An (almost) perfect recipe: Cherry, nut and oat bars

There’s a program here on the BBC called Grumpy Old Women, in which well known women 'of a certain age' rant about things that annoy them. Despite the fact that I am a mere 31 years old, I could star on this show. I have got to be one of the most easily riled people on the planet.

To demonstrate, here is a small taste of some things that annoy me to no end:
the English „summer” that really isn’t a summer at all
when people use the word 'myself' incorrectly, because they think it’s somehow more posh, ie „Please return the files to myself”. Only mildly less hateful is incorrect use of 'I', ie. „Thank you for joining John and I today”. Argghh.
people who don’t write prompt thank you cards for (expensive!) wedding gifts
mugs left all over the house
pilled sweaters
when the bottom layer of a square recipe doesn’t properly cover the whole pan.
I hate that last one. And it seems to happen pretty often – you’ve got high hopes for some butter tart bars or date squares or whatever, and then you press the bottom layer down into the pan for the first baking, and there isn’t quite enough mixture. SO annoying.

So I was weirdly thrilled with the substantial layer of oaty goodness in this fruit bar recipe from my Ottolenghi cookbook. From that point on I just knew this recipe would turn out. And turn out it did – the caramelized nut layer on top was equally perfectly proportioned, and the suggested baking time turned out the most divine – if quite sweet – squares.

I mean, really, how could these people get anything wrong?

Well, one thing did go wrong (and quite badly wrong, at that) but that was my error, not Ottolenghi’s. Note to self: ignoring the instruction to line the tin with parchment paper will result in sticky square sides that are nigh on impossible to prise away from the pan!

But I can say that if you follow the instructions to the letter, this recipe is practically perfect. If it doesn’t work for you, it is not my fault!

Cherry, Nut and Oat Bars
Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

Base:
120g all purpose (plain) flour
1/3 tsp baking powder
100g unsalted butter, diced
60g caster sugar
a pinch of salt
80g whole rolled oats

Filling:
220g cherry or raspberry jam

Topping:
70g flaked almonds
210g other mixed nuts, chopped (I used walnuts and pecans)
100g unsalted butter
75g caster sugar
40ml milk
1 tsp pure vanilla essence

Preheat the oven to 170C / 340F. Lightly grease a 20cm / 8in square tin and line it on all sides with parchment paper, leaving some overhang so you can lift it out later – lining the tin is very important or the bars will stick horribly!

To make the base, in a large bowl whisk together the flour and baking powder. Add the butter, sugar and salt and rub everything together with your fingers to form crumbs. Mix in the oats (this is easiest done with your hands). Spread the mixture over the bottom of the prepared tin and press down lightly. Bake for 20 minutes or until light brown. Remove from the oven, cool for a few minutes, and then spread evenly with the jam.

To make the topping, place the nuts in a large bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the butter, sugar, milk and vanilla. Stir until the sugar has dissolved, then pour over the nuts and mix together. Pour the nut mixture evenly over the jam and return to the oven for 30 minutes, until the top has turned golden brown.

Leave to cool on a wire rack, then remove from the tin by pulling on the parchment paper, and cut into squares.