Whether you enjoy the inevitable shifting of our quad-season calendar or not, there’s one thing about the changing of weather that is undeniable.
Whatever is brewing outside in nature strongly influences what’s cooking inside the kitchen. We are undeniably drawn to in-season foods and culinary trends, both programmed and organic, like moths to a flame.
The hot days and warm nights of summer leave us begging for picture-perfect salads constructed with our farmers market finds, frothy beer and creamy, dreamy ice cream.
Autumn, like clockwork, slows down my brainwaves into a dream-like state as I succumb to cravings for colorful squash, fall-fruit ciders and all things Oktoberfest.
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The bitterly cold days of winter initiate a wandering toward our big, dusty stockpots, resulting in the meditative creation of daylong soups, stews and chili to warm even the most frigid of hearts.
Finally, after the trees have completed their lengthy slumber and prepare to renew the lives of their individual leaves, the desire for juicy berries and margaritas throws itself into high gear.
But what the heck happened to winter in Kansas City this past year? I had numerous plans and accompanying recipes for starchy, stick-to-your-ribs meals to carry me through the slower, colder months.
Mother Nature apparently had other ideas and busted up my plans … and my meal planning. Not only was my cooking strategy thrown out of order, so were my normal food cravings.
All I can seem to think of are sunny afternoons spent noshing on lunchtime favorites in the City Market and mild evenings on the patios of local eateries on 39th Street. And berries. Bright, juicy berries. Parfait glasses filled with layers of fresh berries, chantilly cream and granola invade my thoughts daily. So do berrylicious muffins and lemony shortbread bars.
Taking advantage of a recent blueberry sale at Aldi, I got a good freezer stash of berries established and decided to create a sweet snack that will still remain totally appropriate should the days decide to revert back into lower temperatures, as well as get your senses excited for the upcoming spring.
For the past four to six weeks I’ve been enjoying this yummy little gluten-free, vegan blueberry crumble bar from Mud Pie Vegan Bakery and Coffeehouse on 39th Street. I knew I wanted to re-create my own at home to stuff in the freezer stash.
Unlike most gluten-free goodies, this particular crumble bar was surprisingly not gritty, a bit chewy even, and had a pleasant additional ingredient not usually present in a fruit crumble bar: pecans. I can’t even tell you how excited I was to discover the slightly chewy yet crunchy pecans in my little afternoon snack.
Similar to the crumbly, blueberry yum-yums I’ve been enjoying at Mud Pie, this recipe offers you a gluten-free option as well as vegan adjustments. You can use dairy and eggs if you please, but your final creation won’t suffer if you choose not to do so.
As you can probably guess I’ve included a healthy dose of pecans in my recipe. However, feel free to leave them out if they just aren’t your thing. (And if they aren’t your thing, you can send your extras to me for proper disposal.)
I also decided to go a step further from the usual and develop a no-sugar-added adaptation as well. I’ve been playing around quite a bit with a natural sugar-free sweetener called erythritol in recent months, and I’m really digging the results of my almost-tastes-like-sugar smoothies and treats.
Non-GMO versions of the sweetener are available. I prefer the NOW brand, which can be found at health-food stores around the city, such as Natural Grocers in Overland Park and the Phoenix Herb Co. in midtown.
Keep in mind that erthyritol is about 25 percent less sweet than real sugar, so I’ve made adjustments to the recipe to accommodate that.
So whether you are on a gluten-free journey, live a vegan lifestyle, have a diabetic family member or friend, or manage blood sugar yourself, there is a version of this fruity indulgence for everyone.
And as always, if you prefer the good old-fashioned taste of butter, flour and eggs, you can make that version, too. Options for everyone.
Blueberry-Pecan Crumble Bars
Gluten-free, vegan and no-sugar-added versions included.
1 cup sugar (1 1/4 cup erythritol for sugar-free version)
3 cups flour (for gluten-free version, use 2 cups brown rice flour, 2/3 cups potato starch, 1/3 cup tapioca starch, 1 teaspoon xanthan gum)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
8 ounces cold butter, cubed (1 cup dairy-free margarine, such as Earth Balance, for vegan version)
1 egg (1 tablespoon flax seed plus 3 tablespoons very warm water for vegan version)
1/2 cup honey, maple syrup or brown sugar (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons erthyritol for sugar-free version)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch of salt
3 pints fresh blueberries
3/4 cups pecans, chopped
Heat oven to 350 degrees and prepare baking dish with cooking spray or butter. I use a 9-inch-by-9-inch square dish for thicker bars, but this recipe will accommodate up to a 9-inch-by-13-inch pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon; add the butter and egg and blend with a pastry cutter or fork until the dough starts to come together and become crumbly. Pat half the dough down into the prepared baking dish.
In a separate bowl, mix the sweetener of choice, cornstarch, vanilla, cinnamon and salt. Add in the blueberries and pecans and gently fold, mixing everything together. Spread the blueberry mixture over the dough in the pan.
Crumble the remaining dough over the blueberry mixture, spreading it evenly.
Bake for approximately 45 minutes or until the top is just slightly brown. Cool bars completely before cutting. As difficult as it is to wait, this dessert actually tastes best after it has had several hours, or overnight, to cool off and rest.
If you are making the gluten-free and/or no-sugar-added version, please allow the bars to cool overnight for best results. Your taste buds will thank you.
Trish Minton is the pastry chef and baker for Pierpont’s at Union Station. Although she has a passion and love for all things baked and sugary, she particularly loves catering to clients who need gluten-free and vegan desserts.