This week on our journey with Yotam Ottolenghi at I Heart Cooking Clubs, we're Going With The Grain. I love all kinds of grains, and they form a significant part of my regular diet. Flicking through my Ottolenghi cookbooks (Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, Plenty and Jerusalem: A Cookbook), all manner of quinoa, rice, farro, barley, freekah and bulgur wheat dishes appealed, but somehow this week I felt I wanted to get a little sweet with Yotam.
His recipe for Raspberry and Oat Bars from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook is one that I've had bookmarked for about three years and, deciding that oats were going to be my grain of choice, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to make it.
In the absence of some raspberry jam, I subbed in some of my homemade plum jam, and I found the tartness of the plum jam to be a good foil to the sweetness of the caramel nut topping. Oh yes, there is caramel and there are nuts! Came as something of a surprise to me too.
Now I don't know about you, but when I come across something labelled as an "(anything) and Oat Bar", I'm mentally imagining something that has some kind of "oaty" topping, or which is vaguely akin to a muesli (granola) bar. Even when I read through the recipe, I still didn't quite get what this was going to be like - quite possibly because I am not really a baker. So when Ottolenghi says in the recipe introduction "Wonderful with a strong after dinner coffee", I was thinking "No way!" Granola bars with morning coffee (possibly even for breakfast), yes, but with after dinner coffee, definitely not. Were YO and I about to have our first disagreement - surely not. Now, don't get me wrong, I was not for one moment doubting that these were going to be great, I just envisaged something that didn't quite fit with my idea of a postprandial sweet treat.
The end result is a light, shortbready, oaty base, topped with a layer of sweet-but-tart plum jam, and then the whole thing is topped off with a thick layer of nuts and caramel. Oh, that topping!! Gooey caramel and a mixture of macadamias, hazelnuts, almonds and cashews. Seriously, this slice is all about the topping, so don't let that title confuse you - this is no dull little "health" bar - this is definitely a decadent little treat, and definitely lives up to its promise of being a great after-dinner treat. I thought about changing the title to something which might more fairly represent what these bars really are, but then it occurred to me that, as long as I keep calling them "Plum & Oat Bars", I can convince myself that it's ok to eat them for breakfast!
I don't do a lot of baking, and so I don't have an extensive repertoire in that department. I'm also a fairly "apprehensive" baker, so when something turns out great it both surprises and delights the heck out of me in equal measure. Well let me tell you that these bars might just be the best thing I've ever baked, and it's exciting to discover that Ottolenghi can surprise and delight me in the sweet department as well as all the savoury dishes I've come to love.
I made a few small changes to this recipe. Firstly, as mentioned I used plum jam instead of raspberry. I adjusted quantities to fit the slice tin that I wanted to use, as opposed to the small square tin used in the original recipe. And, I used a different combination of nuts: the original recipe called for flaked almonds, pecans, hazelnuts and Brazil nuts. Really you could use any combination you like.
Plum & Oat Bars Recipe
Adapted from a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
For the base
170g (6 oz) plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
140g (5 oz) butter, cut into cubes
80g (3 oz) caster sugar
pinch of salt
110g (4 oz) rolled oats
For the filling
1-1/2 cups plum jam (I used homemade)
For the topping
400g (14 oz) assorted nuts, roughly chopped
(I used a combo of macadamias, almonds, cashews & hazelnuts)
140g (5 oz) butter
100g (3-1/2 oz) caster sugar
60ml (2 fl oz) milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C (340 degrees F). Lightly grease the base and sides of an 18cm x 32cm (7in x 12in) slice tin, and line it with baking paper.
Begin by making the base. Sift the flour and baking powder together and put into your food processor. Add the cubed butter, and blitz together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. (You could rub the butter into the flour by hand, but I'm an inherently lazy cook, so I'm happy for the food processor to do the work). Remove to a bowl, add the salt, sugar and rolled oats, and mix to combine everything well.
Press this mixture (though not too hard) into the base of your tin, and bake in the preheated oven until lightly golden - about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Once the base has cooled, spread with the jam.
Now make the topping. Place the chopped nuts in a bowl and set aside. Put the butter, sugar, milk and vanilla paste in a small saucepan set over medium heat. Stir constantly until the butter is melted and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat, pour over the nuts and mix well.
Spread the nut mixture over the jam and return the pan to the oven until the nuts are golden brown - about 30 minutes.
Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely before removing from the tin.
Slice into bars or squares and serve.
If you would like to get to know Yotam Ottolenghi a little better, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and see what they've all cooked up ...
... or check out Ottolenghi: The Cookbook and Ottolenghi's other great titles available from Amazon USA, Amazon UK or Fishpond NZ.
This will be my submission this month to Sweet New Zealand, inspired by Alessandra Zecchini and hosted this month by Bridget at After Taste - can't wait to see what sweet treats everyone has come up with this month.
I will also be sharing this post at Food on Friday hosted by Carole at Carole's Chatter and at See Ya In the Gumbo hosted by the lovely Michelle at Ms. enPlace.