PB&J CRUMBLE BARS
These crumble bars start with a thick shortbread base, followed by a layer of peanut butter, followed by a layer of fruit filling, all underneath a crumbly oat topping. They're great on their own, but insanely good warmed up with some vanilla ice cream.
Total time: about 2 hours (plus cooling)
Active time: 55 minutes
Bake time: 1 hour total (30 for crust, 25-30 for final bake)
Makes a 9"x9" pan of bars
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled
1/2 cup of oats (I used old fashioned)
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 lb of frozen cherries or other red berry-like fruit (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries would also be great)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Juice of one lemon
1/3 cup of creamy peanut butter (I don't recommend using natural peanut butter for this, as it's too liquidy and won't form a nice layer in the bars. Use good old fashioned Jif, or something like that.)
Flakey sea salt for sprinkling
1.) Begin by lining a 9x9 baking tin or ceramic baking dish with a long strip of parchment paper slightly narrower than the bottom, but long enough to hang up over the sides. This will make it easy to lift the bars out at the end. Preheat the oven to 325° F.
2.) In a food processor, pulse together flour, brown sugar, powdered sugar, kosher salt, and cinnamon until ingredients are well combined and no visible chunks of brown sugar remain. Cut cold butter into cubes and add to the food processor, pulsing until butter is fully cut into the dry ingredients and the mixture is almost the texture of wet sand. If you squeeze a handful, it should clump together.
3.) Transfer about 2/3 of the dough into the bottom of the parchment-lined baking tin or dish, using your hands to press it into an even layer. It may be a little tricky at first as the parchment slides around, but just be gentle keep pressing the shortbread dough into all the edges and corners. Feel free to also use the bottom of a measuring cup to form an even layer - whatever works. Add the oats to the remaining 1/3 of the dough and work in with your hands; transfer to the fridge. Bake your crust layer for about 30 minutes until lightly golden on the edges.
4.) In the meantime, make your fruit filling. In a small bowl, whisk together your tbsp of cornstarch with 1 tbsp of water and set aside. Add your frozen cherries or other fruit of choice to a medium pot along with the granulated sugar and lemon juice. Set over medium-high heat and cook, stirring occasionally until the sugar is dissolved and the fruit has thawed. Then use a potato masher or something similar to mash the cherries well until they're broken up and very juicy. Pour in your cornstarch mixture and stir to incorporate. Continue to cook until the mixture boils. Allow to boil for about thirty seconds, stirring gently before removing from the heat. The cornstarch should have activated, which will make the mixture significantly thicker as it cools. Set aside.
5.) Once your crust has baked, remove from the oven and raise the temperature to 350° F. Allow the crust to cool for 10-15 minutes. Then, in a microwave safe bowl, heat your peanut butter in 10 second increments, stirring after each, until it is liquidy enough to pour. Pour all over your prepared crust, and use an offset spatula or a rubber spatula to very gently spread the peanut butter across the whole surface, getting into the corners. The shortbread will still be quite soft since it hasn't cooled, so be sure not to scrape it or apply to much pressure as you're doing this, or else it'll crumble into the peanut butter layer. Allow to cool for another 10-15 minutes until the peanut butter has somewhat rethickened.
6.) Now drop the fruit filling (you should have about 1+1/2 cups worth) all over the surface. Use your spatula to gently spread it on top of the peanut butter layer - same as before, be gentle, but be sure to work it into all corners and edges. Remove your oat topping from the fridge and use your fingers to crumble into chunks all over the surface. You should have enough to be pretty thorough, so don't hold back. Fill in all the gaps in a nice even layer of crumbles.
7.) Bake for 25 minutes until the topping is baked. Then, I like to switch to the broiler setting for about 3 minutes to get a nice golden brown color across the top. Don't walk away when you're broiling! Things have a tendency to burn quickly under a broiler.
8.) Remove from the oven and allow to cool, uncovered for several hours or even overnight. This is one bake that will have a much better texture and flavor when it's been allowed to cool completely. Once it's completely cool, you can wrap the top of the pan lightly with foil. When you're ready to enjoy them, run a thin knife or spatula around the edges, and use the parchment handles to gently lift the entire thing out of the pan. Cut into big squares. These are delicious by themselves, but are insanely good if you heat one up in the microwave for about 20 seconds and top it with a glorious scoop of vanilla ice cream. You can even crumble one up and mix it into your ice cream if you're feeling fancy. However you choose to eat them, enjoy.