As I sit here and smell the warm, summery scent of blackberry pie fill our cozy apartment, I'm reminded of one of my fondest college memories. My six college roommates and I had our favorite professor, Professor Wright, over for dinner. Professor Wright's class was, fittingly, a small writing seminar. She was an eccentric yet elegant woman, who looked something like Lady Gaga and Donatella Versace to me. She had been highly recommended by an older teammate, and I refused to take this writing seminar until I had her as my professor. Unlike many professors who seemed to enjoy teaching us one thing and testing us on another, Professor Wright's class was hard, but fair. She taught us grammar and writing in such a way that it should be compulsory for all students to take her class. I still have the note she attached to my final paper, encouraging me to keep writing. My husband hung it in our bathroom beside the mirror as daily encouragement to start this blog!
If I could give Grace one piece of advice when she heads off to college one day, it would be to host her favorite professor for dinner with some of her best friends. (Okay, that might not be my one piece of advice, but it definitely makes the top five.) It was the spring of our senior year, and thanks to the persistence of my roommates, I emailed Professor Wright about coming to our off-campus house for a homemade dinner. One of my roommates, Fallon, a fellow baker (who originally introduced me to the creator of this recipe, Joy the Baker), was on dessert duty. A warm, June evening, we decided on salad, chicken piccata, homemade white wine sangria, and these blackberry pie bars. The aroma, the company, the conversation—these were all details of that night that I hope will never fade. After an evening of laughter, soulful conversation, and life advice from Professor Wright, we shamelessly licked the pan clean of Fallon's delectable desserts.
Since then, friends, co-workers, and neighbors have awarded these treats the titles: “blackberry butter bumble” or “BBB” for short, "blackberry bumble bars," “blackberry butter crack,” and my favorite, “crackberry bars.” Although I’m not sure what “bumble” actually is, it seems to describe these bars well. What makes these bars so good? I’m convinced it’s the lemon sugar you use to make the dough. You pour the sugar and lemon zest together on a hard surface, and use the back of a spoon to rub the zest into the sugar. What once were two separate ingredients become one, pale yellow, crystalized yet fluffy version of sugar that makes for the most irresistible crust and pie topping.
The blackberries and hint of lemon are perfect for this season of farmer’s markets, barbecues, and summer soirées. You can try substituting blueberries, raspberries, or maybe even mulberries (just for you, Uncle Jacob) for the blackberries depending on preference. Much easier and foolproof than a pie, you can serve these bars chilled, or warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream—have your pick. However you serve them, these bars are sure to stir memorable conversation with any crowd.
Blackberry Pie Bars with Lemon Sugar
adapted from Joy the Baker
Crust and Topping
3 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes
zest of two lemons
4 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup real Greek yogurt (or sour cream)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
6 cups of fresh blackberries (or 2 x 16-ounce packages frozen blackberries, defrosted and drained*)
*If using frozen berries, be sure to defrost and drain the excess liquid. Place the frozen berries on a plate in the refrigerator overnight.
To make the crust and topping:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with butter or cooking spray and set aside.
- Zest two lemons. Measure out the sugar for the crust and topping (1-1/2 cups) onto a clean work surface. Rub the lemon zest into the sugar with a bench scraper or the back of a spoon. Rubbing the zest into the sugar will release oils from the zest and create a lemon scented sugar.
- Combine lemon sugar, flour, salt and butter in an electric mixer fit with a paddle attachment. (If you don’t have an electric mixer, an electric hand mixer will work.) Beat the ingredients on medium speed until the mixture combines and appears crumbly.
- Reserve 1-1/2 cups of the crust mixture to use as the topping. (I reserve a little more than this because inevitably I eat the dough while the crust bakes.) Press the remaining mixture into the bottom of the pan.
- Bake the crust for 12-15 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes while you make the filling.
To make the filling:
- Whisk the eggs in a large bowl.
- Stir in the sugar (2 cups), Greek yogurt (or sour cream), flour, and salt.
- Gently fold in the blackberries.
- Spoon the mixture evenly over the crust. You may have to distribute the blackberries evenly around. Sprinkle the reserved crust mixture evenly over the filling.
- Bake for 45-55 minutes until the top is lightly browned. Cool for 1 hour before slicing.
With a little grace,
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