I’ve never really understood the expression, “easy as pie.” In the home of my childhood, it was more like “almost-unheard-of-plus-totally frustrating-and-usually-botched-results” as pie. Although my mom was a superlative baker, the one thing she almost never made (and when she did, it wasn’t very good) was pie. Give her a cookie dough, and she could nail it; a chiffon cake was her specialty; and cheesecake–no problem. But pie crust somehow eluded her.
As a result, neither one of my sisters nor I excel at pie or pie crust. In fact, the only pie my mother ever baked was called “Chocolate Dream Pie,” and as I recall, and it consisted of one ready-made storebought crust filled with chocolate cake batter and baked. In other words, the only pie in her repertoire was actually a cake.
My mom’s sister, Auntie M, on the other hand, a former caterer who excelled in the kitchen well into until her final years-well, she could bake anything.
Like so many pairs of sisters, my mother and aunt were more dissimilar than alike. Mom was soft spoken, with a quiet, murmuring voice and (despite her hefty weight) a delicate frame, with tiny ankles and wrists. Her thin, fine hair was the color of wax beans. Auntie M, in contrast, was taller and broad, with sturdy legs thick as telephone poles. Her height was enhanced by the towering beehive of coarse, mahogany hair; her gravelly voice was both commanding and insistent, paired with an easy laugh and an equally easy tendency to criticize. My mother, the younger, was also “the pretty one,” while Auntie M was more what used to be described as a “Handsome” woman (think Mrs. Doubtfire with dark hair). Tough on the outside, she rarely revealed an inner softness, like a cautious turtle peeking out of its shell only when every possible threat is removed.
At once assertive and strong, Auntie M embodied the concept of pure domesticity, yet without even a whiff of the usual sense in which women are considered domestic. She was an archetypal feminist, one who encouraged independence, intelligence, strength and self-sufficiency all within the realm of marriage–and I believed she could accomplish anything. I idolized her, and in many ways wanted to be her (well, minus the shapeless legs).
When I was about 16, I spent a couple of weeks living at my aunt’s house after she had broken her arm. While ostensibly there to help her keep up with housework, my role as her personal assistant quickly morphed into culinary protégé as well. It was under her tutelage that I first learned about mis en place (though of course she didn’t call it that), which I had never encountered before; she also taught me about professional wash-up technique, filling one sink with soapy water, the other with clear and washing the least-dirtied dishes and utensils (such as glasses or cutlery) first, reusing the water for the more grimy pots and pans at the end.
I discovered how rotating your baking pans halfway through the cooking time helps to compensate for uneven oven heat, allowing for a smooth, even top to cakes and breads; how sifting flours helps to aerate and separate out impurities like pebbles or bran; and how using an ice cream scoop creates perfectly measured, uniformly sized cookies.
During those two weeks, Auntie M also taught me something I’ve retained to this day: that there is no age limit on silliness. Along with the baking (and cleaning, and reading, and cleaning, and knitting–and cleaning) I spent many hours beside her in the den, watching Bugs Bunny cartoons.
It was a side of her I’d never known existed, and I loved hearing her guttural, spontaneous guffaws as Bugs massaged Elmer Fudd’s bald head, directed opera singer Giovanni Jones to sustain his note beyond the bounds of reality, or infuriated Elmer with his trademark quip, “What’s Up, Doc?” Even though my role during those two weeks was basically a cross between orderly and scullery maid, that visit remains one of my most cherished memories with my aunt.
The one thing that Auntie M never got round to teaching me, unfortunately, was how to bake a pie (though I have no doubt that, if she had, it would have been stellar). After years of promising myself that I’d tackle the skill on my own, I suddenly switched to gluten-free baking a few years back, which means that most of my crusts are now “pat-in” versus “roll-out.” (Though if you’re looking for a good rollable GF pie crust, you must try the one I used in this tortière).
As a result, I still have a bit of an irrational aversion to making pie crust (though I did manage to create two fabulous crusts for Sweet Freedom).
