Goodness me, can someone grab the license number off that truck that ran me off the road? Vanity plates, you say? Knew it! SANTA1.
It’s not that I wasn’t cooking over the holidays. It’s just that, though I tried to keep them all spinning, the plate marked “photographing and musing aloud about cooking” was among those I dropped. Sometimes when I think about spinning plates, I imagine my friend Roger the Jester and his ability to do nimble acts of balancing and make me laugh until I pee, and sometimes I think about a book I read long ago about a boy with sensory issues who liked to sit alone in a corner and spin a white plate on a tile floor to calm himself.
The holidays saw me leaning more toward the latter example.
I did manage to wring out the teeny tiny gingerbread houses, the ones that perch on cocoa mugs to the delight of children of all ages. Longtime readers will recall that last year I made a batch of houses that were way too big to perch before realizing I needed to scale them way down, so that by the time the flour settled we had a regular township ranging from starter homes on up. Some deep part of my unconscious (or perhaps I was just unconscious) decided to save the template for the too-big houses, but not mark it in any way that would remind the seasonally-deranged baker not to use it.
Never bake angry, that’s all I’ll say. I seem to have made an annual tradition of the entire fiasco. So once again we had a lot of properties listed, to suit a range of home-buying budgets.
There were a few other items that I think I kept careful enough notes on (thanks to my middle daughter’s passion for organizing) that I’ll be able to recreate them for you. Here is one of them: the shy and unassuming Lemon Oaty Bar. “Why should you even bother with this cookie?” is the post-holiday question this cookie seems to be asking, right? Where’s the bacon? the nutella? the sea-salt caramel and the cocoa nibs?
Part of the answer to why you should bother lies in the devious use of olive oil, which gives the cookies a mysterious and captivating quality that makes them hard to photograph because you have to keep swatting your daughter away from the pan. We are lucky to have a stupendous source for really good, fruity, grassy, fragrant & lip-smacking olive oil, and that’s just the kind you want to use here. It should announce itself.
The rest of the answer lies in its tender middle. During fall canning with my coven of cronies, I came upon Marisa’s recipe for Honey Lemon Apple Jam during my customary due diligence to see if someone has already thought of what I think is my unique and brilliant idea. Generally someone has, and I pout a little bit; in this case, because it was Marisa, I learned a lot from her recipe and was grateful to have found it. The thing is that (remember?) I have never yet been heard to say, “hmm, I wonder if this here recipe really needs THAT MUCH lemon.” We halved the sugar, effectively doubling the lemon, and found we had a winner. We canned buckets of it.
You could make these bars with any jam at all, I bet. If you are pressed for time, just grab the nearest jam to hand (suggestions below), doctor it with some lemon juice and zest, and run with it. But if you have time to make the apple jam, I warmly encourage it. I’ve halved the recipe we started with for canning, so you end up with a little more than twice what you need for the cookies. My sister’s solution for that was to make some blueberry scones to eat with the spare jam. Even if you don’t want to go to her crazy lengths, I don’t think figuring out what to do with the extra jam will rank high among your week’s difficulties—if it does, my congratulations to you. Anyway, it keeps for weeks in the fridge, so you have time to make plans for it.
I’ve baked these with that trusty GF flour mix I swear by as well as regular AP flour and the results were indistinguishable to the tasters.
lemon oaty bars
- 1 ½ cups flour
- ½ cup regular rolled oats
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ t salt
- ½ c (1 stick) butter, cut in 8 pieces
- ¼ cup + 2 T olive oil
- another 1/3 cup regular rolled oats
- optionally, 1/3 c slivered almonds
- 1 cup apple lemon jam (see below), or 1 c apricot or raspberry or strawberry jam, mixed with ¼ c lemon juice and the finely grated zest of the lemon
Heat the oven to 350 and, using two narrow sheets of parchment laid in a +, line a 9x 9 or 10 x 10 baking pan.
In the bowl of a food processor, briefly pulse together the flour, the first measure of oats, sugar and salt.
Pulse the butter into this mixture until it is crumbly, then add the olive oil and pulse just to combine.
Take 2/3 of this mixture and pat it firmly into the prepared baking pan.
Bake 15 to 20 minutes until just golden at edges and set in the center, and remove to a rack to cool and settle for about 15 minutes.
By hand, mix the other 1/3 cup oats, and the almonds if you are using them, into the remaining dough mixture.
Spread the jam evenly over the partially cooled crust. Using your hands, squeeze and clump the loose mixture together, and coarsely crumble it into an even layer on top of the jam, covering it completely.
Return to the oven and bake another 35-40 minutes, until golden on top. It will still look quite soft, and you will wonder if I am pulling a fast one on you. But it firms as it sits (if only we all could!) and once it is entirely cool, you can use the parchment to lift it out of the pan and cut it into neat squares.
super lemon-apple jam
inspired by Food In Jars
- 6 cups chopped apples
- 1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
- ½ cup honey
- 3/4 cup sugar
- finely grated zest of two lemons
Combine the chopped apples and lemon juice in a heavy-bottomed, non-aluminum pot, and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the apples have just started to break down into a chunky applesauce. Now add the honey and sugar and stir well.
Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for at least five minutes at this heat, stirring all the while to keep it from spitting at you. Then lower the heat and simmer, stirring often, until there is a shiny, jammy quality to it; about 15 minutes, depending on how watery your apples are. Remove it from the heat and stir in the lemon zest, and scrape into a bowl or jar to cool.