Friday, May 24, 2013

Raspberry-Almond Oat Bars: A Sweet Café Treat for Cook the Books: The Color of Tea by Hannah Tunnicliffe

Grace Miller is an English expat who moves with her Australian husband to the tiny island of Macau in China. Grace is trying to find herself while escaping her broken dreams and past secrets, and she longs to  do something bold and unexpected. A passion for baking leads her to open Lillian's, a café named for her mother, where she serves coffee, tea and pretty jeweled-colored macarons. Starting life over in a foreign setting, Grace begins to gain strength, build community and create the life she wants. 

The Color of Tea by Hannah Tunnicliffe is the April/May selection for Cook the Books, the bi-monthly virtual foodie book club hosted by Rachel, Heather, Simona and me. As the host for this round, I picked this novel because although Grace's life is not where she would like it to be with a rocky marriage and the sad news of her infertility, I envy and admire the way she takes action--fulfilling the dream of opening her own café. Many of the food bloggers and foodies I know, myself included, have the fantasy of their own cafe or food-related business. Mine is a little hang-out-style place with great atmosphere, serving breakfast and lunch, phenomenal espresso and coffee drinks and a tea and "elixir" bar where healthy and delicious juice and herbal concoctions are made to order. The food is (mostly) healthy, probably veg-friendly, and there's a daily soup special of course. ;-) There's a selection of used books--cookbooks and food-related fiction and non-fiction, and a schedule of afternoon and evening classes each month on healthy cooking, nutrition and other similar subjects. Oh, and there are some shelves of cool cooking gadgets and gifts, handmaid jewelry and bath products, and other things I love tucked in. (OK I have a few too many different ideas and concepts in there but since it is my fantasy café/emporium, I get to call the shots!

Since my place isn't likely to come to fruition anytime soon, I have to live vicariously through others (real and fictional) like Grace. I loved the colorful descriptions of food (especially those creative and mouthwatering macarons), expat life, the culture and customs of Asia and Macau, and the variety of supporting characters in the novel. This was a book that took me away from the day-to-day for a bit--what I look for lately in my reading. Although I couldn't completely relate to all of Grace's issues, and in the beginning I wasn't sure how much I even liked her, I found myself caught up in her growth and rooting for her success. Whoever we are and at whatever place we are at in our lives, I think most of us are looking for common things--family and community, personal growth, work we are passionate about, and just a place to belong in the world. It was a pleasure to travel with Grace on her journey. 

Author Notes: Hannah Tunnicliffe was born in New Zealand but has traveled the world and lived in Australia, England, and Macau and now lives in Canada. Leaving a career in Human Resources (that sounds familiar!), she decided to explore her passion for writing and The Color of Tea is her first novel. Hannah also graciously accepted (in the midst of moving back to New Zealand in fact), to be the judge for this round of Cook the Books and will choosing her favorite dish and post from the entries. 

For my novel-inspired dish, of course I had many thoughts about making macarons--with the book's macaron-named chapter titles and descriptions like Le Dragon Rouge--Red Dragon (Dragon Fruit Filled with Lemongrass-Spiked Buttercream), Une Vie Tranquille--A Quiet Life (Pineapple with Butterscotch Ganache), and Brise d'Ete--Summer Breeze (Yuzu with Dark Cherry Filling). How could I not? I was even tempted to buy an on-sale macaron cookbook at Barnes & Noble. But then I remembered who I am, that I am in no way a baker, and that detailed aka "fussy" baking makes me insane, and so I looked for my inspiration in a different way. 

Working from home most of the time, there are certain tasks that don't work so well for me--such as project work editing pages-and-pages of training material. At home I can find far too many distractions to stop my work--laundry, Max crying to come in the unopened back screen door instead of the wide-open one six-feet away that he just went out of (darn cat!), the stack of cookbooks sitting next to me offering up delectable food porn, etc. So, at least once or twice a week, I take myself and laptop to one of several local coffee shops (I like to spread my love), and hang out there working for a few hours. Sure, people-watching can be a distraction too, but at least I sit still at my table and the distractions are fast, then I get back to it. One of my  "offices" even carries a selection of locally-baked macarons--of which the salted caramel is my favorite. They also carried one of the best raspberry oat bars I have ever had. I say carried because sadly, the owner's wife stopped baking them and the baker they hired got stingy with the jam and bar size and way too generous with the baking time, leaving them too browned for my taste. With a soy latte or a cup of hot tea, a good raspberry oat bar is my café treat of choice and would definitely be on the menu in my fantasy café. An added benefit is that they are quick and easy to make for those of us who don't like to fuss. 

Normally I would go for a healthier oat bar but I really wanted the kind of decadent bar that would tempt me if I were looking in a pastry case--a splurge-worthy, indulgent treat. When I looked up fruit/jam oat bars online, an Apricot Oat Bars recipe from Giada De Laurentiis came up. I knew the bar would be rich and delicious and that I would adapt it from a apricot/walnut combination to raspberry jam and almond. I also made it vegan--it just took replacing the butter and egg with vegan ingredients. In my fantasy café, we will have vegan food options because I like to have that choice and I like to show others that vegan food and baked goods can be just as decadent! ;-) I did reduce the (non-dairy) butter and the sugar because when I tasted the sweet Oregon raspberry jam, it seemed plenty sweet and two sticks of butter seemed like a lot.  

