Strawberry + Thyme Crumb Bars

Sunday, August 10

strawberry + thyme crumb bars :: une gamine dans la cuisine

"There's a soft spot in everything 
our fingers touch,
                               the one place where everything breaks
when we press just right.
The past is like that, with its arduous edges and blind sides,
the whorls of our fingertips
                              embedded along its walls
like fossils the sea has left behind."

                               ~ Charles Wright, from "Two Stories," The Other Side of the River 

I am my own worst enemy and most disparaging critic; this, I know. When it comes to my blog, everything grazes against receptive skin and can either make my day or mar an entire late-summer week. Of course, being me, I tend to roost upon the abrasive. I build a thorny nest of crooked twig-shaped (fictitious) slights and peck jagged holes through my own words and photos; especially the photos.

I was certain my blogiversary cake would be a tremendous success, that, like many of my favourite fellow food blogger posts, it would be Everywhere. It wasn't a disaster, not in the least, but given the amount of time and agonizing attention to detail, its sail didn't catch a verily robust zephyr. I methodically began to rip apart each aspect of the photos; they were too dark, too moody, too rustic/ not rustic enough, too busy, lacking in detail, in need of better styling...maybe empty egg shells are off putting??? After hours of tearing + pulling at invisible threads, I had to stop, finally. Yes, I'm still slightly off balance when it comes to photography, and after five years I'm not quite "getting it." To be honest, I don't enjoy the food photography portion of blogging, although I believe, given the proper mindset, it could be my favourite part. Right now the entire process is a hot mess of frustration, strewn linens and wasted batteries. As soon as I have actual food to photograph, my creativity becomes evasive; it sputters and taunts like a round of whack a mole. But considering the fact that I'm armed only with a fickle p&s camera (without the aid of Photoshop), I shouldn't complain. I have come a long way since 2009 and even though I will never unlock the elusive pocket secret of what procures the most Pins, shares, and Tweets, I can soak up & bask in the surprise hit posts (there's a hideous muffin post with goopy beginner-blog photos that keeps cropping up on Pinterest!).*eep!*

With that out of the way, I'm going to try out different lighting, new windows and various backgrounds. Please bear with me if the next several posts include wobbly-legged photos and awkward angles. Eventually I'll get frustrated and fall back into the safety net of past comforts; a northerly window in a too-dark kitchen + an overused wood background board.  Trying something new is a foxy way to refresh what's old.


strawberry + thyme crumb bars :: une gamine dans la cuisine


Speaking of new v. old, this recipe is a *slightly* different take on last summer's blueberry + rosemary bars. I nudged things in a brighter direction by swapping berries and herbs.

I adore crumb bars! They're humble, scrumptious, and an ideal way to play with seasonal fruit. These bars are cordially versatile. If you can't find strawberries (or blueberries), feel free to toss in raspberries, blackberries, cherries, or a smorgasbord of berry love. If you're not a fan of thyme, you can omit the use of herbs completely, or grab a handful of fresh rosemary or basil; there are no dead ends with this recipe. Lately I have been daydreaming of raspberries + basil...


strawberry + thyme crumb bars :: une gamine dans la cuisine


Strawberry + Thyme Crumb Bars
makes about 30-34 bars

for the crust and crumb
3/4 cup granulated sugar
grated zest from one lemon (about 1 Tablespoon)
about 3 Tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped {Note: be sure to discard the sprigs.}
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 ounces (that's 2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 egg, lightly beaten

for the filling
1 cup strawberry preserves
3 1/2 cups fresh strawberries, hulled & chopped
1/4 cup granulated sugar (use more or less depending on the sweetness of the berries)
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons cornstarch

method
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a 9x13-inch pan with foil, shiny side up - leave a slight overhang along the edges (this will make the bars easier to remove from the pan). Butter the foil.

Prepare the crust & crumb topping: In a large mixing bowl, combine the sugar, lemon zest, and thyme. Use your fingers to rub the zest and thyme into the sugar until it becomes moist and aromatic. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add cold cubes of butter and beaten egg; use a pastry cutter to work the butter and egg into the dry ingredients. The mixture will be very crumbly but should hold together when pinched.

Press about half the mixture into the bottom of prepared pan. Spread jam over the crust - leaving about a 1/2-inch bare border around the edges.

In a separate large bowl, combine the strawberries, sugar, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Gently stir everything together. Distribute the berry mixture evenly over the jam and crust (it's okay if the berries touch the edges of the pan).

Sprinkle the remaining dough mixture over the berries.

Bake for 45 - 55 minutes or until the crumb topping turns very light brown - the berries should be bubbling slightly too.

Remove the pan from the oven and place it onto a cooling rack. Cool completely (about 5 hours) before slicing. Once the pan has reached room temperature you can place it in the refrigerator to cool off faster. Use the foil overhang to lift the bars out of the pan.

36 comments:

  1. I've always loved your photos, and for some reason, it always seems like my favorite posts and photos, the ones I think are going to take the world by storm, just quietly fade into the background. It's so utterly unpredictable...Anyway I love these bars, the combination of fruit and herbs is so elegant!

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    1. Thanks, Sue! Yes, it's almost impossible to decipher what posts will take social media by storm. Maybe the George Costanza approach of doing the exact opposite will work... :D

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  2. Don't be so hard on yourself! I think sometimes when things are frustrating (as difficult as it is), it forces us to take a different perspective and grow. Sometimes photography practice is easiest when it's not for a post and I'm just shooting peaches to play with different lighting, etc. It takes the pressure off :). These bars look heavenly, love the strawberry-thyme pairing! (Crumb bars cure most things, I'm convinced ;)).

