Fig Oatmeal Bars

I escaped to the mountains. An end of summer restlessness has been holding me close the last few weeks, and I needed an escape before the school year started up again. A breath of fresh mountain air and a few handfuls of ripe mountain cherries felt like the cure.  As someone who organizes the minute details of daily life, purchasing two last minute plane tickets to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains was not in the plan, but I am trying to teach myself that life doesn't need to be so scripted. 

When we reached the mountains, we hiked away from routine and took a step into the unfamiliar. We walked along a well trodden path only a few feet wide for miles, a ledge on one side and a rock face on the other. We filled our hands with cold running water from glacial runoff, drinking deeply.  We rested on boulders as large as cars, feeling the sharpness of the sun's warmth at high altitude. We were privy to an impromptu guided tour from a mountain goat, who preferred the ease of the path to the steepness of the cliffs.

The view was the greatest of nature's design, of distant snow-topped peaks, of deep forested valleys, of wildflowers within an arm's reach. We stopped for lunch on the top of the world, sitting in silence and eating our way through PB & J sandwiches and fig oatmeal bars. Some moments, I've found, need few words.

Fig Oatmeal Bars make for a sweet, filling snack. Fresh figs are cooked down with brown sugar into a compote and subtly flavored with balsamic vinegar and vanilla. The compote is spread over an oatmeal base and baked until golden. The bars cut beautifully and hold together well without breaking apart or leaving crumbs everywhere. These bars are perfect for packing for a snack on the go and eating wherever life leads you. 

One Year Ago: Iced Matcha Coconut Latte 
Two Years Ago: Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies and Citrus Zucchini Muffins
Three Years Ago: Date Flapjacks & Nordic Pancake Cake
Four Years Ago: Rum Raisin Oatmeal Cookies, Banana Rum Bread, & Vanilla Cardamom Peach Pie
Five Years Ago: Chocolate Malt Cupcakes, Coconut Pancakes, Rocky Road Cookies, & Chocolate Beet Cake
Six Years Ago: Chocolate Prune Cake, Espresso Chocolate Chip Shortbread, & Blueberry Muffins

Fig Oatmeal Bars

Yields 8 x 8-inch pan

Fig Compote
1 lb (450 grams) ripe figs, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup (100 grams) brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Oatmeal Base
1/3 cup (70 grams) coconut oil, liquid state
1/2 cup (100 grams) brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1  cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (135 grams) old fashioned oats
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large saucepan, bring the chopped figs and brown sugar to a boil over medium-high heat. There is no need to add liquids because the figs will release a considerable amount of juice. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until figs soften and compote thickens. Remove from heat and set aside. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Lightly grease an 8 x 8-inch pan.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together coconut oil and brown sugar until uniform. Add the egg and vanilla, mixing until blended. Stir in the flour, oats, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. The batter will be slightly sticky. Using greased hands, press 2/3 of the dough into the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread fig compote evenly over the top. Sprinkle the remaining 1/3 of the dough evenly on top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until lightly browned. Allow to cool slightly in the pan before serving.

Blueberry Plum Pie

After many summers of moving and extended travel, my feet are staying (mostly) in one place this year. As a result, I was able to sign up for a summer CSA (community supported agriculture) share, after contemplating one for several years. CSAs are a way for consumers to buy locally grown produce directly from a farmer by purchasing "shares" of the harvest at the beginning of the season. The goal for the CSA was to introduce and teach me to cook regional and seasonal produce (or, more honestly, push me to learn how to cook in general). Each week, I pick up my CSA produce box from the local farmer's market. The contents are usually a surprise, containing whatever was ready to harvest from the farm the evening before.

Back in June, I marveled over the tender asparagus and fought my boyfriend for the soft, buttery lettuce (the  best of my entire life) from the first box. Midway through the summer, the CSA has consisted of just as many unfamiliar vegetables as those I recognize. I have learned how to roast turnips with potatoes, slice bok choy for stir fry, hide endless amounts of summer squash in tomato sauce, and embrace an unexpected love for kohlrabi.

Out of necessity, I started keeping a written tally of what needs to be eaten on the refrigerator door. At least I can finally say that I actually do eat my vegetables. 

At the farmer's market last week, I picked up 6 pints of blueberry "seconds" in addition to the CSA. Though many of the "seconds" were battered and broken, I sorted and gathered together enough blueberries for a pie. Since a handful of plums were already sitting on the kitchen counter, it seemed an opportune moment to pair these fruits together. I covered the fruit in pastry and let it bubble and sing in the oven.

After my first bite, I have nothing but praise for this dreamy flavor combination. Blueberries and plums are a  tour de force

Blueberry Plum Pie is a fruit-focused pastry with a burst of flavor. Fresh blueberries and sliced plums come together in a lattice-topped pie. A teaspoon of cinnamon is added to give the fruit a subtle warmth, which adds to the overall profile. Serve warm or chilled with a side of vanilla ice cream and a friend. 

One Year Ago: Olive Oil Pound Cake
Two Years Ago: Paris Holiday and Provence & the French Riviera
Three Years Ago: Cookie Dough Cake & Blueberry Braided Bread
Four Years Ago: Blackberry Coffee Cake, Dark & Stormy, Blueberry Cream Cheese Cupcakes, & S'mores Pancakes
Five Years Ago: Oregon Coast, Banana Cake, S'mores Pie, & Grilled Honeyed Apricots
Six Years Ago: Roasted Cherry Coconut Ice Cream

Blueberry Plum Pie

Yields 9-inch pie

1 double crust pie dough recipe
1 pound (450 grams) plums, pitted and sliced
1 pound (450 grams) fresh blueberries
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup (60 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Egg wash (1 large egg + 1 tablespoon water, whisked), for brushing
Granulated sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).

