Summer Holidays Week 5: Berry Bars

Oat, Pecan and Blueberry Bars (Berry Bars) Vegan
As London-dwellers, it will come as no surprise that we live in a flat. The lack of our own garden is a constant source of frustration; fortunately however  we are blessed with huge open green spaces within a minute’s walk and we are lucky enough to have a balcony. Although small, there is enough space for several strategically positioned plants, including my beloved blueberry bush, patiently nurtured since 2008. She provides us with a couple of punnets’ worth of plump blueberries every summer, and my daughter loves to pick them (and quietly eat them as she goes). These picnic-friendly berry bars were a fun way of baking with our balcony blueberries, but you can use any berries you like. They are pre-cooked to a sort of ramshackle jam-like state, so alternatively you could simply use any ready-made jam you like (go for one labelled ‘conserve’ though, as opposed to something very smooth. I really like St Dalfour!). These bars firm up nicely as they cool, so don’t even think about trying to slice them while they’re still warm. They’re very moreish and go down a treat with a cup of tea, or a glass of milk for the little non-caffeine people.

You will need a 9″x9″ tin (I use my trusty brownie tin). Makes 16-20 squares, depending how you cut.

For the berry conserve (Allow to cool before using. You can make this several days in advance if you like, or just use 250g shop-bought conserve):

150g berries (blueberries, strawberries, blackberries or raspberries are best)
100g caster sugar
2 tsp lemon juice

For the bars:
140g plain flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of salt
100g oats
60g caster sugar
60g soft light brown sugar
150g unsalted butter, fridge-cold and cubed
100g chopped pecans
250g conserve (above)

Make it vegan! Instead of butter, just use a vegan spread such as Pure (or Earth Balance in the US).

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If you want to make your own conserve, simply place the berries, sugar and lemon juice into a deep saucepan and slowly bring to the boil. Simmer for about 4 minutes, stirring now and again as necessary. You won’t need to do too much, just keep an eye on it. And I don’t really need to tell you this, but obviously keep children well away at this stage! The bubbling berries are terrifyingly hot. When it is ready, remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool completely and set before using.

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Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4. Place the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, oats and sugars into a bowl. Mix together thoroughly, then rub in the cubes of butter. This is much the same as making a crumble, although this will be a little more sticky.

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You’ll end up with a rubbly looking mixture. Add the chopped pecans and distribute as evenly as you can. Tip about two thirds of the mixture into your lined baking tin and press it down evenly to form the base of the bars. You can use the back of a spoon or your hands, if it’s easier. Bake the base for 15 minutes, when the edges should just start to look golden.

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Spread the conserve evenly over the base and crumble the remaining mixture over the top. Try to get cover the conserve fairly evenly, but don’t worry about little gaps, as it looks really pretty when it cools! Gently pat down the topping (just to make sure it all holds together when baked). Bake for another 20 minutes and set aside to cool completely before slicing. These will keep for a few days in a tin.
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