Fruit and Nut Bars

I’ve said it once before, but I’ll say it again, homemade granola bars outshine every store bought version.  This quick and easy recipe for Fruit and Nut Bars is so simple that at one point in the recipe, you use your hands to combine the ingredients (no fancy mixer needed).  The most “advanced” step involves using a fork to stir the egg and vanilla together.  You can totally do this.

My version of these bars included pecans, cashews, almonds, dates, dried apricots, dried cranberries, and dried blueberries.  Some brown sugar, a little  bit of cinnamon and vanilla, an egg, and just enough flour to hold it all together round out the ingredients.  The result is bars that are dense and chewy, sweet and nutty, and slightly tart.

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A close up of all that deliciousness.

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Fruit and Nut Bars

Makes 16 2-inch bars or 25 smaller bars (8×8 inch pan)
(from Alice Medrich’s Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies)
My notes are in [  ] below.

Ingredients

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1.625 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt [less if the nuts you use are salted]
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon [optional; this was not in the original recipe but I like a hint of cinnamon in my baked goods.]
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2.625 ounces) packed light or dark brown sugar
2 cups (7 ounces) of nuts [can be whole or pieces; I prefer a mix of almonds, cashews, pistachios, and pecans.  The original recipe specified walnuts only.]
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) dates, pitted and cut into quarters [I like a mix of dried fruit so I used 5 ounces of dates, 2 ounces of dried cranberries, and 2 ounces of dried blueberries.  Dried cherries are also a nice flavor addition.]
1 cup (5 ounces) lightly packed dried apricot halves, each cut in half [I used a little less than this because I didn’t want my bars too tart.]
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325° F.  Position a rack in the center of the oven.
  2. Line an 8-inch square pan (the bottom and all 4 sides) with heavy duty foil and spray with baking spray or line the pan with parchment paper.  The bars are pretty sticky, so I prefer using parchment paper.
  3. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon (if using) in a very large bowl, and mix together thoroughly with a whisk or fork.
  4. Add  the brown sugar, nuts, dates, and dried fruit (including the dried apricots).  Use your fingers to mix the ingredients until the nuts and fruits are coated with the flour mixture, and separate any sticky fruit pieces.
  5. Vigorously whisk the egg with the vanilla in a small bowl until light colored and thickened.
  6. Scrape the egg mixture into the large bowl, and mix with your hands until all of the fruit and nut pieces are thinly coated with batter.
  7. Spread the mixture into the pan, pressing down to compress the batter and even it out.
  8. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until the thin batter coating is dark golden brown and has pulled away from the sides of the pan.
  9. Cool in the pan on a rack.
  10. Drizzle the top with honey, if you like your bars a little sweeter.
  11. Life the ends of the foil/parchment, and transfer the bars to a cutting board.  Use a sharp knife to cut 16 or 25 squares.

Note:  The bars can be kept in an airtight container for at least 2 weeks at room temperature, or longer in the refrigerator.

Fruit Upside-Down Cake

Gummi vitamins are not the only way to get your daily servings of fruit.  I present to you another option with this Fruit Upside-Down Cake.  So, the nutritional content may be more cake than actual fruit, but who’s complaining? You can make this cake with a variety of fruit (fresh or frozen).  I used yellow peaches, white nectarines, and plums.  The great thing about this cake is that you can be creative with your fruit combinations and make the cake look as rustic or fancy as you’d like, and it will always taste good. Fruit upside down cake- kitchn 2

Fruit Upside-Down Cake

(Adapted from The Kitchn)
Makes one 9-inch cake, serving 8 to 10 people

Ingredients

Fruit Topping

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
2-3 cups fruit (I used yellow peaches, white nectarines, and plums)

Cake

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2 teaspoon vanilla

Directions

  1. Preheat your oven to 350°F.
  2. If you are using fresh fruit, be sure it is washed and dried. Slice it into wedges or dice it into large 1″ chunks. Most berries can be left whole and smaller stone fruit such as cherries and apricots can be halved. If using frozen fruit, do not defrost.
  3. To make the brown sugar glaze, place your 9-inch cake pan on a burner over low heat and add the butter.
  4. Once the butter has melted, add the brown sugar and stir it gently. When the brown sugar has melted, turn off the heat, but leave the pan on the stove.
  5. To make the cake batter, in the stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy.
  6. Add the eggs one at a time to the butter-sugar mixture, beating well in between.
  7. Add the vanilla to the wet ingredients.
  8. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.
  9. Add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients, and beat on low-speed until just combined, about one minute.
  10. Arrange the fruit in the baking pan, being sure to crowd the pan as much as possible. The fruit will shrink a little when baked.  I created an overlapping spiral pattern with my fruit.
  11. Dollop cake batter over the fruit, making sure it is evenly distributed. Smooth with a spatula.
  12. Put the cake pan on a baking sheet (in case the fruit bubbles up and overflows) in the oven.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a thin knife or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  13. Remove the cake from the baking sheet and place it on a cooling rack. Let the cake settle for a minute, until any fruit that has leaked up the sides has stopped bubbling. Do not let the cake cool or you will not be able to get it out of the pan.  Run a knife around the edges of the cake. Place your cake plate over the cake and, using hot pads, carefully flip the cake over. Gently remove the cake pan. Be careful, as the fruit and glaze is still quite hot and will burn.
    Re-arrange the fruit and let the cake cool. If any pieces of fruit are stuck to the cake pan, gently scrape them up with a knife and replace them on the cake. Let the cake cool.
  14. Serve the cake at room temperature or sightly warm.

