I have a bit of a problem. I seem to accrete jars of jam. I can’t help it. I don’t have compulsive-jam-buying disorder or anything; people gift them to me, homemade-style. I also make jam myself at a rate which far exceeds my jam-eating capabilities (which happens to be rather low). Few activities feel more satisfyingly domestic goddess-ish than lining up a dozen warm jars of freshly canned preserves, listening to the ‘shluurrp’ as the lids seal themselves down, one by one. Gazing upon their jewel-like colors induces daydreams of ‘larders’ and ‘simpler times’ where ‘homesteaders’ had to ‘put things by’ in order to last through the ‘lean winter.’
But somehow winter never feels quite ‘lean’ enough to merit eating last year’s fruit stewed in copious amounts of sugar and left to sit on the shelf for half a year. Jars that turn out well are swiftly given away in a flurry of ‘Look-what-I-made!’ excitement, probably to folks like me who fail to eat them, until they turn a dingy grey as revenge for 2 years of neglect.
Jars that turn out less-than-spectacularly end up hanging around our kitchen for years, as well. There was that batch of orange rhubarb marmalade, which tasted great, but the green of the ‘barb and orange of the, er, oranges turned an unappetizing shade of brown. Or the time I ordered a case of red plums with the intention of making dozens of jars to give as Christmas gifts, only to bite into one and find it totally flavorless. Oh well, I thought, nothing a little (aka truckload) of sugar can’t fix! Only it didn’t. Then I let the pot burn slightly. Three years later, I can’t seem to admit defeat. Surely someday I’ll bake that apple tart that needs glazing, right?
On the other hand, take my talented sister-in-law, Sheila. She’s got two kids, a cat, a garden, a successful art career, and she still manages to make the most delectable, sweet-tart, chunky plum jam, which she gifts to her lucky family, stylishly jarred and wrapped, every Christmas. The first time I tasted this jam, two winters ago, I very nearly swooned. I didn’t know jam could taste so fresh and bright. We received another jar last winter, but not until this past weekend did I realize how time had flown, jam-free, so quickly, as we brought home yet another to join the fray.
-jam bars of many varieties
-on toast, scones, crumpets, english muffins
-in plain yogurt
-‘jam bag pudding‘ (which sounds oddly intruiguing)
-swirled into coffeecake
-to fill muffins or cupcakes
-sandwiched between buttery cookies or macarons
-strained and stirred into buttercream to top cupcakes or fill cookies
-slathered between layers of cake or a crepe gateau
-baked into gateau basque or pithiviers
-dolloped on pancakes (ricotta!) or folded into crepes (buckwheat!)
-used to glaze fruit tarts, or be the bottom layer of a fruit tart, such as apple
-rolled up in croissant dough, danish dough or puff pastry for turnovers
-to fill blintzes
-folded into whipped cream and rolled into a roulade cake
I decided to bake jam bars, since there are few things I love more than buttery streusel, and jam bars consist of mostly that, with a layer of Sheila’s tart, plum jam to add flavor and textural contrast. (Without the jam, it would basically be sbrisolona, which actually isn’t such a bad thing.)
These are stupid easy to prepare: just whizz all the ingredients together in the food processor (excepting the jam), press most of it into a pan, spread the jam over, crumble the rest of the mixture on top, and bake. I based these on a recipe from Williams Sonoma Baking, but swapped the cinnamon for cardamom, which I love with plums, added salt (it called for none, but surely the best part about jam bars is the addictive salty-sweetness?!), changed some other things around, and ended up with a delectable little snack, one fewer jar of jam on the counter, and a quiet boyfriend (for now).
While craving (another) snack this afternoon I opened up this year’s jar of Sheila’s delectable plum jam and put a scoop into some plain, whole-milk yogurt. The bright, sweet-tart flavor transported me to Corralitos, picking a plum off Jay’s mom’s tree and biting into its luscious flesh, still warm from the sun. Seriously. This jar won’t be getting baked into anything.
Plum Cardamom Crumble Squares
Makes twelve 2″ bars
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 stick (4 ounces, 1/2 cup) cold, unsalted butter, diced
1 cup plum (or other slightly tart) jam
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º. Butter an 8″ square baking pan, or line it with a sling of parchment paper.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, oats, sugar, salt and cardamom. Pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the butter over and pulse about 20 times, until the mixture begins to clump together.
Remove 1 cup of the mixture and set aside. Press the remaining mixture firmly into the pan, building up a 1/2 inch lip on all sides. Spread the jam evenly over the bottom, then sprinkle the 1 cup crumb mixture over the top. Pat down lightly.
Bake the bars until golden on top, about 45 minutes. Let cool completely, then cut into 12 bars.
The bars are crispest the day they are baked, but will keep for several days in an airtight container at room temperature.