For nearly the whole time I have known him, Bryan has raved about a small peninsula near Green Bay (Wisconsin) called Door County. It basically contains a chain of quaint Midwestern vacation towns, and they all seem to mysteriously enjoy a practice called a "fish boil" in which you go to a restaurant where, out back, they throw fish, potatoes, and probably some other stuff into a giant cauldron of boiling water until it's, I guess, cooked. I'm perplexed to be honest.
But they also, as I found out when we spent a weekend there recently, have cherries. Orchard after orchard of trees, in fact, bending under the weight of a thousand fat, juicy cherries that are so ripe that when you go to pick them, the flesh falls off in your hands, leaving the stem and pit still attached to the tree. I genuinely have never seen anything like it. They warn you that these cherries are sour, but I think that's just a marketing ploy to stop you, when you're picking your own, from eating three times as many as you put in the bucket.
These cherries are more tart than anything, so present with flavor that not much else is needed in a bar (or, if I had the courage to attempt making my own crust, a pie, but I am still working on making good pie crust, so this time, we will stick with bars). These bars are so easy because the crust and crumble are made in a food processor, using oats rather than flour, since they are dry enough to soak up the excess moisture from the cherries, and also sturdy enough to hold the weight of them without baking twice (as you do for, say, lemon bars). Also, I guess I am revealing my not-so-secret addiction to fruit/oat/streusel desserts.
You'll notice in the recipe that I use unprocessed sugar - either raw or coconut is fine - and that's intentional. The more processed the sugar, the sweeter the taste, right? Well, the sweeter the taste, the more it drowns out the tartness of the cherries, and that's what we're all here for, I assume. Plus, after pitting 8 lbs of these, by hand, one at a time, you really want to taste the fruits of your labor.
The result is a hearty, yet somehow simultaneously delicate bar that contrasts subtle sweetness - from the crust and crumble topping - with the bold tartness of the fresh cherries. The bars are cooked just long enough for the cherries to soften but not lose their form, so you won't feel like you are eating something slathered in cherry jam, but something topped with real cherries. And as a bonus, for those of you who need to worry about this sort of thing, the cherry delivery vehicle, ahem crust and crumble, is made with oats and almond meal, so are gluten-free*.
(*As always, if you are sensitive to gluten, be sure to use a variety of oats that is certified gluten free.)
Best of all, like all of my healthier recipes, they contain no refined sugar (yeah, duh, we already covered this - sorry), very little sweetener, no refined flour, and a ton of fiber (oats) and fresh fruit (I'm sure you can figure this one out on your own). However, just in case that's not enough of a feel-good recipe, I will leave you with just a couple more pictures from our trip to Door County, because when it stops freezing and raining in the middle of July just for a few hours, it really is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen.
Thank you for indulging me. Now, for the recipe!
Tart Cherry Crumble Bars (Gluten-Free)
Adapted from Italian Chips
For the crust:
1 1/4 cups oatmeal
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon melted butter, cooled to room temperature
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup raw or coconut sugar
For the fruit filling:
2 cups tart cherries, pitted and rinsed
1 Tablespoon raw or coconut sugar
1/2 teaspoon corn starch
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
For the crumble:
1/4 cup rolled oats
2 Tablespoons almond meal (very finely ground almonds)
2 Tablespoons raw or coconut sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 Tablespoons cold butter, but into small (1/2") chunks
Preheat the oven to 350F. Thoroughly coat a 9"x5" loaf pan with cooking spray.
Make the crust:
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the chopping blade, pulse the oats a few times to break them into large chunks. Add salt, melted butter, lemon juice, water and sugar and continue to mix by long pulses until completely incorporated. You should still see recognizable grains of oats; they will not be as finely ground as wheat flour, and the mixture will be crumbly and not hold together. Turn mixture into prepared pan and use your fingers or a spatula to evenly distribute and then firmly press into an even layer.
Make the filling:
In a large bowl, gently mix together all of the ingredients until the cornstarch is dissolved and the sugar is evenly distributed and sticking to the cherries. Pour the cherry filling into the pan and gently smooth into an even layer on top of the crust.
Make the crumble:
In the bowl of the same food processor, combine the oats, almond meal, sugar and cinnamon and pulse a few times to roughly mix. Then, sprinkle the butter cubes evenly over the top of the dry ingredients, and pulse 5-10 times until the butter is broken up into pea-sized chunks and the mixture starts to form large and small clumps. Sprinkle the crumble evenly over the top of the cherry layer, being careful not to break up any of the chunks that have formed.
Bake for 45 minutes and allow to cool completely (chill in the fridge if it is a warm day) before cutting into bars.
Makes 8 bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days, in the fridge for a week (it is recommended that you bring the bars back to room temperature before eating), or in the freezer for up to three months.