These summery bars have three components, the buttery, shortbread-y crust, the fruity filling with homemade apricot jam and apricot slices and the mixed grain-almond crumble. None of the three require the use of an electric mixer, meaning that they can be made entirely by hand.
And I would even go so far as to say that when you compare these bars to other dessert bars, they do have a certain healthy-ish, feel-good advantage - as I use spelt flour for the base and mixed grain flakes as well as almonds for the crumble, as well as fresh seasonal stone fruit for the filling – all in all resulting in wonderfully delicious, summery dessert bar that is also fantastic for breakfast or simply as a snack. Of course, coarse oats can be used instead of the coarse mixed grain flakes.
First up the buttery crust, once all the components are roughly mixed together, butter and line a square (brownie) baking pan with baking parchment, dump the buttery mix into the pan and, using a floured measuring cup (or similar suitable piece of equipment with a flat bottom) make sure to flatten and only slightly press on the ingredients, until you have a uniform layer of crust. Then freeze that for about 15 minutes. Pre-heat your oven in the meantime and prepare the filling and the topping while the crust is freezing and baking. Pre-baking for 15 to 20 minutes (depending on your oven) is a must here - just until the crust is golden.
For the fruity filling use homemade or good-quality (meaning a high ratio of fruit to sugar) jam or preserve. You will also add a layer of peeled and thinly sliced apricots. Apricots are in season and abundantly available these days. Make sure to try a few before using, just to make sure they are ripe but not too soft for peeling. To peel, mark the fruit with an x, boil for about 30 seconds to 1 minute (depending on the ripeness of your fruit), transfer to a bowl with ice water, peel, de-stone and slice (depending on the size of the apricot, about 4 slices per half). If apricots are not your thing, you can substitute equal amounts of stone-fruits and jam/preserve, like peaches, nectarines or later in the season, even plums.
Lastly, prepare the crumble layer. Once you finished the crumble, leave it in the freezer while the shortbread crust is baking and cooling. Now I love the taste and bite of mixed grains and coarse oats but if you don’t, just use quick cooking oats instead of the coarse oats. As far as the coarse oats are concerned, I use a mix of organic grain flakes consisting of coarse oats, wheat, rye, spelt and barley but all coarse oats is just as delicious. And I add flaked almonds to the crumble mix as well but you can omit them if you prefer a nut free recipe.
The apricots: fresh apricots are loose-stoned fruit that range in color from pale yellow to flushed pink. When they are ripe, their flesh is sweet, soft and juicy. They can vary greatly in quality. If they taste somewhat mealy when eaten fresh, cook them into a dish and they will become very flavorsome.
Apricots make wonderful jam if cooked with sugar and lemon juice. The jam is commonly used as a glaze on pastries, tarts and cakes, just melt the jam with water and strain before applying. And the strong sweet-tart taste of apricots makes them generally popular in desserts and sauces.
The seeds or kernals of the apricot pits, which are poisonous until roasted, are used in confections and to flavor liqueurs. Seeds or kernels of the apricot grown in central Asia and around the Mediterranean are so sweet that they may be substituted for almonds. Did you realize that the popular Italian liqueur Amaretto as well as the wonderful Amaretti Biscotti are flavored with extract of apricot kernels rather than almonds. And oil pressed from these cultivars has been used as cooking oil as well (Aprikosenkernöl).
While the amazing flavor of the apricots is undisputed, the origin of the apricot is another story. The apricot was known in Armenia during ancient times, and has been cultivated there for so long that it is often thought to have originated there. Its scientific name Prunus armeniaca (translated as Armenian plum) derives from that very assumption. And the Belgian arborist Baron de Poerderlé, writing in the 1770s, stated that "Cet arbre tire son nom de l'Arménie, province d'Asie, d'où il est originaire et d'où il fut porté en Europe ..." ("this tree takes its name from Armenia, province of Asia, where it is native, and whence it was brought to Europe ..."). Others, however, argue that apricots originated in China or were first cultivated in India in about 3000 BC. It is said Alexander the Great brought them to Greece and they were first introduced to the New World in the early 18th century by Spanish missionaries in California. Wherever apricots were cultivated first, they are delicious and healthy with a rather short season, so indulge while you can.
Apricot-Mixed Grain Crumb Bars
For the Shortbread Crust
- 200g (1 ½ cups) white spelt flour OR use all purpose (plain) flour
- 70g (1/3 cup) superfine (baking) sugar
- 8g pure vanilla sugar
- 1 pinch of fine salt
- 140g (10 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the Fruity Filling
- 140g (5 ounces) apricot jam or preserves (preferably homemade)
- 8 to 10 smallish fresh apricots (peeled and pitted, they weigh about 250g)
For the Crumbly Topping
- 45g (1/3 cup) white spelt flour OR use all purpose (plain) flour
- 1 tbsp dark brown sugar OR use light brown sugar
- 1 tbsp superfine (baking) sugar
- 8g pure vanilla sugar
- a pinch of fine salt
- ¼ tsp Ceylon cinnamon OR go with ground cardamom instead if cinnamon is not your thing
- 45g (½ cup) coarse multi gran flakes OR coarse oats OR use quick-cooking oats if you prefer
- 45g (½ cup) flaked almonds
- 45g (3 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- Butter a 20x20cm (8inx8in) square baking pan (such as a brownie pan) and line with parchment paper (preferably with overlapping baking paper, so the baked bars can easily be lifted from the pan without breaking).
- For the crust: in a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, vanilla sugar and a pinch of salt together in a medium bowl. Add the butter to the flour mixture and mix, using your hands. until it comes together in a crumbly batter. Dump this into the parchment lined pan and press into an even layer, corner to corner. Then cover and put the crust into the freezer for 15 minutes or until nice and firm.
- Preheat the oven to 190°C (375° F).
- For the filling: while the crust is in the freezer, peel your apricots. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cut a small X into the bottom of each fruit. Dunk the apricots into the boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then transfer to a bowl of ice water. The skin should peel off easily starting from the X. Slice the apricot flesh into small wedges and set aside.
- Remove the pan with the crust from freezer and bake for 15 to 18 minutes until deep golden.
- For the topping: assemble the topping by placing all the ingredients into a bowl and squeazing them together with a fork or your fingers. Place in the freezer until ready to use.
- Once you removed the baked crust from the oven, you should allow it to cool slightly before coating with the jam/preserves, followed by the fresh slices, spaced to cover. Then top that with the cooled crumble topping and return to the oven for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown and baked through.
- Transfer to a cooling rack and make sure to allow to cool completely before cutting so that the jam/preserve and fruit filling can set properly. NOTE: These are definitely best eaten the day they are made but leftovers can be frozen or kept in the fridge for a day (well wrapped, of course to keep moisture away from their buttery goodness).
Below is a collage of Yotam Ottolanghi's Apricot & Rosemary Galette, that I made a while ago, for more on this lovely, seasonal apricot recipe, pls go HERE
In Europe, apricots were long considered an aphrodisiac, and were used in this context in William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. And dreaming of apricots, in English folklore, is said to be good luck.
"Feed him with apricocks and dewberries,
With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries,"
William Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act III, Scene 1