Memorial Day Weekend is here! The unofficial start to summer also means a season of outdoor entertaining, picnic invitations, and the need for a dessert that can be easily stored and transported. Pies, crisps, and crumbles are great, but when it comes to serving a crowd, a pre-sliced grab-and-go bar is always an attractive option. Enter Jam Crumble Bars. With an almond-scented, shortbread-like crust, a layer of fruit preserves, and a buttery crumble topping, these bars are an easy, impressive, bakery-style dessert for busy summer entertaining.
This recipe was inspired by the Raspberry Streusel Bars in Joy of Cooking, which I’ve made a number of times over the years. They were always well-received (I certainly wouldn’t turn one down!), but never quite exactly what I was craving. Among other recipe tweaks, I ended up increasing the jam filling by half, adding a bit of baking powder to the crust for a bit of lightness, and reworking the streusel layer to be more reminiscent of a fruit crisp topping. I actually tested this recipe out on a group of contractors working in our home during their lunch breaks. When, after the last batch, they asked to take the recipe home for their wives, I knew we had a winner!
I should establish upfront: I’m not someone who uses large amounts of butter in my baked goods just for the sake of shouting “Butter!” from the rooftops. That said, these bars aren’t for the butter-faint-of-heart. They’re decadent, but a goodly amount of butter is needed in both the crust and streusel for flavor and texture. These bars are a dessert for a holiday weekend; an occasional splurge, not an every day occurrence. All good things in moderation, right?
Jam Crumble Bars are pretty simple to prepare. They’re one-bowl (technically, one big bowl and a tiny bowl or measuring cup to combine the milk and almond extract.) While the base layer is baking, the crumble topping is prepared in the same mixing bowl you used previously (no need to wash in between!). The filling requires no effort other than opening a jar of preserves and spreading it onto the crust. (Though, since it’s a dominant flavor, you’ll want to use a quality jam or preserve; more on that in the recipe notes.) The bars store well in airtight containers for advance preparation, and, in my humble opinion, improve in flavor after a day. Sliced, they also freeze beautifully for longer storage.
As we gather this weekend for Memorial Day celebrations, our thoughts and gratitude are with our brave servicemen and women, and their families. We especially honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. To paraphrase John Maxwell Emmons, “For [our] tomorrow, [they] gave [their] today.”
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into small pieces
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 1-1/2 cups fruit preserves or jam*
- 1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup lightly-packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom, optional**
- 1/2 cup rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
- 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
- Powdered sugar for dusting, optional
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F with rack in middle position. Line a 13x9x2-inch baking pan with parchment paper with a 2-inch overhang on the long sides. Lightly coat parchment with cooking spray.
- In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, kosher salt, and baking powder. Using a pastry blender, a fork, two knives, or your fingertips, cut butter into flour mixture until it appears sandy (fine crumbs).***
- In a small bowl, combine milk and almond extract. Pour over the flour mixture and combine until moistened throughout. Mixture will remain crumbly. For a tender shortbread base, don't overwork dough. Press dough into the prepared baking pan in an even layer. Bake 12-15 minutes, until center is just set and edges are just beginning to turn light brown. Remove from oven to assemble bars and leave the oven on.
- While the base is baking, whisk together flour, sugars, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, cardamom (if using), and oats. Using the same process as you did for the crust, cut butter into the flour mixture until crumbly.
- Spread preserves over hot crust layer. Sprinkle crumble topping in an even layer over preserves (the crumble layer will be thick). Return to oven and bake 25-30 minutes, until crumble topping is light golden brown. Let stand at room temperature in the baking pan until completely cooled. Dust with powdered sugar, slice into bars, and serve.
**The brand of ground cardamom I use is very fragrant, so 1/8 teaspoon gives the crumble topping a nice, but not overly-assertive hint of the spice. If your cardamom isn't as aromatic, or if you prefer a stronger flavor, increase to 1/4 teaspoon.
***You can also use a food processor to cut the butter into the flour-sugar mixture. For a tender crust and streusel, use short pulses and be careful not to overprocess. When using a food processor, I prefer to incorporate the liquid ingredients in the base and the oats in the streusel by hand.