The fall semester started a few weeks back, which means my 57 bus and the B-train are full of students not exactly sure where they’re going. Commonwealth Avenue, down where I work, is lined with banks tabling for new customers, and eager 20-somethings in brightly-colored t-shirts want my help saving the whales, gay rights and women’s right to choose.
And then there are the freebies. There’s always some kind of vitawater or granola bar someone is offering free samples of. I wasn’t aware of how many Luna Bars and Kind bars had made their way into my backpack until yesterday afternoon, when I dumped its contents onto my dining room table in a fruitless search for my keys. (False alarm… long story.) Rich was astounded at the amount of oats and nuts I had on my person, while I was pretty astounded finally reading the voluminous ingredient lists on the wrappers.
I had made these apricot bars this weekend as a direct result of those ingredient lists. I’d made them once before, using apricot jam instead of soaking the apricots. The directions said I’d have to wait an hour for them to soften, but it turns out things were good after only about a half an hour. I brought these bars to a meeting once, along with some whole wheat chocolate chip cookies that I think are just tops. I played these down, but everyone there loved them. Sorry it’s taken me so long to share this.
The recipe comes from The Common Ground Dessert Cookbook: A collection of naturally-sweetened wholegrain desserts. The Common Ground is New England’s oldest natural foods restaurant. (Sidenote: Is it closed? I can’t tell!) It’s up in Brattleboro, Vermont, which is only an hour from where I grew up. Sometimes my mom and I would take a quick road trip up to Vermont and crunch away on a large wooden bowl of salad put out for taking on the honor system.
I think I downplayed these bars because they are nothing like the Flour granola bars I also made last spring. On the other hand, those take more than three hours to make, while these took less than an hour. These bars, like the whole wheat cheese crackers, make comforting additions to lunchboxes. Sure, there’s a lot of butter in the recipe, but something about the whole wheat flour, oats and maple syrup seems to compensate… right?
Makes 18 1 1/2”x 3” bars
There are two parts to this recipe, the filling and the crust. My advice is to start soaking the apricots for the filing before you work on the crust. I’ve only done this recipe with the maple syrup, so if anyone tries it with the honey, please do let me know how they turn out. Although the recipe lists the extracts as optional, I have them in the house and used them. The original recipe calls for whole wheat pastry flour, but I only have regular whole wheat flour. Results were pleasing.
Preheat oven to 350F. Oil a 9”x9” baking pan.
1 cup dried apricots
1 cup boiling water
1/8 – 1/4 cup maple syrup or honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
1/8 teaspoon almond extract (optional)
Lay apricots in a shallow bowl and pour boiling water over them. Soak fruit until very soft, which will take between a half hour and an hour, depending on the age of your fruit. While your fruit soaks, prepare the crust.
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup butter, melted
3/8 cup maple syrup or honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Mix dry and wet ingredients, each in a separate bowl; then combine and stir well.
Press half the mixture into the bottom of oiled pan.
Prepare the apricot filling:
Drain fruit but save soaking water.
Chop soft fruit and puree it in a blender or food processor with sweetener and only as much soaking water as needed for blending.
Add extracts if desired.
Filling may be thick enough as is. However, if it seems at all runny, bring it to a simmer in a saucepan and stir in 1 teaspoon arrowroot mixed with 1 Tablespoon water to thicken.
Using a spatula, spread the filling on top of the bottom crust.
Sprinkle remaining crust over the filling and gently pat it smooth. Make sure the top crust reaches the edges and corners of the pan.
Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool completely before cutting into bars or they’ll crumble.