Blueberry Oat Bars (GF)

Blueberry Oat Bars

People eat with their eyes first, I tell my boyfriend, using this line every time something comes out of the oven that doesn't meet my definition of "cookbook cover." Presentation is everything

Taste matters, too,
he reminds me, digging a fork into whatever dessert I have dismissed. And he is right.

Since the coffee cake revelation of last year, my goal has been to soften my ideas of perfection. More recipes have been shared and fewer have been hidden from view. This approach hasn't been without its challenges, though. I still feel the uncertainty of whether something is exceptional enough to bring into your kitchen. Know your audience, I tell my students. How well do I know mine?

Blueberry Oat Bars

Blueberry Oat Bars

These blueberry oat bars were inspired by a strawberry bar of a similar nature from years past. I pulled them together on a cool Saturday morning, but when they came out of the oven, I hesitated. The jam had bled into the oats, dying them a dark shade of green; the oats had browned unevenly. The decision was made. Do you want a bite? I called to my boyfriend, rejecting the bars on looks alone. They are still warm. 

As any food blogger can tell you, once the fork reaches the pan, the opportunity for photography has fallen away. I took a forkful. Two. Three. I cut myself a square and was mid-bite when my boyfriend reached the kitchen. I am pretty sure this is the best thing I have ever eaten, I said between mouthfuls. I need to photograph these. 

I whisked the bars away before he could get a bite.

Blueberry Oat Bars

The taste easily makes up for whatever these bars may lack in looks. To create them, a layer of fruit preserves is sandwiched between an oatmeal crust. The texture is that of a chocolate chip cookie, hot and gooey from the oven (and it retains this texture for several days). The jam gives the bars a richness reminiscent of fudgea little will go a long way when it comes to this dessert.

Since the fruit is the focus, use a high quality fruit preserve or jam (bonus if it has fruit pieces!). Homemade or store bought will work equally well so don't think or worry you are "cheating" if you take the easy way out.

Blueberry Oat Bars

Blueberry Oat Bars (gluten-free!) are simple to make and a joy to eat. An oatmeal crustmade from oats, coconut oil, and brown sugarforms the base of the bars. A thick layer of fruit preserves are spread on top before baking and caramelizing in the oven. The bars are chewy on the edges, gooey in the middle, and very difficult to ignore.

Two Years Ago: Sunflower Seed Bread, Blackberry Fooland Lime Curd Tart with Coconut Whipped Cream
Three Years Ago: Grapefruit Soda, Irene's Orange Rolls, S'mores Cupcakes, and Mai Tai
Four Years Ago: Thin Mint Brownies, Strawberry Pancakes, Roasted Pineapple, and Lemon Thins

Blueberry Oat Bars

Yields 16 servings

1/3 cup (70 grams) coconut oil, solid state
1/2 cup (100 grams) brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1  cup (90 grams) oat flour*/**
1 1/2 cups (135 grams) old fashioned oats**
1 tablespoon chia seeds (optional)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (~300 grams) fruit preserves or jam (I used blueberry fruit preserves)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Lightly grease an 8x8-inch pan.

In a large mixing bowl, mix together coconut oil and brown sugar until uniform. Add the egg and vanilla, mixing until blended. Stir in the oat flour, oats, chia seeds, baking soda, and salt. Batter will be slightly sticky. Using greased hands, press 3/4 of the batter into the bottom of the prepared pan. Spread preserves or jam evenly over the top. Crumble the remaining 1/4 of the batter evenly on top.

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

* To make oat flour, place old fashioned oats in a food processor and process until oats are a fine powder.

** To make gluten-free, use gluten-free rolled oats.

Cinnamon Sugar Swirl Loaf

Cinnamon Sugar Swirl Loaf

When I imagine rolling pins and sheets of dough, I think of my grandmother. When I was young, just tall enough to peer over the kitchen counter, I would watch her construct German dishes from scratch. A bowl of dough was her beginning—a blank slate. She would create her coveted bread rolls in the palms of her hands. A long cylinder would be cut into logs to create shoop noodles. Sheets were rolled, paper thin, and coiled for strudels (which were later unraveled by greedy, hungry hands).

The motions were practiced, repeated thousands of time over her many years, but the awe factor never diminished for me.

Cinnamon Sugar Swirl Loaf

Cinnamon Sugar Swirl Loaf

I am learning to see dough as a blank slate, a starting point instead of an unfinished product. Though my motions may still be clumsy, inexperienced from my few years, I can feel the progress beneath my fingertips. This past weekend, I kneaded together a sweet dough, challenging myself to roll it into a shape new to me. I have long admired braided and swirled breads for their intricate designs and used the pattern as my inspiration.

Though braided and swirled loaves may often look beyond the reach of a home baker, I can assure that most are well within the realm. This dough begins as cinnamon rolls do—a rectangle, which is rolled into a coil. Instead of being cut into individual rolls, however, the dough is split lengthwise down the center and the inside is revealed. The dough is braided, the ends pinched together, and it goes into the pan to bake.

The complicated layers and swirls are revealed in the oven. Each time the pattern may be new, but you can count on the flavor to remain the same.

Cinnamon Sugar Swirl Loaf

Cinnamon Sugar Swirl Loaf

PS: Pastry Affair has been nominated for Saveur Magazine's 2015 food blog awards in the Best Baking & Desserts Category! It is your support that has brought me here. Again, I want to take a moment to say thank you. To vote, head over to Saveur's website, take a moment to register, and select your favorites

Cinnamon Sugar Swirl Loaf

This Cinnamon Sugar Swirled Loaf falls somewhere between a breakfast roll and a slice of coffee cake in texture. Cinnamon and sugar are present in every layer, adding a spiced sweetness that pervades the loaf. Served with a cup of black tea or coffee, the loaf becomes a part of a weekend breakfast or mid-morning treat.

