7-29-10

FRESH RASPBERRY BREAKFAST BARS

MAKES 2 DOZEN

Sigh.

I am not one of those people who starts moaning as soon as the first frost hits or pines for July in the middle of January. I adore thermal shirts and wool cardigans and fuzzy mittens and my old leather boots and brisk walks and pink cheeks and cauldrons of hot soup and horizons lined with spindly trees. I find winter stunningly romantic.

But there are points in every summer — points just like this golden week in late July — when my memory of the cold and the snow seems to have been finally and entirely melted in the afternoon sun, and I find myself unable to imagine a time when I won’t be able wake up and amble out onto the yard with only my bare feet, and these bright days seem to stretch behind me and before me like a long blue ribbon.

It’s a brief spell, easily pierced by reality: the season is fleeting (six weeks and counting!) and seeing as how I have bills to pay and assignments to honor and new projects to plan, I can’t really get away with spending all my days playing outside and staring daydreamily at sunsets.

So, instead, I seize the small pleasures I can. For instance: this week, for no reason I’ve been able to puzzle out, my body’s been rousing early, at 5 am and earlier, when even my new baby cousin (who’s been staying with us for a few days) is still peaceful in his crib.

At this hour the sun is up, but the only soundtrack is birdsong. It’s a perfect time to putter, to slowly come to, to start a pot of coffee and a small baking project to busy your hands — and lure the late risers from their down and linen lairs.

At this hour, simple and sweet suffices. This morning I came downstairs to find a woodpecker noshing on the clapboard walls of the screened porch — and a half empty bag of brown sugar in the pantry and a bowl of raspberries leftover on the counter from the berry-picking excursion I took a few days ago.

And so, this breakfast treat was born. A chewy, messy crumb cake that’s heavily proportioned towards crumb over cake, it has a summery sweetness that’s punctuated by tart pockets of red fruit. It’s lovely. Just like these days.

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
2/3 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 tablespoons brown sugar
2 1/2 cups fresh raspberries

1. Heat oven to 375˙. Grease a 9″ x 13″ baking pan (or, if you prefer thicker bars, a 9″ x 9″ pan) and set it aside.

2. In a medium bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons baking powder, and baking soda. In another bowl, cream together 1/4 cup butter and granulated sugar until pale, then beat in the egg and milk until smooth. Stir in vanilla.

3. Sift the dry ingredients into the butter and egg mixture and stir together until combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan, smoothing it so it reaches all of the sides.

4. In a small bowl, stir together 1 cup flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 5 tablespoons brown sugar. Then melt 1/2 cup butter and drizzle it over the flour and brown sugar mixture, stirring with a fork until it becomes sticky and crumbly. (The chunks may range from the size of cornmeal to peas.)

5. Scatter raspberries across the surface of the batter. Then, lay the brown sugar crumb mixture across the top of the berries in an even layer. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the crumb topping is firm and a dark golden brown, and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool bars on the counter for 15-20 minutes before cutting and serving.

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