Thursday, February 09, 2006

Cooking School: Oatmeal Crunch Squares

I realise that I don't do very many"bar cookies" on baking sheet. Sure, I have brownies and blondies, if you count those, but I think the world of bar cookies has a lot more to offer than the basics. The reason I don't do more of these is that cookies generally tend to be easier to store and take less time to bake. Somehow, whenever I make bar cookies, I feel a bit as through I've only been able to make one cookie, though I admit that it is a rather large one.
Despite my general non-interest in bar cookies, I could not resist the photo of Oatmeal Crunch Squares in my (relatively) new cookbook, William-Sonoma's Essentials of Baking. The book itself is fantastic - filled with a wide variety of recipes and mouth watering pictures, perhaps none moreso than the photo that accompanies this recipe. Just looking at it (page 149, if you have the book) is enough to almost taste the crisp, crumbly topping melting in your mouth with a kiss of sweet jam, followed by the oaty chew of the bottom of the bar. You might be tempted to either reach for a glass of milk or to try to wipe the crumbs from your face before turning the page.
Fortunately, once you try the recipe, you'll discover that these bars taste quite as good as they look.
They are crumbly and oaty, wth a hint of cinnamon. A cross between a cookie and an excpetionally good granola bar, they are crunchy and chewy at the same time. I am glad that I decided to add a good sized pinch of salt, as that really added some dimension to the basic flavors here. My only complaint was that my jam was difficult to spread on the oat base, so make sure to stir yours well in a small bowl to loosen it up. Try to avoid jams with large chunks of fruit, which will make the bars difficult to cut.
As with all bar cookies, the long baking time isn't something that can be adjusted, but they only take a moment to put together in the food processor and, if you do not have a food processor, can be mixed by hand as well. The squares keep very well in an airtight container, remaining fresh for several days, though they may not last that long.

Cherry Oatmeal Crunch Squares
(Adapted slightly from the Essentials of Baking)
1 3/4 cups ap flour
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup butter, cold and cut into pieces
1 cup/10-oz cherry jam or non-chunky preserves

Preheat the over to 325F and grease a 9-inch square baking pan.
In the food processor, combine flour, oats, sugar, salt and cinnamon. Pulse to combine.
Add butter and pluse 8-10 times, or until the mixture forms large, coarse crumbs. Set aside 2 cups of this mixture.
Pour remaining crumb mixture into prepared pan and pack firmly against the bottom and 1-inch up the sides of the pan. Stir jam to loosen, then spread evenly onto this layer. Top with reserved srumb mixture.
Bake for 50-55 minutes, until bars are a light, golden brown.
Allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack, then cut into squares. Store in an airtight container.
Makes 25.