One Year Ago: Coconut Tapioca Pudding
Two Years Ago: Mango Lassi, Peanut Butter & Jelly Muffinsand Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Three Years Ago: Blackberry Goat Cheese Tart, Arborio Rice Pudding, Chocolate Marshmallow Whoopie Pies, and Hot Cross Buns
Four Years Ago: Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies, Orange Scones, Strawberry Oat Parfait, and Honey Rolls

Cinnamon Sugar Swirl Loaf

Yields 1 loaf

Dough
1/2 cup (120 ml) milk 
3 tablespoons (43 grams) butter, melted 
2 to 2 1/4 cups (250-280 grams) all purpose flour
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar 
1 large egg 
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt

Warm milk and butter until about 100 degrees F (38 degrees C), or until lightly warm to the touch. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add 2 cups flour, sugar, egg, yeast, and salt. Fold together until the batter forms a dough. If the dough is too sticky, add more flour by the tablespoonful until it begins to form a ball. On a lightly floured surface, place the the dough and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5-8 minutes. Form into a ball.

Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and allow the dough to rise in a warm environment until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

Filling
1/3 cup (66 grams) brown sugar, packed 
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon 
3 tablespoons (43 grams) butter, room temperature
1 large egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter until it forms a uniform spread. Set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to approximately an 11 x 15-inch rectangle. Using an offset spatula, spread the brown sugar mixture uniformly on the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge. Starting lengthwise, roll the dough until coiled. Pinch together the edges to seal.

Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the coil in half lengthwise and face the inside upwards. Pinch together one end of the dough and braid the two long strands, facing the cut side upwards at all times. Pinch together the remaining end. Form the dough into a circular shape and pinch together the pinched ends. Transfer the circle to a lightly greased cast-iron pan or 10-inch round cake pan and brush with the beaten egg. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until dark brown and fragrant.

Run a knife around the outside of the pan and allow to rest for 15-20 minutes before serving.

Cranberry Almond Granola

Cranberry Almond Granola

In the winter, when the snow is high and spirits are low, we head to the mountains to heal. We leave our lives behindour responsibilities, our technology, our connection to the rest of the worldin search of a lungful of fresh, pine-scented air. The long, curved mountain roads guide us towards the peaks, leading us to our home for the weekend.

When the sun stretches toward the heavens, we strap skis to our feet and fly across the landscape until our legs grow unsteady; when the sun falls below the sky, we rest near the fireplace, laughing, holding this feeling of family close. Our fears, our worries, our stubborn doubts fade and we remember, once again, how to become whole.

Cranberry Almond Granola

Cranberry Almond Granola

Cranberry Almond Granola

Packed along with the winter gear, I brought a batch of granola to share among ourselves. The hearty grains were the start we needed in the dawn of the morning hours. During our stay, clouds hung heavy over the sky, releasing large, white flakes by the hour, enclosing the mountain with an opaque fog. The light, however, had a quality of warmth and wildness unknown to me in the Midwest. I could not resist the moment and pulled out my camera to capture the breakfast, the rough wood floor, and the trees blanketed in white.

The mountains teach lessons that cannot be learned from books; the mountains teach lessons that are learned directly through thin, crisp air, tired legs, and eyes full of wonder.

Cranberry Almond Granola

Big Sky, Montana

In other (exciting!) news, I am so honored to announce that Pastry Affair has been nominated for Saveur Magazine's 2015 food blog awards in the Best Baking & Desserts Category! It is your endless support that has brought me here, and I want to take a moment to say thank you. It means everything. I feel privileged to be listed among such talented company. 

To vote, head over to Saveur's website, take a moment to register, and select your favorites

Big Sky, Montana

Big Sky, Montana

Big Sky, Montana

Cranberry Almond Granola is textured and hearty, made for early mornings and days that are demanding. Almond butter is sweetened with honey and spices to give the base a full, natural flavor. Coarsely chopped almonds and dried cranberries are thrown in to add character. Serve with a thick yogurt or drown in a swirl of your favorite milk. 

Two Years Ago: Pita Bread, Homemade Pita Chipsand Almond Joy Candy Bars
Three Years Ago: Coconut Pineapple Banana Bread, Sundried Tomato Basil & Brie Spread, Strawberry Balsamic Jam, and Strawberry Honey Oatmeal Bars
Four Years Ago: Cereal & Milk Bars, Vanilla Almond Cupcakes, Banana Pudding, and Devil's Food Cake

Honey Almond Quinoa Granola

Yields 5-6 cups

3 cups (270 grams) old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup (85 grams) quinoa, uncooked
1 cup (140 grams) whole almonds, chopped coarsely
1 tablespoon chia seeds (optional)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup (78 ml) coconut oil, melted
1/3 cup (80 grams) almond butter
1/2 cup (170 grams) honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg white (optional)*
3/4 cup (120 grams) dried cranberries 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (170 degrees C).

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the oats, quinoa, chopped almonds, chia seeds, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the melted coconut oil, almond butter, honey, vanilla, salt, and egg white until uniform. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry and stir until evenly coated.

Spread out evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden and fragrant. If the egg white was omitted, stir halfway through baking; if it was added, do not stir the granola and leave it to set while baking. Cool completely before storing. Stir in dried cranberries.

*The egg white binds the granola together for a chunkier texture, allowing you to break it apart into small or large pieces of your choosing. If you prefer a looser granola, omit this ingredient.