Sugar. Butter. Vanilla. These are my favorite flavors and the stalwarts in my pastry toolbox. My trusted go-to’s. Sure, chocolate is great but for me it always plays second fiddle to the holy trinity of sugar, butter, and vanilla. Think of the possibilities. Buttery rich shortbread. A crisp warm sugar cookie with a cold glass of milk. Moist gooey pineapple upside down cake. Butterscotch pudding. And my favorite of all time favorites, caramel in any way, shape or form. Ummmmm. Not to say I don’t like chocolate it’s just when given the choice, I tend to veer in the opposite direction. These are the desserts that pique my interest and the ones I tend to make more than others.
I have a sweet tooth. Well that’s really fancy-ing it up. Fact is I’m a sugar addict. Yeah, I said it. I’ll admit it. I need a sugar fix daily, plain and simple and it’s these simple flavors that I crave. At various times, I’ve tried to cut back, even give it up completely for short periods of time (i.e. Lent, NY resolutions, etc.) This hasn’t gone particularly well. I have a strong will and can do anything I put my mind to, but honestly life is too short. I’m at a point where I’ve decided to not fight it anymore. I’ll just pick and chose and as Julia once said, everything in moderation. I like this philosophy.
So recently I had a sugar fix that needed fixing. Flipping through my tattered notebook of recipe favorites, I came across an old favorite. Oatmeal jam bars. Oh perfect! These are good and easy too – they come together in no time. A quick check confirmed that I had everything in the house – oatmeal, butter and of course, lots and lots of jam. One bowl, no muss, no fuss and done in less than an hour. Bingo.
Now then, a key thing is to line the pan with a sling of aluminum foil – one piece tightly fitted in one direction then another piece criss-crossed neatly in the other direction. This is important because if you don’t do it, good luck getting these suckers out of the pan. The jam layer fuses to the pan side and any hope of pretty clean slices is dashed forever. With the foil, you just lift out the slab neatly in one piece, peel it away and off you go. Just do it. (Please note, the recipe calls for a 9”x9” pan but here I used a ¼ sheet pan because I wanted the bars thinner. No worries, same concept.)
This recipe could not be easier. In one bowl mix together oats, flour, brown sugar, baking powder and some salt. Add the melted butter and mush it all together. Sure you could use a spoon or fork but why pass up and opportunity to get your hands in there and muck about?
Press half this mixture into the pan, packing it down nice and tight. The packing is important as it provides structure– it it’s too loose the bars will crumble apart- so really press that stuff down. Meanwhile, warm up your jam of choice with a little water to loosen, or even better a little booze like dark rum or bourbon. Spread this fruity deliciousness over that bottom layer as evenly as possible – a small offset spatula is helpful.
Now find the other half of that butter/oat mixture you made a few moments ago. To this you’re going to add some chopped nuts. I usually use almonds but recently came into a bunch of macadamias so for this batch that’s what I used with my homemade apricot jam. Delicious. I threw some ground ginger into the crumb mixture as well to really jazz it up. The variations are endless – peanuts with a grape jelly. Almonds with raspberry jam. Pecans with strawberry rhubarb jam. Walnuts with blackberry jam. You get the picture – it’s extremely versatile. Use what you’ve got or what strikes your fancy or both.
Now take that nut mixture and crumble it on top, packing down lightly. The mixture should pretty much cover the jam layer. Pop the pan into the oven and bake until golden.
To ease the whole cutting process, once the pan has cooled to room temperature, put it in the fridge or even the freezer for a few hours until firm. The bars will slice much prettier if they’re a bit firm.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: ENORMOUS. This is personal. This is something you make for yourself when you’re feeling a little blue and need a sweet little pick-me-up. Keep them in the freezer and whack off a little corner when you need a fix of buttery, sweet, crumbly deliciousness. Include these in a little cookie box for friends and they’ll be rewarded with a little nibble of comfort. Tuck these into the kids lunchbox and they’ll run home to thank you. Good all around.
OATMEAL JAM BARS
Makes a 9”x9” pan, about 9 bars or a lot more depending on how you slice them.
1 ¾ cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
12 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted ( 1 ½ sticks)
¾ cup good quality jam
1 Tablespoon dark rum (or water)
½ cup finely chopped or sliced nuts (almonds, pecans, macadamias, etc.)
- Preheat the oven to 375° and line a 9”x9” cake/brownie ban with two sheets of foil criss-crossed neatly in opposite directions. All pan surfaces should be covered in foil so you can get the baked bars out of the pan cleanly.
- Spray the foil well with cooking spray and set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the oats, flour, brown sugar, baking powder and salt.
- Add the melted butter and stir to combine thoroughly.
- Pat half of the mixture into the prepared pan, packing the mixture down tightly and evenly.
- Over low heat, combine the jam and the rum (or water) in a small saucepan until loose and smooth.
- Pour the jam over the oat mixture in the pan and using a spoon or offset spatula, spread it evenly to cover the surface.
- Add the nuts to the remaining oatmeal mixture and toss to combine.
- Sprinkle the nut/oat mixture evenly over the jam and pat down lightly.
- Bake 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
- Let cool completely on a wire rack.
- To slice, grab the foil overhang and lift the bars out of the pan.
- Carefully remove the foil from the bars then slice into squares. Hint: this works much better if the bars are chilled or even frozen after cooling.
- Bars will freeze, tightly wrapped for quite a while.