Raspberry-Almond Oat Bars
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis via Food Network
(Makes about 24 Bars)
Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 (13-oz) jar raspberry jam or preserves (about 1 1/4 cups)
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 packed cup light brown sugar (I used 3/4 cup)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon + extra for topping
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 3/4 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup (4-oz) sliced almonds + extra for topping
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted (I used 1 1/2 sticks Earth Balance)
1 egg, at room temperature, beaten (I used egg replacement)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 tsp almond extract

Put an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 by 13 by 2-inch metal baking dish with vegetable oil cooking spray. Line the bottom and sides of the pan with parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper with vegetable oil cooking spray and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cinnamon, salt and baking soda. Stir in the oats and almonds. Add the butter, egg and vanilla and stir until incorporated.

Using a fork or clean fingers, lightly press half of the crust mixture onto the bottom of the prepared pan. Using a spatula, spread the jam filling over the crust leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edge of the pan. Cover the filling with the remaining crust mixture and gently press to flatten. (Note: I used about 2/3 of the mixture as the base and crumbled the remaining 1/3 over the top of the filling, patting lightly but letting some of the jam shine through, I then sprinkled the top with the extra sliced almonds and a bit more cinnamon. Bake until light golden, about 30 to 35 minutes. Cool for (at least) 1 hour. Cut into bars and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Notes/Results: These smelled heavenly while they were baking and the hardest part was waiting for them to cool and set up before slicing. I baked them in the morning, let them drive me crazy during a conference call, then got out of the house and away from their lure to run an errand before finally slicing them up, photographing them and sampling them a few hours later. A tasty mix of sweet and tart with the moist and tender cinnamony crust--they were perfect as an afternoon snack with a cup of berry-infused green tea. Even taking out a portion of the sugar and butter, they were pretty sweet and very soft, so personally I would be worried about using the full amounts and actually might cut them down even more. These are soft enough that a plate and fork is the best way to enjoy them and a small square satisfies. These bars filled a craving and now I need to dump the bulk of them off with friends so that they don't go directly to my hips. ;-) I would make these again with my changes and as mentioned, even cut down a bit more on the sugar and butter.

I will be rounding up the Cook the Books entries for this round (due by end of day Monday, May 27th), sometime next week.  If you didn't get a chance to enter in this round, please join us for June/July when we will be reading How to Cook a Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher, hosted by Simona at briciole

It's Potluck week at I Heart Cooking Clubs, the week we can make any recipe of the current chef, Yotam Ottolenghi, or any of the previous 8 IHCC chefs so I am linking these delicious bars adapted from a Giada De Laurentiis recipe there. You can check out the other dishes people made by going to the May Potluck post and following the links.

Happy Aloha Friday!


  1. I had to giggle...because your dream sounds a little bit like mine. I don't want to narrow it down, so why should I? It is a dream afterall ;). These oat bars sound delectable...the perfect little indulgence, Deb.

  2. I feel like I would have constantly been hungry and dreaming of macarons while reading that book!! I would definitely be tempted by these raspberry oat bars at a pastry counter...I love that tart jam against a sweeter buttery backdrop.

  3. Rachel JagareskiMay 24, 2013 at 12:42 AM

    Used books and a cafe, sounds perfect! These treats look really yummy. And I enjoyed the book. I'm getting my post up this weekend!

  4. I think we all would love a little cafe. Yours sounds fantastic! I love this recipe. Another jam using one! :)

  5. Pam Armstrong GreerMay 24, 2013 at 10:32 AM

    Adding this book to my list and these bars to the recipes I want to try! I have a salad for this week's SS.

  6. I am so impressed that you took one recipe and made it your own through subbing in and out different ingredients! Cool Pot Luck treat!

  7. Deb - I love that you have a detailed vision of how you'd like your place to be. I'm way too sporadic for that. I have trouble narrowing down what I'd like to do.

    I actually looked through all my Giada books this week and funny enough this was the recipe that jumped out to me. I even had the apricot jam and set about to make it but didn't have enough butter. I like that you subbed out the raspberry jam for apricot. Raspberry or strawberry would probably be my first choice. I think these look delicious! I'd have to do the same as you and give them away though. I find these kind of treats way too addictive.

  8. These look delicious, Deb! Thanks, too, for hosting Cook the Books this month. This little bit of escapist lit was just what I needed.

  9. brittany @ brittany cooksMay 26, 2013 at 2:24 AM

    num! definitely making these soon! :)

  10. Very nice review and a sweet treat too :-)

  11. I wan to read this book & I want to hang out at your hang out!!

  12. How did the bars compare to the ones you had at that café? They do sound delicious, and let me know when your little fantasy place is opening.

  13. Danielle @ The Growing FoodieMay 28, 2013 at 4:51 AM

    I love the idea of your little place :) I, too, really enjoyed the book and I love your treats...I will have to make them myself :)


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