I am lucky enough to live in a place where there are beautiful artisan grocery and specialty food stores near me. One of my favorite places that sells homemade jams, breads, and scones is Rare Bird Preserves in Oak Park, IL. I am also fortunate enough that one of their employees is my best friend since 6th grade.
I came upon some strawberry-rhubarb preserves from Rare Bird and had a delicious idea – why not turn the preserves into shortbread bars? I added nuts to my shortbread bars, but you can certainly omit them if you cannot have nuts or simply do not like them.
I began with chopping some whole almonds. You want your chopped nuts to be about the size of large bread crumbs. You can certainly use a food processor here, but I hate cleaning mine. I hand chopped my nuts with a sharp knife on a cutting board.
You can leave your nuts larger if you like. Mine looked like this by the time I was finished chopping.
Next, cream together one cup of softened butter and some white sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Brown sugar will also be delicious here, but I am out.
Beat on low speed so everything stays inside the bowl. Then add some vanilla. I used vanilla paste because I like seeing flecks of vanilla bean in my baked goods, but plain ol’ vanilla extract is delicious to use as well. Use about the same amounts.
Next, start streaming in your flour and baking powder to the mixer. Do this slowly while the machine is still running on low. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I like to live dangerously.
Your dough will be very crumbly, yet still hydrated. Add the nuts at this stage and your dough will look something like this. Thick, crumbly, and pulls away from the side of the bowl. Also, be sure to scrape down your mixing bowl to incorporate any ingredients on the bottom or sides of the bowl.
Next, grease an 8×8 inch baking pan, I used the paper from my butter sticks to grease my pan. Take about 2/3 of your shortbread dough and press it firmly into your prepared dish. This is the first layer of the bars and it should be pressed down as evenly as possible.
Next, spoon a little more than half of your jar of Rare Bird preserves, about 4 oz. Spread evenly into a nice layer, leaving about 1/2 inch border around the sides.
After, spread your chopped strawberries on top. You had time to chop the strawberries while your dough was mixing, right? I added additional strawberries to the top for the contrast between fresh fruit and preserved fruit, but you can leave the fresh fruit out if you like.
Finally, top with the rest of the dough. We are using the same dough for the bottom and top crumble, very resourceful!
Bake at 350 for about 35-40 minutes, checking the bars at 35 minutes. You want them golden, but not deeply browned or burnt. They should look like this:
Allow the bars to cool completely, and then transfer to the fridge for an additional hour of cooling. This will allow the bars to be cut sharply and they will not crumble apart in your hand. Using a sharp knife, run it along the edges of the pan to dislodge any sugar from the preserves that stuck. Use a flat spatula to take the bars carefully out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Cut into reasonable-sized bars.
And that’s it! Thank you Rare Bird for making delicious goods for people who like bougie preserves, like me.
Strawberry-Rhubarb Shortbread Bars
- 1/2 cup almonds chopped finely
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 cup butter softened
- 2 tsp vanilla paste (you can also use extract)
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 4 oz Rare Bird Strawberry-Rhubarb preserves (or your favorite preserves)
- 3/4 cup strawberries chopped finely
- Preheat your oven to 350.
- Using a sharp knife or food processor, chop your almonds finely, until the size of large breadcrumbs. Set aside.
- In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add your sugar and softened butter. Cream on low until mixture is lightened in color and fluffy.
- Add vanilla paste and continue mixing on low.
- While the mixer is still running at the same speed, add your flour a little at a time. Also add your baking powder at this stage. Do not over mix, just mix on low until the shortbread mixture comes together. It should look crumbly, yet hydrated. If you squeezed a bit of dough in your hand, it should stay together.
- Meanwhile, chop your strawberries finely and set aside.
- Using a well-greased 8×8 baking dish, press 2/3 of the dough into the bottom of the baking dish. Press down the dough firmly into the pan, making sure the first layer of dough is as even as possible.
- Spread your preserves on top of the first shortbread layer as evenly as possible. You will use a little more than half of your 7 oz jar of preserves.
- Top your jam layer with a layer of chopped strawberries, spreading evenly.
- Take the rest of your shortbread dough and while squeezing together with your hands, place dotted bits of the remaining dough on top of the fruit. We want this to look like a very crumbly texture. Spread your crumbles as evenly as possible.
- Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes, until the middle is set and the top is nicely golden.
- Allow bars to come to room temperature, about 2 hours. After 2 hours, place the uncut bars in the fridge for at least 1 hour before cutting. This will lend to cleaner cuts that do not fall apart.
- Remove bars from their baking dish onto a large wooden cutting board. Slice into squares and serve!