A dessert recipe that combines browned butter, seasonal summer fruit, and crispy pieces of oat cobbler topping is basically guaranteed to be a success. Certainly that’s the case for these nectarine and blackberry pie bars, winner of Saturday’s vote for a post. As an added bonus, this is the perfect season for blackberries and nectarines and they were on special this week, so it was an ideal time to make them.
Yossy Arefi’s Sweeter Off the Vine has turned out to be an incredible cookbook for fruit-based desserts. Her nectarine and blackberry pie bars are the third (but probably not final) recipe I’ve blogged about, and these are as phenomenal as her brown butter blondies and cherry poppyseed yogurt cake. These aren’t two fruits that I’d ever given much thought to combining, but they work together very well. However, you should consider this recipe to be a template for your own pie bars – use the same ratios but vary the fruits, spices, crisp topping, and/or even the whole grain flour to make your own version. For example, I’ve made this with Santa Rosa plums and blueberries, two of my favorite summer fruits, cardamom instead of nutmeg, and whole wheat instead of the rye I used this time – the results were similarly outstanding.
These nectarine and blackberry pie bars are easy to make, however the inactive time between starting and finishing is pretty long. Plan on starting these at least 2 hours before you need to go anywhere, and preferably 2.5-3 hours before serving them. Of course, you could make the crust in advance (the day before, for instance). That would trim about 30 minutes from the total time.
First, you’ll want to brown your butter. Yossy says this takes about 5 minutes, but for me it took closer to 10-15 minutes. As the butter cools, whisk together the dry ingredients in your pie crust. Feel free to alter the 1 cup of whole grain flour used in these bars to suit your taste/pantry. Yossy calls for whole wheat, I used rye, but spelt or barley would also be good choices. Once the butter is room temperature, drizzle it over the dry ingredients, gently stir everything together until a ball forms, then dot pieces of the crust inside your 9-by-13-inch baking pan. It’s a lot easier to dot the pieces around the pan rather than trying to press out your single ball to cover the pan bottom. At first, it may seem like there’s not enough, but keep at it and you’ll see there is. Pat the dough pieces out to form an even rectangle, and bake at 350 for 20 minutes until golden.
While the dough is baking, you can assembly your crisp topping, then your filling. For the topping, simply mix all the dry ingredients together, then cut in the butter using your hands to form a crumble. If you like nuts in your crumble, feel free to add 1/2 cup here.
Somewhat vexingly, these nectarine and blackberry pie bars call for 200 g of blackberries, which is just a little more than one container of blackberries from the market (170 g). The upside is, as you wash and pat dry your blackberries, you get to taste-test them along the way. I also added a few more berries to the bars – no one ever complained about getting more blackberries than promised. The rest of the filling is easy to prepare, especially if you have ripe nectarines. Keep in mind that the riper your stone fruit, the easier it is to remove the pit, and let whatever juices fall out of the fruit fall directly into your mixing bowl. Be sure you taste your fruit to judge its sweetness, and adjust how much sugar you add accordingly.
The recipes states that these should bake for 30-40 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the fruit begins to release its juices. Both times I’ve made these, I baked them for about 55 minutes, the top did turn golden brown, but the fruit never released its juices to the extent that I expected to see (I saw no juices bubbling, which is what I was expecting based on the description). It seems like 55 minutes was a reasonable amount of time – the bars weren’t anywhere close to burnt, the crisp topping was crisp but still tender, and the fruit was soft and juicy – so I would recommend the longer baking time.
These nectarine and blackberry pie bars are surprisingly sturdy. They aren’t soggy or floppy. They’ll hold up well in your hand or the hands of your friends/loved ones/co-workers. The recipe makes about 20-30 bars, depending on how generously you cut them. They transport easily to picnics, backyard parties, open houses, beach days, or simply the next room. They aren’t too sweet, they aren’t too heavy, they’d taste outstanding served with vanilla ice cream but they’re also delicious on their own – in short, they’re perfect little bites of summery dessert.
One important note – I confess that I made a vegan Santa Rosa plum-blueberry version several weeks ago using a vegan shortening for a friend who can’t eat lactose. They turned out alright, but the nutty brown butter smell and taste in the crust is really the perfect pairing with the fruit. The taste was okay, but nowhere close to the real thing. Without the brown butter, the crust was also not nearly as sturdy – I should have cut down even more than I did on the amount of shortening I added to the crust to adjust for the liquid lost during butter browning. I also felt that the taste of the vegan butter shone overpowered the rest of the components in the cobbler crust and the fruit itself. In short, if at all possible, use real butter and brown it.
- ¾ cup (170 g) unsalted butter
- 1 cup (125 g) all-purpose flour
- 1 cup (130 g) rye flour (or whole wheat, barley, or spelt)
- ⅓ cup (60 g) firmly packed light brown sugar
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup (70 g) all purpose flour
- ½ cup (75 g) rye flour (or whole wheat, barley, spelt, or more all-purpose)
- ½ cup (45 g) old-fashioned oats
- ½ cup (100 g) firmly-packed brown sugar (light or dark)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ cup (115 g) unsalted butter, softened but cool
- Optional: ½ cup chopped nuts (almond, walnut, pecan, or hazelnut)
- Optional: ½-3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon and/or cardamom
- 1⅓ pounds (626 g) nectarines (about 4 medium)
- 1½ cups (240 g) blackberries
- ½ vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or extract
- scant ¼ cup (45 g) sugar, less if fruit is quite sweet
- ½ teaspoon lemon zest (from about 1 lemon)
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- pinch of salt
- Place rack in center of oven, then pre-heat oven to 350 F. Line a 9-by-13-inch pan with parchment paper.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until it foams, then the foam subsides and the milk solids turn a light brown, about 10 minutes. Butter should have a nutty aroma. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
- Meanwhile, whisk the remaining crust ingredients together. Once butter has cooled, add it then stir gently to form a ball. Divide into 5-8 pieces, scattering these along the pan bottom. Press the sections into one even layer in the pan, then bake for about 20 minutes, until golden brown. Set aside to cool.
- Prepare while your pie dough is in the oven.
- Combine all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl, whisk to break up any large lumps and combine. Add the butter and mix everything together using your fingers, until large crumbs form.
- To a large bowl, add the sugar, lemon zest, and vanilla paste/extract/or seeds from the vanilla bean. Use your fingers to rub the zest and vanilla into the sugar. Let sit while you prepare the fruit, letting the flavors meld.
- Wash the blackberries, pat dry, then place in a medium bowl. Wash, then quarter the nectarines, remove the pit, and coarsely chop the fruit. Add to the blackberries.
- To the bowl of sugar, add the spices, flour, and salt. Add the nectarines and blackberries, then gently fold to combine. Pour over the partially-cooled crust.
- Sprinkle the crisp topping evenly over the fruit.
- Bake until topping is golden brown about 45-55 minutes. Cool completely before slicing and serving, or serve warm (they will not hold the bar shape) with ice cream.