It's time to visit our imaginary Nordic lake cottage. Perhaps it is a classic red painted affair with white trim, nestled near the shore of a tranquil lake, surrounded by tall evergreens. Maybe something like this?
Our days are long and languid and just warm enough to be pleasant. Each morning we rise early for a walk in the woods, metal pails in hand, ready to gather the sweet, wild blueberries that cover the forest floor. We walk through the cool shade of the trees, picking berries as we go, tasting a few here and there, returning to our cottage with fingers stained blue and pails full of luscious ripe berries. We immediately toss a handful or two into our breakfast of warm porridge sprinkled with brown sugar and drizzled with cream. We gaze at the lake reveling in the quiet of the early summer morning, and our most pressing concern becomes what do we do with the rest of the blueberries?
Okay, back to reality. That's not quite how this recipe came about (other than in my very active imagination) but a girl can dream, can't she? In truth, this recipe is a cross between a crumble bar recipe from Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce and Beatrice Ojakangas's recipe for blueberry bars in Scandinavian Cooking. Two books that you should not be without, by the way. I love the idea of a hearty crumble bar made with rye flour, hearty oats and sweet, wild blueberries, three Nordic-inspired ingredients that happen to get along very well together.
My "foraging for berries" was more a trip to the frozen section of the local Trader Joe's, but I decided to stick with the wild berries as opposed to the fresh, conventionally grown blueberries that you might find in plastic containers in the produce section of the store. Not only are wild blueberries smaller and quite often more flavorful than their conventionally grown counterparts, they also contain twice the amount of antioxidants making them a more nutritious choice. Using frozen berries also makes these delicious bars something you can bake all year long, in case you need that blueberry fix come January.
Crumble Bar Tips for Success
A few tips for ensuring that your Blueberry Rye Crumble Bars are summer cottage worthy:
- Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 x 9 inch cake pan and cut a piece of parchment paper to fit inside the pan with enough length to hang over the sides. And then take the extra step of buttering the bottom and sides of the parchment (just a couple of inches up the sides is fine). Not only will this help ensure that your bars won't stick, it creates a sling so that you can take the bars out of the pan before cutting them if you so choose. If you decide to take them out in one big piece using the sling, you must chill the bars for several hours in the fridge beforehand to make sure they are firm enough and won't fall apart.
- After you pat the crust into the pan, press/slide the bottom of a metal measuring cup over the crust to even it out and ensure that it is packed tightly.
- Freeze the crust briefly and bake prior to adding the filling. This creates a firm, shortbread-like base for your bars and keeps them from getting soggy.
- Make sure your fruit to crust to crumble ratio is proportional. This recipe has a nice balance between the three components.
- Squeeze the crumble mixture together in your hand and break off into irregular sized pieces, about ¾ inch in diameter and smaller. This makes for a nice, craggy top.
- Once you have added the crumble topping to the pan, gently press down on it with the back of a spatula. This helps create an even bar and keeps the crumble from falling off once you are ready to cut and serve the bars.
- Do not skimp on the cooling/chilling time! If you try to cut into these while they are still warm, you will end up with something more like blueberry cobbler. The crust needs time to cool and set up. At the very least, wait until they have cooled to room temperature. Better yet, chill the bars for several hours in the fridge before slicing. That way you can use the parchment sling to easily remove them from the pan and they are delicious chilled.
- All of these components can be made in advance. Keep the crust in the freezer and the filling and crumble in the fridge for up to 24 hours before beginning the baking process.
Since we don't have a Nordic lake cottage (yet!) we will have to let frozen wild blueberries and delicious recipes like this one transport us in the meantime, our tastebuds at least. We can always close our eyes and munch and dream of lakes and trees and long summer days.
Blueberry Rye Crumble Bars
For the Crust:
- ½ cup dark rye flour I like the Bob’s Red Mill brand
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- ⅓ cup dark brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon coarse salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter melted and cooled
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the Crumble:
- 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons rye flour
- ¼ cup all purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter melted and cooled
For the Filling:
- 3 cups blueberries preferably wild (frozen is fine)
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Finely grated zest from 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- Pinch of coarse salt
- Make the crust: Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Butter a 9 x 9 inch cake pan. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the inside of the pan, with enough overhang so that the parchment covers the bottom and comes up and over the sides by a couple of inches creating a sling. Place the parchment inside the pan. Butter the bottom and up the sides of the parchment just a couple of inches (see photo).
- Combine flours, brown sugar and salt together in a work bowl of a food processor. Process until combined. Add melted butter and vanilla. Pulse until fully combined and the texture of wet sand.
- Transfer dough to prepared pan. Set empty work bowl aside to use for the crumble (no need to rinse). Press dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan, using the bottom of a metal measuring cup to smooth it out and press it flat. Place crust in the freezer for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the crumble: Combine all ingredients except the butter in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until combined and oats are slightly broken up, approximately 5-7 pulses. Transfer mixture to a bowl and add melted butter. Stir with a fork to combine. Set aside.
- Place the frozen crust in the oven. Bake for 50-55 minutes or until golden brown and slightly firm to the touch.
- Meanwhile, make the filling: Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Stir over medium low heat until berries begin to give up their juice, about 2-3 minutes. Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture has become jamlike in texture, about 2 more minutes. Remove from heat. Set aside to cool.
- When the crust comes out of the oven, increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees. Spread the blueberry filling evenly over the top of the crust (a small offset spatula works really well here), taking care not to touch the hot pan.
- Squeeze some of the crumble mixture together in your hand. Tear off irregular-sized pieces of the crumble and scatter it in an even layer over the top of the blueberry filling. Crumble pieces should be ¾ inch in diameter or smaller. Repeat with remaining crumble. Press gently on the top of the crumble with the back of a spatula to create an even layer and help the crumble stick together.
- Return the pan to the oven and bake for 50 minutes or until crumble topping is crisp and golden brown. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool slightly before placing in the fridge for a few hours to chill bars before slicing.
- Before serving, run a small knife along the inside edge of the pan to loosen any blueberries that may be stuck to the sides. If you have chilled the bars in the fridge, gently lift the parchment paper sling and remove bars in one piece from pan. Cut into squares and serve. If you have simply let the bars cool to room temperature without chilling, slice the bars in the pan into squares and serve.