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strawberry almond crumble bars


Last summer I dumped a jar of seedless blackberry preserves onto a crumbly, shortbread cookie-like crust tinged with almond extract, cinnamon and nutmeg, sprinkled the whole thing with handfuls of crumble topping, and baked it until the fruit was bubbling and the crumble had turned a light golden brown. That dessert was, in a word, luscious. I'm looking forward to making those bars again this summer, this time using fresh fruit, after we've come home from a day of picking blueberries and blackberries, our hands and fingers sticky with purple juice and our faces flushed from the sun and wind.

Because my husband liked those bars so much, and because I had a can of almond pastry filling waiting to be used (one of his favorite flavors) as well as a jar of incredible Danish strawberry preserves, I decided to create a strawberry almond version of those bars as a surprise for breakfast this morning. My youngest daughter eagerly helped mix and stir and taste, happily commenting on each stage of our baking progress.

The end result, with the crumbly cookie base meeting the warm jammy interior, all topped with buttery crumbles, was even better than I had anticipated. I made his usual fried egg, spiced with oregano and rosemary, and slid it onto the plate next to a couple of warmed-up strawberry almond bars, and nestled a glass of pulpy orange juice next to the plate. After my husband left for the day, I warmed a bar for myself and quickly whipped a few tablespoons of heavy cream in a small bowl until the cream was silky and slightly thickened. It tasted heavenly draped over the warm, jammy bars.

What's in the blue cup? my middle daughter asked as I sat down to eat.

Cashew milk, I answered.

Why?

Because it looks pretty, and I like using that cup, I said, smiling.

Lately I've been trying to do little things for myself more often; one thing that makes me really happy is taking the time to make my own breakfast look pretty, after I've taken care of my family's needs. Intentionally eating from my small collection of vintage dishes and cups feels decadent to me, and reminds me to slow down and enjoy a few moments of silence as I savor what I've made.

One of our favorite books to read with our kids is Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban. Sometimes when I sit down to eat, I'm reminded of the interaction between Albert and Frances at the very end of the book, when she has finally decided to try new foods:

"That's a good lunch," said Albert. "I think it's nice that there are all different kinds of lunches and breakfasts and dinners and snacks. I think eating is nice."
"So do I," said Frances, and she made the lobster-salad sandwich, the celery, the carrot sticks, and the olives come out even.

Strawberry Almond Crumble Bars
Yields: a 9x13" pan (about 18 servings)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat the bottom of the baking pan with nonstick spray, then gently press parchment paper down into the pan, leaving paper "handles" sticking out of the ends.

Set aside a 12.5-oz can of almond pastry filling and a generous 3/4 cup strawberry preserves.

For the crust:
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1/2 tsp coarse kosher salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1/8 tsp pure almond extract
2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

In a large bowl, mix all of the crust ingredients together. The mixture will be very crumbly. Dump into the parchment-lined pan and press evenly and firmly into the bottom with your hands. Bake for 15 minutes or until the crust is a light golden brown.

Gently spread the almond filling evenly over the warm crust. Spread the strawberry preserves evenly over the almond filling. Top with handfuls of the crumble (see below). Bake about 18 to 20 more minutes until the crumble is golden brown and the fruit is bubbling.

After the bars have cooled enough to cut, use a serrated knife to cut into squares and store in an airtight lidded container in the refrigerator for about a week. Warm each bar for 20 seconds on High in the microwave before eating, if desired.

For the crumble:
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
2 tbsp light brown sugar
Pinch of coarse kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg


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