Saturday, July 6, 2013

Rhubarb Almond Bars

On the same day I made strawberry rhubarb jam this week, I made these luscious Rhubarb Almond Bars.  (The rhubarb was thawed, I had the kitchen heated up–it seemed like a logical decision.  Also, I honestly can’t have too much rhubarb in my life.)  I started with this recipe from Midwest Living, which sounded really delicious but needed a gluten-free treatment if I was going to be able to enjoy them.

Here’s the result:

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Gooey, delicious rhubarb with a little crunch of almond.  The original recipe called for  pecans or walnuts, and I think those might be very tasty, but almond and rhubarb is a combination that’s hard to beat.  I also added almond extract to the fruit filling, just for an extra layer of flavor, and used tapioca in place of flour for a thickener.  Either one will work, and if you’re used to using flour as a thickener in pie filling, you might want to stick with that.  I’ve always preferred the texture I get from tapioca.

This recipe does call for oats, and in the gluten-free community oats are somewhat controversial.  It’s widely believed that certified gluten-free oats are safe for people who need to stay away from gluten completely, but some people choose to avoid them anyway because oats are often grown near wheat.  Oats themselves do not contain gluten; the gluten-free designator is meant to signify that the oats in question have been grown apart from wheat and processed in a dedicated gluten-free facility.  If you have celiac disease, you’ll definitely want to seek out gluten-free oats, if you choose to eat them at all.  If, like me, your gluten sensitivity is less severe, you might be okay with regular oats.  As with all things dietary, the key is to pay attention to your body.  If regular oats make you feel bloated and nauseous, then try a gluten-free variety and see if that makes a difference.

I also used a gluten-free flour blend in place of regular all-purpose flour, and instead of mixing the almonds into the crust I sprinkled them over the top of the rhubarb filling before adding the second layer of crumb.  I wanted the almonds to be visible and whole, not crunchy little bits that disappeared into the crust of these bars.  As you can see from the photos, the sliced almonds are definitely visible.  They add a really nice bit of contrast to the soft crumb and the gooey fruit filling.

What I love most about these bars is that they’re rustic and homey, which is what I think rhubarb is meant to be.  They’re certainly not low-calorie, but a little indulgence is a good thing once in awhile.  These are very tender fork-and-plate bars, not a dessert to eat out of hand, and they’re delicious warm or cold–although, like all gluten-free baked goods, they’ll be crumbly if you eat them while they’re warm.

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Rhubarb Almond Bars

Ingredients:

For the rhubarb filling:
3 cups of sliced rhubarb, fresh or frozen
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
2 T. tapioca
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract

For the base and topping:
1 1/2 cups flour (I used Pamela's Artisan Blend)
1 1/2 cups oats
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into cubes and chilled
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Directions:

In a large saucepan, combine the rhubarb, sugar, and water. Cook over medium-high heat until the rhubarb starts to release some its juices, then stir in the tapioca. Bring this mixture to a boil. Cover the saucepan and reduce the heat slightly. Let the rhubarb simmer for about 5 minutes, until the fruit falls apart and the mixture thickens. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the vanilla and almond extracts. Let the filling cool while you're making the crumb.

Lightly coat a 9 x 13 inch pan with non-stick spray and set it aside. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, oats, brown sugar, and baking soda. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut the cold butter into the dry mixture until you have pea-sized crumbs. Reserve 1 cup of this crumb mixture for the topping.

Pour the remaining crumb mixture into your prepared 9 x 13 pan. Spread it evenly across the bottom of the pan, then press down firmly to make the base. Spread the rhubarb mixture evenly over the top of this layer. Sprinkle the rhubarb with the almonds. Finally, sprinkle the reserved crumb mixture over everything.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the fruit is bubbly. (My bars took more like 35 minutes. Your mileage may vary.) Cool and cut into bars.

 

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