So you can see why I was elated to come across this recipe for Granola Topped Blueberry Pie Bars in Hallie‘s latest cookbook, Super Healthy Cookies: They’re just like pie–without the pie! If you haven’t checked out the book yet, I’d highly recommend it: with 50 recipes for healthy cookies from fruity to chocolate to bars to special occasion and more, it also provides a great glossary of ingredients, a resource guide, tips and tricks throughout, and a fantastic appendix of all the recipes listed by different diet type (eg, vegan and egg-free, grain-free, nut-free) plus a list according to taste preferences (eg, sweet and salty, chocolatey, warm and toasty spices, etc.). All in all, it’s full of the healthy, delicious recipes and useful information I’ve come to expect from Hallie’s work!
This recipe is actually not even listed in the “vegan” section, but it was a snap to adapt to my ACD diet. I used The Vegg (vegan yolk) instead of the egg yolk listed, and subbed coconut nectar for maple syrup (obviously, you could make the recipe exactly as written if it jibes with your own diet). I also loved the “sweetness scale” next to each recipe (this was a “two spoon” treat, right in the middle of the scale).
These bars came together incredibly easily. In less than 45 minutes, the HH and I had a fruity, crumbly, warm and inviting pie-like dessert. To make the bars a bit more indulgent for the HH (he does love his creamy desserts), I topped his with a dollop of coconut whipped cream.
These do, indeed, taste very pie-like and indulgent–and the HH consumed nearly half the pan in only 2 days! You should have no qualms at all serving these bars as Valentine’s Day treats; they live up to a special occasion with the bursting-with-berries filling and yet are made with whole, healthy ingredients. They also fall into my very favorite dessert category: those that can be eaten as breakfast!
Despite the ease of preparation, I’d never call them “easy as pie,” though. Unless, of course, we’re talking about eating them.
Granola-Topped Blueberry Pie Bars
reprinted with permission from Super Healthy Cookies
Hallie says: “I took one bite of these bars and my taste buds shouted, ‘Hello, Blueberry Pie!’ The moist crust and crunchy topping of these bars paired with the juicy blueberry filling is just sublime. Don’t let the rather long list of ingredients scare you. They’re very easy to make.” I agree! And equally easy to adapt to my diet. I’ve included my changes in square brackets, below.
For the crust:
1 cup gluten-free rolled oats
1/2 cup (67 grams) brown rice flour
1/2 cup coconut sugar or Golden Lakanto
2 Tbsp whole psyllium husks
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp fine sea salt
1/4 cup virgin coconut oil, melted
2 Tbsp unsweetened applesauce
1 large egg yolk [I used The Vegg and it worked perfectly; you could also use 1 Tbsp/15 ml aquafaba]
1/2 cup raw pecans or walnuts, finely chopped
1/4 cup raisins [I used chopped prunes]
For the filling:
1-1/2 cups fresh blueberries [I used frozen]
2 Tbsp honey or Grade B maple syrup [I used coconut nectar]
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp (7 grams) arrowroot starch
Make the crust: Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Grease an 8 x 8 inch (20 cm) baking dish with coconut oil.
In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, process the oats, brown rice flour, coconut sugar, psyllium husks, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt for 20 seconds. Add the coconut oil, applesauce, and egg yolk. Process to combine. Using moist hands, pat half of the dough firmly and evenly into the greased baking dish. Crumble the remaining dough into a bowl and mix in the the pecans and raisins. Set aside.
Make the filling: In a medium bowl, mix together the blueberries, honey, lemon juice, and arrowroot starch. Spoon the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble the remaining dough over the blueberry layer nd press gently to adhere.
Bake for about 25 minutes, until golden brown. Cool completely at room temperture, then refrigerate fro 1-2 hours before cutting into bars. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Makes 16 bars.
Suitable for: ACD Stage 3 and beyond, sugar-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, egg free, vegan.
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