Yes, I am going on week three of baking with currants. There are (or were) kind of a lot of them around here. Thus, my freezer still holds a couple of large zip-locks filled with all manner of currant, despite the fact that I’ve made red currant ice cream a couple of times, plus a currant buckle more times than I can count (am still tweaking it). But, even if you don’t have bags of them in your freezer, or are just a currant-hater (truth be told, I used to be) I think it’s fair to say that this crumb-topped shortbread bar merits a trip to the farmers’ market and an about-face regarding any negative opinions you might be harboring about currants. The combo of the uber-tart currant jam, mellowed and sweetened over the stovetop, spread thickly over the crisp brown sugar shortbread base and topped with large buttery crumbs is prize-worthy.
The idea of incorporating my currants into a crumb-topped bar was a no-brainer, as I was desperate for a sweet vehicle with which to house my tart berries. When I began researching currant crumb bars, to see what my peeps in the blogosphere had done with their currant bars, I came up relatively empty-handed. I found these red currant crumb bars (essentially the currant version of Smitten’s blueberry crumb bar) and I found these shortbread bars (essentially the currant version of Fine Cooking’s cranberry shortbread bar), but that was it. So, I did what all fine recipe internet sleuths do: I combined the idea of the currant crumb bar with the idea of the currant shortbread bar, and, voila!
Except, of course, it wasn’t quite that easy. I still had to answer two age old questions: To cook or not to cook (one’s currants) and to par-bake or not to par-bake (one’s shortbread crust)? The crumb bar/shortbread recipes were kind of all over the place as to whether fruit was cooked and crust par-baked, but I knew instinctually what made the most sense. Currants are like cranberries (okay, not exactly, but bear with me) and cranberries are always cooked and therefore so too should be currants, and because the currants in my buckle experiments kept plummeting to the bottom of my cake, a par-baked crust made sense to discourage currant absorption and to defend against soggy-crust syndrome.
With those two pressing currant bar questions decisively answered, the currant-filled crumb-topped shortbread bar was born (to many oohs and ahhs, I might add). So hightail it to the market if you know what’s good for you (that baking with currants is the bomb) and don’t be afraid. Having joined the currant-obsessed club somewhat recently, I can tell you that you will be awfully pleased with yourself, as will your guests, once you start down the road of current cookery.
Currant Filled Crumb Topped Brown Sugar Shortbread Bars
For the brown sugar shortbread crust and crumb topping
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 2 sticks 16 Tbsps, salted butter, cold
- 1 yolk lightly beaten
- 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
For the currant filling
- 4 cups currants frozen is fine (and for tips on freezing currants, see the note below)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 Tbsp water
- 1 Tbsp arrow root
To make the shortbread crust and topping
- Combine the flour and brown sugar in a medium sized bowl and whisk until incorporated. Cube the cold butter and toss it in the flour/sugar mixture. Using your fingers, rub the butter into the flour/sugar until the butter is crumbly and pea-sized.
- Add the yolk and the vanilla and using a fork begin to incorporate them into the crumbly mixture. Switch to your fingers if you feel comfortable and continue mixing the dough until the yolk and vanilla are fully incorporated and the dough holds together if you squeeze some between your fingers.
- Remove two cups of dough and place in a small bowl in the refrigerator. Press the remaining dough firmly and uniformly into a 13x9x2-inch pan that has been sprayed, papered (with parchment) and sprayed again. Using a fork, dock the crust (make holes in it) and transfer the crust to the freezer for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and make the filling.
To make the currant filling
- Combine all of the ingredients in a medium-sized pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar melts. Then continue to cook the currants until they simmer. Continue to simmer for about 10 minutes or so, until the mixture thickens and reduces. Set aside to cool slightly.
To assemble the bars
- Remove the shortbread base from the freezer and bake it for about 20 minutes, rotating midway, until the base is lightly (emphasis on lightly) browned. Remove the pan from the oven, increase the heat to 350 degrees, and cover the base with the cooked currants. Remove the remaining dough from the fridge, and using your fingers pinch off and create big-iss crumbs and cover the currants with them.
- Place the bars back in the oven on a top rack to ensure that the crumb topping browns well. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes, rotating at the midway point. Begin checking on the bars at 25 minutes, but don't be afraid to let the crumbs get some real color.
- Let the bars come to room temperature before slicing and serving (with vanilla ice cream).