the Cherry Filling
1/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/4 pounds pitted fresh cherries, sliced in half
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Begin by preparing the crust and topping. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and position a rack in the middle of the oven. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan with nonstick spray, and line bottom and sides of the pan with aluminum foil, leaving a 2-inch overhang on either side. Lightly spray the foil, and set aside.
Combine the flour, brown sugar, oats, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in a food processor. Pulse the mixture in short bursts until combined. Add in the butter, and pulse until loose crumbs form. Set aside 1 1/2 cups of the mixture. Pour the remaining mixture into the prepared pan and using your hands, press the crust into an even layer at the bottom of the pan, extending the crust all the way to the sides of the pan. Bake the crust until it's golden brown, about 13-15 minutes. Place the crust on a wire rack and let the crust cool, but keep the oven on while you prepare the cherry filling.
To make the cherry filling, whisk together the sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon, and flour. Add in the sliced cherries, lemon juice, and melted butter and toss gently to evenly coat the cherries.
To assemble the bars, pour the cherry filling over the cooled crust and then spread into an even layer. Sprinkle the reserved topping mixture over the cherry filling layer. Bake for 35-45, minutes, until the top crust is deep golden brown and the filling is bubbling around the edges. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely before cutting into squares. The bars are easiest to slice if they have chilled in the fridge for an hour or so. Store any uneaten bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Enjoy!
Makes 24 squares