To store, wrap carefully in plastic wrap or store in an airtight container.

Strawberry Fruit Strips

Every so often I take a break from my usual cookie, cake, and brownie baking to experiment with making something that’s a little off the beaten path.  This time it was Fruit Roll Ups… you know, those sweet, brightly colored snacks with wacky flavor names that were huge in the 80s and 90s but didn’t really contain much discernible fruit (and that’s probably why I liked them so much).  So, I was intrigued to find a recipe for fruit roll ups that contained nearly all fruit.  These Strawberry Fruit Strips are tart, sweet, and slightly crunchy from strawberry seeds, and they’re healthy!  It’s a perfect way to make good use of any extra strawberries you have that you haven’t turned into jam, pies, tarts, cakes, sauce, sorbet, ice cream…

Fruit Strips- A Dodge 1

Fruit Strips- A Dodge 6

All-Fruit Fruit Strips

(From Mini Treats & Hand-Held Sweets by Abigail Johnson Dodge)
Makes twelve 1-inch strips

Ingredients

1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 to 3 tablespoons honey
Pinch of table salt

Directions

  1. Put the fruit in a food processor and pulse until completely smooth, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Pour the fruit puree into a medium saucepan, stir in the lemon juice, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.
  3. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring often, until it’s very thick and reduced to 2/3 cup, about 20 to 26 minutes.
  4. Remove the pan from the heat and add the honey, to taste, and the salt.  Stir until well combined.
  5. Position an oven rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 175°F.  Line a cookie sheet with a nonstick liner (like Silpat).  You can use parchment paper if you don’t have a nonstick liner, but it will be more difficult to peel the dried fruit from the parchment paper after baking.
  6. Scrape the puree onto the center of the sheet and using an offset spatula, spread evenly into an 8×12-inch rectangle (it should be about 1/8 inch thick).
  7. Bake until the puree looks dry and is tacky, but not sticky, when you touch it with your fingertips.  This can take as little as 2 hours.  It took about 3 hours for my fruit strips to get tacky enough.
  8. Turn off the oven and let the fruit cool in the oven and continue to dry out. After 2 hours, test the leather to see if it is mostly dry and can be peeled easily from the liner/parchment paper.  If the fruit is not dry enough, leave it in the oven for a few more hours or overnight.  I left mine in the oven overnight.
  9. Cut a piece of parchment into an 8×13-inch rectangle.
  10. Arrange the parchment on top of the dried fruit, leaving about a 1-inch overhang on one long side, and press gently to smooth out any wrinkles in the fruit.  Smoothing out the wrinkles is easier said than done.  As you can see in the photo, my fruit was quite wrinkly but that might be because I used parchment paper to line the cookie sheet instead of a Silpat.
  11. Invert the nonstick liner/initial piece of parchment so that the second layer of parchment is on the bottom, and carefully peel away the liner/first piece of parchment.  If you used parchment as your initial liner, this is where it gets a bit difficult to peel off the fruit.
  12. Fold the overhang on top of the fruit and beginning with one long side, roll the leather and parchment together into a tight roll, jelly roll style.
  13. Using a sharp knife, cut the fruit leather into 1-inch pieces and stow in a ziptop plastic bag at room temperature for up to 3 weeks.

Orange-Lemon Curd

When I was in graduate school, my girlfriends and I would go out to afternoon tea, and for me the scones and biscuits mainly served as vehicles for consuming as much sweet, tart, creamy lemon curd as possible.  It took me too many years to realize that homemade lemon curd isn’t that tricky to make, and this recipe ensures that you can have lemon curd any time you want.  For this version, I didn’t have enough fresh lemon juice, so I substituted some fresh squeezed orange juice too.  The orange juice cuts the tartness a bit and makes the curd a little sweeter.

Orange-lemon curd

Orange-lemon curd is an especially good topping for Scottish Shortbread.

Scottish Shortbread w lemon-lime curd- FC 4

Orange-Lemon Curd

(Adapted from Fine Cooking)
Makes 2 cups

Ingredients

3 oz. (6 Tbs.) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup fresh orange juice (if you want to make lemon curd, omit the orange juice and use a total of 2/3 cup of fresh lemon juice)

Directions

Fine Cooking provides a really useful picture tutorial of the curd making process.  You can find it here.

  1. In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer, about 2 minutes.
  2. Slowly add the eggs and yolks. Beat for 1 minute.
  3. Mix in the orange and lemon juices. The mixture will look curdled, but it will smooth out as it cooks.
  4. In a medium, heavy-based saucepan, cook the mixture over low heat until it looks smooth. (The curdled appearance disappears as the butter in the mixture melts.)
  5. Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly.  Don’t let the mixture boil.  Cook until the mixture thickens, about 15 minutes. It should leave a path on the back of a spoon and will read 170°F on a thermometer.
  6. Remove the curd from the heat.  Strain the curd to remove any egg solids that may have formed, and transfer the curd to a bowl. Press plastic wrap on the surface of the curd to keep a skin from forming, and chill the curd in the refrigerator.
  7. The curd will thicken further as it cools. Covered tightly, it will keep in the refrigerator for a week and in the freezer for 2 months.