I’m trying to be a gardener this year, with a strong emphasis on trying. I think I’m much better skilled at pinning pictures of pretty flowers on Pinterest than I am at growing them, but I’m giving it a go. The first step in my effort is, of course, the least fun step: weeding. After a long day of weeding and sore legs, I felt like I earned a little treat. (Rewards are of utmost importance in my yard work endeavors.) I wanted something easy, something springy, something tasty. Nutty, Crumbly Cherry Blueberry Bars were just the ticket.
What Makes These Nutty, Crumbly Cherry Blueberry Bars Extra Special?
These vegan, gluten-free crumble bars are a great all-purpose dessert. They feel much more indulgent than they really are, with a satisfying crunch and soft burst of fruit. This dessert will make your vegan and gluten-free eaters happy; it will please your cookie lovers and your pie fans; it will be not too sweet for more savory-inclined palates and just sweet enough for the sugar fiends.
These crumble bars are also easy to make and extremely versatile. They are delicious with a blueberry filling, a cherry filling, or a combination of both! I use whatever is in my freezer or in season. Whatever fruit you choose, both are complemented beautifully with the subtle almond flavor in the filling and crumble. The topping and crust are made from the same recipe, with nuts and pumpkin seeds added to the topping for added crunch. Is the topping a crumble? Yes. Is it cookie-like? Yes. Is it a little granola-ish? Yes, yes, yes. It is everything you want it to be.
Making the Filling for the Cherry Blueberry Bars
The filling for these cherry blueberry bars is like a pie filling, but without being overly sweet. There is something so satisfying about watching berries become luscious and beautifully gooey, and it doesn’t take long to get there.
Once your berries, cornstarch, sugar, almond extract, and a little bit of salt are in a saucepan, the magic happens with some heat and stirring. Cornstarch needs to be boiled for it to truly do its job–thickening–well. Without boiling the filling, your berries will remain a little soupy. After the filling mixture comes to a boil, reduce the heat, and give it a little more love with time on the stove and stirring. Kind of like a custard, the filling will come away from the bottom of the pan or spatula cleanly. It’s cooking wizardry that never gets old.
Crumble Top, Crumble Crust
The crumble for these cherry blueberry bars does double duty as both the crust and the topping. Almond flour and oats make up most of the base and are a fabulous, nutty combination. Together they keep the crumble moist and tender with a slight satisfying chew from the oats. A little bit of brown sugar is added to really give this crumble the taste of a cookie, especially in combination with the vegan butter. The melted vegan butter also has the important job of binding the dry ingredients together to help form both the crust and the crumble.
You will reserve some of the crumble for the topping, and to that, you will add chopped almonds and pumpkin seeds. You have a choice here of giving your nuts an extra toast or not. To toast or not to toast? The question here is really how much nutty flavor do you want to give to your bars. Putting the almonds and pumpkin seeds in the oven for just a few extra minutes gives them a stronger toasty, nutty flavor. There is no wrong answer here; try both and see what you prefer!
Building the Cherry Blueberry Bars
Now, it’s time to build! Add some of the nut-free crumble to the bottom of your pan to make the crust. I don’t know about you, but I love pressing in a crust almost as much as I love watching a berry filling thicken. The sandy texture of the crumble will hold together when packed compactly, giving you a nice, solid crust.
The thick, soft filling is up next. Spoon it over the crust, and try not to sneak too many bites. I like using a combination of cherries and blueberries because it provides a little bit of textural contrast–the cherries are larger and a bit firmer, while the blueberries are softer and smaller. Biting into either is such a pleasant burst of sweetness.
Next, the crumble topping gets its turn as the final layer. Sprinkle the topping in crumbly clumps evenly across the top. It kind of looks like granola–a delicious, almond cookie-flavored granola.
Once your layered bars are built, into the oven they go to become golden brown and bubbly. Because almond flour is so tender, it really needs to be cooled completely to hold its shape. If you want your cherry and blueberry bars to be truly bars, exercise your patience and will power and let them cool completely. If you don’t mind your bars on the crumbly side, enjoy warm. These bars are delicious both warm and at room temperature, so you can’t go wrong either way.
A Few Notes
- This dessert is delicious with all blueberries, all cherries, or a combination of both. Cherries and almonds are an unstoppable flavor duo, but if you do use all cherries, give them a bit of a smash with a fork after the filling has boiled. This will help give you different sizes and textures of cherries in the filling and will help it spread over the crust.
- Sometimes certain brands of cornstarch, almond flour, and oats are processed along with gluten products, so please be sure to read the package carefully to ensure your dietary needs are met. Not all sugars are vegan sugars, either. I’d recommend checking out this article for suggestions of vegan sugar brands.
- Not much of a crunch fan? You can omit the almonds and pumpkin seeds from the topping for a softer texture.
- Looking for another gluten-free, vegan dessert? Try our Quick Chocolate Lovers’ Cake Donuts.