Blackberry Oat Squares

Growing up my parents would take my brother and I out of school each fall and for a couple of weeks, we’d camp our way up and down the Pacific Coast as suburban gypsies.  We’d hit that sweet spot in between Labor Day and Thanksgiving when the weather was  beautiful but the National Parks nearly empty.

Each year it seemed like the further we wandered up the Pacific Northwest, the more abundant the wild blackberry bushes.  They’d be heavy with ripe fruit and, in a move that would probably qualify as child abuse today, my mom would not only let us eat the berries but encourage us to pick what seemed like thousands of the little ruby jewels.  One year she even made jam.  Out of wild blackberries.  While camping.  Bohemian or what?

Of course, in warmer Southern California, blackberries come into season in the spring.  So, we don’t have to wait for the fall to enjoy them.

And, to be honest, I still had streusel on the brain.

So, what happens when you take fresh blackberry preserves (any berry would do).

And marry them with (lots of) oat streusel?

Fairly delectable blackberry oat squares.


Don McLean.  While there is a good chance that my early childhood memories have blended together, Don McLean always reminds me of driving down the road in mid-October, chasing thunderstorms.

Blackberry Oat Bars

Adapted from Gourmet, July 2000


For base and topping

  • 3 C old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 C + 3 TBS all-purpose flour
  • 1 C  packed light brown sugar
  • 1  TBS finely grated fresh orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2  sticks (16 TBS) unsalted butter, melted

For filling

  • 2 C blackberries (3/4 pound)
  • 1/3 C granulated sugar
  • 2 TBS fresh orange juice
  • TBS cornstarch

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Line a 9-inch square metal baking pan with parchment, butter or mist parchment with spray oil.

Make base and topping:
Blend together oats, flour, brown sugar, zest, baking soda, and salt with  fingertips until well combined. Stir in butter. Reserve 1 1/2 cup of mixture for topping; transfer remainder to baking pan, pressing it firmly in bottom to form an even layer. Bake in middle of oven until golden, 12 to 15 minutes.

Make filling while base is baking:
Stir together berries, sugar, juice, and cornstarch in a small saucepan, then bring to a boil over moderate heat. Cook, stirring, until thick and no longer cloudy, about 5 minutes, and remove from heat.

Assemble and bake squares:
Spoon filling onto oat base, leaving a 1/2-inch border around edge. Crumble reserved oat mixture on top.

Bake in middle of oven until golden and bubbly, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a rack.  Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares.

Dirty Chai Shortbread

There are many perks to working in higher education. One is that I always have a ready and willing sample pool for baked goods. College students will happily and enthusiastically eat anything that’s free.

Another is that every once in a while I get a glimpse into the “cool” stuff the kids are eating and drinking. While I don’t have any research to back up this up, over time I’ve noted that college towns I’ve visited and worked in often have a higher density of ethnic/ alternative restaurants relative to the general composition of the area’s population. Part of this, I think, is because colleges and universities bring with them diversity that may not be native to the area. Another piece goes back to the relative socioeconomic status of college students. Frugality can breed creativity and maybe, just maybe, a population more willing to try new things–especially if they’re cheap. To this end I’ve got one word: Mongols. But, as usual, I’ve drifted off-topic.

Which brings me to dirty chai.

I know what you are thinking, and I think it too every time I order one. That’s part of the fun. As introduced to me by an undergraduate, a dirty chai is a chai latte with a shot (or two) of espresso. In a word, it is a revelation. Seriously. The chai contributes its signature spicy and sweet while the espresso adds a certain robustness of the “you complete me” caliber. Naturally, the first thing I thought upon trying the dirty chai is “how can I make this into something else?” So, I give you the dirty chai shortbread. In the (hopefully) never ending quest to perfect my shortbread/sable technique, I experimented with yet another recipe.

I’ve had a good recipe for chai shortbread for a long time.  Unlike the earl grey cookies these don’t actually utilize tea.  Instead, a chai spice combo of cinnamon, cardamom, clove and black pepper is used to achieve the complex sweet-spicy profile.  To make it dirty, I added a about a teaspoon and another half (for good measure) of espresso powder.  We have a Nespresso machine that uses those lovely jewel-like capsules.  They come in a million flavors but to be honest, TD and I can’t tell the difference between them.  I just buy the different colors because they look pretty.  But anyhow, if you use Nespresso, you could just cut into one of the capsules and the espresso is of a fine enough grind it’s ready to go.  Alternately, finely ground regular expresso or even instant espresso powder would all get the job done.