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    1. Thank you, Laura! That's a brilliant idea; I think I'll take some practice shots on my new-old background boards. :)
      Crumb bars are magic!

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  3. Oh, Valerie, why do you doubt your photography? I think it's glorious. I don't think there's any way to predict what will take off. (But I wouldn't be surprised if today's wonderful first photo did.)

    The crumb bars are everything I love. And I love the poem excerpt - I must check out his other work.

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    1. Thanks, Beth! Social media is mercurial, I'd rather cling to the stable warmth of crumbs bars & poetry. xo

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  4. Those look fabulous! Love the addition of thyme, such a great idea :)

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  5. I never would've known you use a P&S had you not said so. Your pictures evoke such emotion, something elusive, but rippling underneath the calm. They are indeed gorgeous, as I'm sure are these bars.

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    1. Rachel, wow. I love your description; thank you! xo

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  6. I love your photography Valerie - it's refreshing and reminds me I'm visiting your blog. I really love the poem excerpt choice too!

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    1. Thank you, erica! Poetry is a cerebral version of spiced cocoa or warm milk + honey...or a frosty glass of tart lemonade. :)

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  7. Beautiful bars! Your photography is lovely...

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  8. Your photos are beautiful! Don't do this to yourself, please. Perfectionism is cage we build around ourselves and then it's very hard to escape from it.

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    1. Patricia, that's very true. Perfectionism does seep its way into every aspect of my life, no matter how I try to ignore it. I was hoping my site would be a safe zone. Thankfully the lovely words from you & other readers are helping to ward off the happiness thief. Thank you! xo

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  9. Your photos are beautiful..Amazing to me you would think otherwise:)

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  10. Your photos are always so thoughtfully and well styled, Valerie. You also convey the story and emotion very well which is why I'm immediately drawn to your work. Honestly, don't beat yourself up so much, as a blogger, I feel your pain. It's not worth trying to figure out what will go viral on the different social media platforms, just go with what makes you happy.

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    1. Thanks, Nik. Your photography is a constant source of inspiration for me; if only my camera could play with shadows and light in such a harmonious manner. :)

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  11. Valerie, your photos are gorgeous - the lighting, the props, the overall sense of place and mood...I literally love everything about them, and wish for many of your linens and plates and your eye for scene. (And the recipe sounds delicious too.)

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    1. aww, Thank you Anna! :D I would love to share a plateful of bars with you (with some Irish coffee!)...we could dish about dishes and wrinkly linens!!

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  12. I can relate all too well! Honestly, whenever I think a recipe is going to be a huge hit, I'm wrong... and sometimes when I think one is pretty weak it is huge... food blogging is very unpredictable!

    Love these bars and the combination of strawberry and thyme sounds like summer perfection.

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    1. Thanks, Lauren! It truly is an unpredictable platform, I doubt I'll ever crack the viral code. If only I could stop the *painfully* bad photos from sprouting up everywhere. :P

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  13. Oh wow! This looks delicious <3 And the photos are absolutely stunning! xx

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  14. What a gorgeous recipe and gorgeous pictures too. We are always our own worst critic. I can so relate to your feelings and I thank you for sharing them so honestly!

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    1. I'm happy to hear that I'm not alone in this, Monet. :) xo

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  15. Hello hello! I don't normally make the things on my pinterest board, and I never ever comment, but this caught my eye this morning so I gave it a shot, and it was wonderful! Take a peek http://allfourparts.blogspot.com/2014/08/strawberry-and-thyme-crumb-bars.html

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    1. I just popped over; absolutely smitten and already craving another batch! :D

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  16. I absolutely love your photography. It has character. It tells a story. I learned that it's best to find your own style and perfect it. Don't worry about what everyone else is doing or what is/isn't making it on Pinterest. Do what works for you, and the rest will come (in time). That being said, I love these bars.

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    1. Thank you, Jennie! That's great advice. :)

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  17. Hello Valerie,
    I just stumbled across you're site and I think it is lovely!!! I know exactly what you mean when you describe the disappointment that a picture's lack of popularity brings. Sometimes you think you have a real winner, but for some reason, nobody else does. People are fickle and totally unpredictable when it comes to what they'll pin and share. There is such a fine balance between learning from others styles and beating yourself up about your own (I am so guilty of the latter). Keep up what you are doing, it is awesome and my first thought when I saw your photo on IG was "I want my photos to look like that" - no kidding.

    All the best,

    Sophie <3

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    1. Thank you, Sophie! It's difficult, but I know I need to stop berating my own work...it really does little to help in the long run. I'm overwhelmed by the kind responses; thanks for the cheer! xo :-)

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  18. I'm working my way backwards on your posts so I haven't seen the pictures you're disappointed by. Honestly, I've always enjoyed your photography. You always capture the right mood and I enjoy looking at them. I'm sure I'm not alone. That said, I understand the frustration. I feel this way a lot, too. I second Laura: don't be so hard on yourself. :)

    Now I want two (or three) of these crumb bars...

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Thanks for visiting, and for taking the time to read through my ramblings!
If you have a recipe comment or question, I'd love to hear from you.

Happy Baking!
♥ Valerie

 

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