Raisin oatmeal bars as a healthy comfort food
Editor’s Note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful. My mother used to call these trail bars – a term we don’t hear much anymore. While the description is outdated, the cookies themselves are ageless: a soft, sweet raisin filling enclosed by an oatmeal-walnut base and topping that are as pleasing today as they were when the recipe was written. They are healthy, wholesome, chewy, and just plain good. A lot of cookies are made with ingredients similar to these and almost all of them are worth making, but this one is a favorite. It is slightly more delicate and crumbly than most while still having that satisfying, comfort-food quality.Don’t think that these cookies are only suitable as a snack. Cut into four-inch squares, warmed lightly, and served with a little ice cream, they are also a very respectable dessert.The bars keep well in an air-tight container. Some think they taste even better a day or two after being baked, when the raisin filling has softened the oat layers. The recipe can be halved successfully and made in an eight-by-eight inch metal baking pan. Raisin Oatmeal BarsAdjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet(Bake in a 9 X 13 metal baking pan)1 (one) cup of dark raisins1 (one) cup of golden raisins1 (one) fourteen ounce can of sweetened condensed milk1 (one) tablespoon of lemon zest1 (one) tablespoon of fresh lemon juice2 (two) sticks of unsalted butter (one cup or 16 tablespoons) at room temperature114 (one and one-fourth) cups of dark brown sugar, packed212 (two and a half) teaspoons of vanilla212 (two and a half) cups of quick cooking rolled oats (not instant)1 (one) cup of flour12 (one half) teaspoon of baking soda1 (one) cup of chopped walnuts (You may substitute pecans for the walnuts if you prefer.)Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Line the baking pan with Reynold’s Release non-stick aluminum foil or regular aluminum foil. Let the foil hang over the ends of the pan on two sides to serve as handles when you remove the bars from the pan. If you are using regular aluminum foil, grease it generously or spray it with a vegetable oil-flour spray. Make the raisin filling by combining the dark and golden raisins, the sweetened condensed milk, the lemon zest and the lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Cook over low-medium heat and stir constantly until the mixture thickens slightly and just starts to simmer (you’ll see bubbles form; don’t let it boil). Remove the pan from the heat and let the filling cool. Make the base and topping: Cut the room temperature butter into about 16 pieces and combine it with the brown sugar and vanilla in a large bowl. Beat the combination by hand or with an electric mixer until it is light and fluffy. Add the oats, flour, baking soda and walnuts and stir until well mixed and crumbly.Set aside one cup of the oat-flour-butter mixture for the topping and press the rest of it into the prepared baking pan. Smooth it into an even layer-if it sticks to your hands, place a piece of plastic wrap over it and press through the plastic wrap. Spoon the raisin filling all over the bottom layer and, using an offset spatula or the back of a soup spoon, spread it into an even layer that covers the base entirely. Crumble the one cup of topping over the raisin filling and press it down very gently – don’t compress it, press it just enough to keep it in place.Place the pan in the oven and bake until the top of the bars is a deep golden color. This usually takes from 25 to 35 minutes. Remove the pastry from the oven and cool it completely on a wire rack before lifting it from the pan with the foil handles and cutting it into bars. If you plan to store it before presenting it, leave it whole and cut it right before serving.Vera Dawson lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact Dawson with your comments about this column and/or your baking questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.