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Part bar, part fruit crumble, these tangy treats are a sweet way to commemorate, yet again, that childhood story of George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. While you can use cherry pie filling as their center, homemade cherry filling is much, MUCH tastier. Because these squares are crumbly-crisp, for easiest handling they're best served on a plate, with a fork (and with ice cream or whipped cream, just to take them totally over the top!) Warm them in the microwave briefly, if desired.
Two 14.5-ounce cans pitted sour cherries (2 1/2 to 3 cups
drained, juice reserved, 20 ounces); or 6 cups (24 ounces) frozen pitted sour cherries, thawed, drained, juice reserved
2/3 cup (5 3/8 ounces) reserved cherry juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
3 tablespoons (3/4 ounce) cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups (5 1/4 ounces) traditional rolled oats
1 1/2 cups (6 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose
Flour or King Arthur Organic White Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup (7 1/2 ounces) brown sugar, light or dark, packed
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks, 6 ounces) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup (2 ounces) sliced almonds
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease a 9" x 9" pan.
To make the filling: Measure out 2/3 cup of the reserved cherry juice. In a small saucepan, combine the cherries, juice, and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes. Whisk the sugar with the cornstarch, and stir into the cherries. Simmer the mixture, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes (if you're using canned cherries); or for 20 minutes (if you're using thawed frozen). It'll thicken and look like canned cherry pie filling (but taste a WHOLE lot better). Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vanilla and almond extracts, and set aside to cool slightly while you prepare the crust.
To make the crust: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the oats or barley, flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the melted butter, stirring till everything is well combined.
To assemble the bars: Press 2 1/2 cups (about 14 ounces) of the crust mixture into the prepared pan, smoothing it out to completely cover the bottom of the pan, with no gaps showing. Top the crust with the filling. Add the almonds to the remaining crust mixture, and sprinkle it over the filling.
Bake the squares for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Remove the squares from the oven, and allow them to cool before cutting into 2" squares. Yield: 16 squares.