Rhubarb has always been dear to my father’s side of the family — hardly a dinner gathering has gone by without there being my grandmother’s sweetened rhubarb compote to finish off the meal. My dad also grew it in the backyard when we were growing up, and (#canadianproblems) it’s one of the only things you can truly count on to survive the winter and be ready for harvesting in spring.
It should come as no surprise, then, that I’ve been making rhubarb compote since April, but I made quiiiiiiiiiiite a bit, and was looking for something to do with the leftovers. Some friends and I were heading out early for an antique fair out of town, and I decided I wanted to use the compote as a filling for some bars we could stash in the car and eat en route. The bars were bound to be at least a little decadent (I don’t know about you, but I need to be bribed to wake up early), but I wanted them to be healthy enough to pass for breakfast.
Many rounds of recipe testing ensued, as it turns out the healthier the bar, the more likely the recipe is to malfunction. The first iteration of tasted great, but more or less fell apart. The second try yielded less flavour, and the bars were even more crumbly! But the third attempt nailed it.
Turns out that par-baking the bottom crust is the key to getting these bars to hold together! They’re still a little crumbly on top (they are called ‘crumble bars,’ after all), but they’ll hold up well on road trips, to picnics, etc. As per the recipe below, I highly recommend refrigerating them for a couple hours after baking to help you get a really clean slice, and they’re firmer (and just as flavourful) when eaten cool.
These bars have it all: a nuttiness from the whole wheat pastry flour, a touch of sweetness from the almonds, and a toastiness from the coconut. The rhubarb holds its own as a filling too, tart and just barely sweet. I’d serve these with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for dessert; for breakfast, I loosely crumble one on top of a bowl of plain yoghurt — helps me feel a little better about eating them in the morning.
(Psst! Have I mentioned they’re vegan? How did that happen?!)
Chewy, nutty bars cut through with the sweet-tartness of rhubarb. Great for dessert, but healthy enough to pass (occasionally) as breakfast.
For the crust + topping
1 1/2 cups (150g) almond meal
1 1/2 scant cups (150g) whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 cup (150g) packed brown sugar
3/4 cup (75 g) rolled oats
3/4 cup (67g) unsweetened shredded coconut
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 cup (177mL) coconut oil
For the rhubarb filling
3 medium stalks of rhubarb (about 2 1/2 cups chopped, or 370g), sliced into 1/2-inch chunks
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup white sugar
For the crust + topping
Preheat the oven to 350F, and grease and line an 8x8-inch baking dish.
In a large bowl, whisk together all the ingredients but the coconut oil. Form a well at the centre of the dry ingredients, pour in the coconut oil, and stir in until fully combined.
Add two-thirds of the mixture to the bottom of the baking dish, pressing down hard until everything has been seriously compacted. Par-bake in the oven for 15 minutes, until the crust is just beginning to turn fragrant and very light gold in colour. When the time's up, remove from the oven and set aside.
For the rhubarb filling
In the meantime, make the filling. Add the sliced rhubarb to a heavy-bottomed pot with a lid, and a small splash of water. With the lid on, bring rhubarb to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cooking for 5-6 minutes, until softened. Remove from heat, mash with a potato masher (or a large fork, if you haven't got one), until it's as pureed as it can be. Add the almond and vanilla extracts, as well as the 1/4 cup of white sugar (though you can reduce/increase this amount to your taste, depending on how tart your rhubarb is). Return to heat and cook 3-5 minutes more without the lid, allowing the sauce to thicken. By the time it's done you should have just over 1 cup of filling.
Spread 1 cup of the rhubarb filling evenly over the crust, but take care to avoid spreading right to the very edges, as the filling tends to burn there. Grab some of the remaining crumble mixture, give it a firm squeeze in your fist, then crumble it over the filling. Repeat until the crumble mixture is all gone, and the filling is more-or-less evenly covered.
Return to the oven for another 30-35 minutes, rotating halfway through for even heat distribution. Remove when golden-brown and fragrant.
Allow to cool completely before putting in the refrigerator. Refrigerate for 2 hours before slicing (this step isn't totally necessary, but will help the bars firm up and give you a much firmer slice). Serve cold or at room temperature; they're great with a dollop of whipped cream at dessert, and, alternatively, a dollop of plain yogurt at breakfast. Any leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to 1 week.