These are unusual, but also a little adventurous.


The Shins.

Dirty Chai Shortbread Cookies

Adapted from Cooking Light, December 2007


  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (about 6 3/4 ounces)
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 tsp finely ground espresso powder (instant or regular)
  • Dash of ground cloves
  • Dash of freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 10 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon ice water


  1. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour and next 7 ingredients (through sugar), in a food processor and pulse to combined.
  2. With processor running on low, add-in butter a tablespoon at-a-time until dough begins to look like lumpy sand.
  3. Sprinkle dough with 1 tablespoon ice water and pulse until dough just comes together.
  4. Divide dough in half. Shape dough into 2 (6-inch-long) logs; wrap each log in plastic wrap. Chill 1 hour or until very firm.
  5. Preheat oven to 375°.
  6. Unwrap dough logs. Carefully cut each log into 12-18 slices using a serrated knife. Place dough circles 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake at 375° for 10 minutes. Cool on pans 5 minutes. Remove cookies from pans; cool completely on wire racks.



When cake for breakfast is totally fine

A couple of Sundays ago some gracious friends had us to their house for brunch.  I can’t think of a nicer way to spend a rainy Sunday than with good company.  The belinis were a treat and the hostess made a life changing Quiche Lorraine.  I’m not kidding, the crust on that pie was transcendant.

We brought coffee cake.  And, if you are looking for a recipe for Easter brunch, this might fit the bill.

We begin with streusal.  And really, you could put streusal on a shoe and it would be tasty.

I had originally planned to use fresh blackberries but of course, when I bought ingredients, not a single fresh berry was to be found.  So, I stuck to the recipe and utilized frozen (and then defrosted) cherries.  Really though, you could use any fruit with a hearty meat.  The original calls for a cup…next time I’ll use a cup plus another half cup. The cake is hearty enough that it will easily absorb the extra liquid.

Speaking of batter, it has a sour cream base.  I love cake recipes that utilize some sort of dairy in them, be it milk, buttermilk or sour cream.

Half of the batter goes into a buttered tube pan (you could use a plain bundt but remember that the streusal on top will mean that it has to be served upright, not flipped.  To measure out dough, I used my trusty kitchen scale.  And, I’m glad I did because the first half really didn’t feel like enough batter.  Trust me, it is.

Top the fruit, carefully, with the other half of the batter and then get down with the streusal.  The recipe calls for a cup.  I used the entire recipe (maybe 2 cups?).  Adjust your stresual basec on your own affection of it.

Out of the oven, just one more step.

A little milk and confectioner’s sugar makes for a lacy adornment.

But really, it’s about the streusal.


Gotye’s Making Mirrors album.  What can I say, I’m a consumer.  And I like the album.

Cherry-Streusal Coffee Cake

adapted from Martha Stewart, Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook

Cake Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1  1/2 cup frozen sour cherries (or other fruit), thawed and drained well
  • 1-2 cups streusal, as preferred  (recipe to follow)

Streusel Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup packed light-brown or confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature


  1. To make streusal: In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt; cut in butter using a pastry blender, until large, moist clumps form.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch tube pan; set aside. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugar, eggs, and vanilla on medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the sour cream and beginning and ending with the flour. Beat until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  4. Spoon about half the batter into the prepared pan. Arrange the cherries in a single layer on top of the batter; avoid placing any cherries against the pan’s edge, as they may stick or burn if not fully encased in batter.
  5. Top with the remaining batter, making sure it is evenly distributed, and smooth with an offset spatula. Sprinkle streusel evenly over the top of the batter.  Gently push struesal into cake batter.
  6. Bake until cake is golden brown and springs back when touched, 40 to 45 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and let cake cool 10 to 15 minutes. Invert cake onto rack, then re-invert (so streusel side is up), and let cool completely.
  7. Spoon glaze over the cake, letting it drip down sides. Let cake sit until glaze is set, about 5 minutes, before serving. Cake can be kept at room temperature, wrapped well in plastic, for up to 4 days.