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Cherry Squares

Cherry Squares

So I had another computer mishap, which has resulted in my laptop being checked into the Apple hospital for the past week while my husband was in the people hospital so I have had some time to ruminate about things and try to be productive without my computer. I developed this recipe for Cherry Squares while thinking about the concept of lemon curd and realizing, hey, it’s cherry season, wouldn’t it be fun to have a lemon square but with cherries? (Things you think about at three in the morning or schlepping around.) So in my brain and my trusty notebook, I drew up plans for this next recipe and it took on new dimensions as I developed it. Eventually, I settled on the idea of using agar flakes - something we 1990s-era vegans leaned on heavily to firm up cheeses and the like - but as luck would have it, I went to three grocery stores and not one had agar flakes or powder. At the last store, I was stress-pacing in the baking aisle and a package of pectin kind of jumped out at me. Pectin? But that’s for jams and jellies. Yes, but isn’t what I am looking to create kind of along those lines? I made a couple of more mental adjustments to my recipe and I had a plan.

I have to say, I am super happy with the result: it’s sweet and tart, just like a lemon square, but unique in that it’s cherry-flavored, and the texture is just what I was hoping to achieve. With a refreshing cherry layer that is a little firmer than jelly (kind of like a kanten) over a rich, shortbread-like crust, I think it’s hard to resist, especially this time of year. What is extra nice is you can make this recipe any time of year, not just when cherries are in season, because it relies on cherry juice rather than fresh cherries. It’s a little more involved than my average recipe, but it’s easy to make -- don’t be intimidated by the pectin, which you will find in baking aisles -- and the resultant recipe makes it all worth it.

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Cherry Bars

1 cups quick-cooking oats, finely ground in the food processor or blender
1 cups all-purpose gluten-free flour blend
(I like this one)
2 tablespoons organic sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/4 cup plus one tablespoon coconut oil, liquid
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup 100% red tart cherry juice
2 cups cherry juice concentrate
1 package Pomona’s Universal Pectin or other pectin that includes calcium powder
cup organic sugar
3 tablespoons arrowroot powder
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons vegan butter
cup frozen cherries, finely grated
Powdered sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil or use parchment paper to line a 9-inch square pan.

In a medium bowl, combine the ground oats, flour, sugar, baking soda and salt. In a mixing cup or small bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, coconut oil, and vanilla. Pour in with the oat mixture and stir together until combined. Press into the prepared pan. (You may have some left over.) Bake for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour the cherry juice (not the concentrate) into a small pan and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of the calcium that comes with the pectin package into the juice, stirring to dissolve. In a larger pan, bring the cherry juice concentrate and sugar to a boil. Put the cherry juice concentrate into a blender with 4 teaspoons of pectin and the arrowroot, blending until it is dissolved, 1 - 2 minutes.

Time this next part out so the crust is done baking because the cherry layer will need to be poured in immediately or it will begin jelllng.

Place the cherry juice, blended cherry juice concentrate mixture and vegan butter in a pan and bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. It will thicken. Cook for five minutes, stirring the whole time. Turn off the heat, add the last teaspoon of vanilla and grated cherries and pour immediately into the pan with the crust. Allow to cool for 30 minutes at room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator to cool for three hours.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar and cut into squares. Serve cold. Remember that as with lemon squares, the powdered sugar gets absorbed into the filling after a while so if you are not serving it right away, bring along some extra powdered sugar to refresh it with over the top. 

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