In a large mixing bowl, gently stir together the sliced plums, blueberries, sugar, flour, cinnamon, and lemon juice until the berries are evenly coated. Set aside.

Form the pie dough into a disk and divide it into a 60/40 ratio (if using store-bought crust, do not worry about this step). On a lightly floured surface, roll out the larger section of dough into a 14-inch round circle. Carefully transfer it to a 9-inch pie pan and trim the excess pie dough to create a 1-inch overhang. Tuck the dough overhang under itself so it is even with the pie dish. Fill the pie crust with the berry mixture.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the smaller section of pie dough. Using a pizza cutter and a ruler, cut out 3/4-inch wide strips of dough. Layer the strips over the top of the pie in a decorative fashion and trim so they are even with the edge of the pie pan. Using a fork, press down along the edge to seal the bottom and top layer together.

Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the pie crust with egg wash and sprinkle granulated sugar over the pie crust. Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Then, lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). If necessary, cover the edges of the pie crust with aluminum foil to prevent further browning. Bake an additional 50-65 minutes, or until the lattice and crust are evenly browned. 

For perfect slices, cool for at least 3-5 hours (or overnight). Serve with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

Homemade Almond Milk

It has been four years since I was diagnosed with a dairy intolerance. The diagnosis itself was a great relief (I spent the first 22 years of my life with miserable abdominal health issues due to an unknown cause), but it was also a real slap to the face. My diet was based around dairy, and as I had been working as a professional baker at the time, it was my livelihood. Unlike most people with dairy issues, I could not handle dairy in any amount or in any form. I was devastated.

It took me a long time to adjust to my new, unwanted diet. I went through the stages of grief: denial, when I refused to eat dairy-free foods; anger, when I realized I would have to change my approach to food; bargaining, when I convinced myself dairy would be worth the pain (it never was);  depression, when I would stand outside the bakery counter staring at all the food I had given up; and lastly, acceptance. It took me a couple years to fully accept and embrace the dairy-free diet (and even longer to find delicious dairy-free counterparts to my favorite dairy-filled foods).

I am aware there is a certain irony to baking without baking's greatest giftsbutter, cheese, milk, and heavy cream. In fact, I couldn't even steal a lick from the spatula when I spent days preparing cupcakes for my sister's wedding.  Even though I write the recipes on Pastry Affair to include dairy ingredients, you can rest assured that the recipes are created dairy-free in my own kitchen.

The first dairy-free alternative I fell in love with was almond milk. The milk is creamy with a subtle almond flavor, which works beautifully in baking and morning cereal. When Wolf Gourmet asked me to test their High Performance Blender, I knew that homemade almond milk would be my first challenge. I haven't made almond milk with my current low-end blender because it has a difficult time breaking down small foods. For example, the greens are in larger pieces than I prefer in this green smoothie, and there is a visible level of grain in this chocolate hazelnut spread that could be eliminated with a high powered blender. 

Essentially, almond milk is made by blending almonds with filtered water. The almonds are first soaked overnight to soften. Ideally, to create the creamiest milk, you need to extract as much as possible from the almonds by breaking them down into very fine pieces. When I set the Wolf Gourmet blender to task, the leftover almond pulp was finer than almond meal. I have used other high-end blenders, but I prefer this one because it not only includes presets for the most common blended foods (like smoothies and purées), but it also has a timer that helps you keep track of time elapsed.

While the almond milk can be left unsweetened, I added vanilla extract and maple syrup to give it a subtle flavor and sweetness.

Edit: Giveaway is closed and the winner has been chosen.

Homemade Almond Milk is incredibly easy to make at home and can be customized to your tastes. This version uses vanilla extract to provide a light flavor and maple syrup for a subtle sweetness. If you have a sweeter palate, feel free to add more maple syrup, or even honey, to taste. This almond milk has a similar thickness to 2% milk. For almond milk with a thinner consistency, add more water when blending; likewise, for a thicker almond milk, reduce the amount of water. The almond milk can be used in the same manner as dairy milkfor cooking, baking, and drinking.

One Year Ago: Banana PB Green Smoothie and Cherry Hand Pies
Two Years Ago: Lavender Vanilla Bean Cake and Plum Almond Galette
Three Years Ago: Coconut Sorbet, Cherry Almond Crumble, Nutella Espresso Rolls, & Brownie Cookies
Four Years Ago: Almond Butter Cupcakes, Summer Berry PavlovaMango Coconut Popsicles, & French Silk Pie
Five Years Ago: Butterbeer, Butterbeer Cupcakes, Cherry Almond Muffins, & Plum Clafouti
Six Years Ago: Mocha FrappuccinoBerry Lime Panna Cotta, & Grilled Peaches

Homemade Almond Milk

Yields about 6 cups

2 cups (225 grams) whole almonds
8 cups (1.9 L) filtered water, divided
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1-2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, to taste

Place almonds in a container and cover with 3 cups filtered water. Seal container and allow to soak overnight, for 8 hours up to 2 days.

Strain almonds and rinse with fresh water (the almonds release phytic acid while soaking, which prevents the body from absorbing nutrients; rinsing the almonds removes this acid). Place almonds and remaining 5 cups filtered water in a blender. Add maple syrup and vanilla extract. Blend on high for 2-3 minutes. Using a nut bag, layered cheesecloth, or fine mesh strainer, strain the almond milk to remove the pulp. If using the fine mesh strainer, run the milk through several times to eliminate pulp. The leftover pulp can be used in smoothies, muffins, or breads or it can be dehydrated and used in the same manner as almond flour.

Keep refrigerated. Almond milk stays fresh for 5 to 7 days.

Disclosure: A complimentary High Performance Blender was provided for review by Wolf Gourmet. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.