On the long list of things that sparkle this season is the fact that my back porch smells like gardenias. The closed blossoms have a new, green perfumey smell that only deepens as the flower blooms to bright white and ages to yellow.
The beauty is so present these days, the young greens, and the flowering trees – it feels like, if we’re paying enough attention we surely have an embarrassment of riches on our hands.
I suppose the best way is to breath deeply, soak in that still mild sunshine, and but all of the strawberries at the market we can get our hands on. Well… at least a few pints at a time.
I hope this finds you looking forward to a lovely Spring weekend celebrating the mothers around you or the mother within you. And let there be strawberries.
We’re headed halfway towards pie with these bars.
Think: thick shortbread crust and a pecan-studded almost-cookie topping sandwiches several heaping cups of fresh strawberries. YES.
Here’s what you’ll need for these pie bars:
• Flour + sugar + butter, cinnamon, and salt for a shortbread press-in crust that doubles as a crumble topping.
• Pecans to turn the crust into crumble top. If nuts aren’t for you, oats will do! (That was a poem, clearly.)
• Two green baskets of fresh strawberries. The closer those strawberries grow from the oven you’re going to cook them in, the better they’ll be. That’s just one of the ways the world works.
• Sugar and lemon juice to macerate the strawberries. Ground ginger and nutmeg for a hint of spice. Melted butter because, always.
• Minute tapioca pudding as our thickener. (Linked, but you should be able to find it at the grocery.) I find it works better than cornstarch for juicy strawberries.
We’ll start by making the crust.
Two sticks (that’s one cup) of unsalted, softened butter goes into a bowl.
Two kinds of sugar: granulated and brown.
A splash of pure vanilla extract. Whip until pale and fluffy.
To the fluffy butter we’ll add our dry ingredients: flour, salt, and a dash of cinnamon for it’s warming qualities.
The mixture will be moist and crumbly. You’ll know it’s right if your instinct is to eat the entire mixture raw. Ya feel me? (I know you do.)
We’ll divide the crust mixture into two. Two-thirds of the dough goes into a sprayed and lined baking sheet. A press press nudge press will spread the dough evenly across the bottom of the pan just like so.
The remaining one third (we just did math) we’ll reserve for the topping. Try not to eat it all.
Let’s talk to these strawberries.
Louisiana’s Ponchatoula strawberries are some of the most delicious I’ve ever tasted which… well that’s a humble brag and I’m just going to let it stand.
We’ll heighten the flavor with granulated sugar which will also extract the natural juices from berries.
Fresh lemon juice will balance the sweetness of the strawberries and work with the sugar to pull out sweet sweet strawberry juice.
A dash of salt + Ground ginger + ground nutmeg + a dash of ground cinnamon if you’d like.
I especially like the hint of warm spice the ground ginger adds to the strawberries.
Allowing the strawberries to sit for about 15 minutes give the strawberries time to produce some sweet juice.
Let’s talk about thickener. With a lot of fruit pies (apple, for example), I use cornstarch as thickener. Cornstarch thickens as the liquid in a pie boils in the oven. Cornstarch is great when used with a fruit that also has a decent amount of pectin in it as pectin is a natural thickener.
With berries that have a lot of water (helloooo strawberries!), a stronger thickener is helpful. Minute tapioca pudding is the way to go! Minute tapioca is more coarse than cornstarch and mixes into the strawberries like little granolas. It some time in the oven they’ll soften and bake away. It will also continue to thicken after it bakes which doesn’t happen with cornstarch. Consider it!
The crust is baked to lightly golden and just set.
Pile on the strawberries!
We’ll turn the remaining crust into crumble but adding a handful of finely chopped pecans.
Remember, old-fashioned oats would be a good substitute for pecans! Options!
Crumble the topping atop the strawberries, covering as much of the strawberries as you can.
And we’ll give it all a chance to bake!
The crust will turn a deep golden brown as the bars bake but it’s the strawberries we’re looking out for.
Because the strawberries are fresh, they’ll need time to soften and break down enough to release their juice and absorb the tapioca. You’ll know because the mixture will be hot enough to bubble consistently.
If there are white tapioca bits on top of the strawberries that haven’t softened into the bars, take the pan out of the oven and use a spoon to press the strawberries lightly into the bars. Mix it in juuuust a bit.
It’s best to let the bars cool completely and chill in the refrigerator before lifting them out of the pan.
The crust is holding a lot of strawberries and the chill helps settle and harden the crust.
Just before serving, dust lightly with powdered sugar.
Tender-fruited. Thick-crusted. Sweet and buttery. Strawberry bars with whole fruits and a Spring in it’s step!
Enjoy these beautiful days!
Photos with Jon Melendez!