I've flipped through Sarah Kieffer's cookbook 100 Cookies many times, and each time I see the full-page photo of the "Strawberry Crème Fraîche Bars" (the same photo you can see here along with the recipe at Chowhound), the striking contrast of the pale crust and topping against the coral pink filling catches my eye. The bar didn't look like anything I had seen or tasted before and I couldn't wait to give the recipe a try.
The filling in this bar includes both freeze-dried and fresh strawberries. When I went to the store to buy the fresh berries, Whole Foods was inexplicably completely out. But the fresh strawberries are cooked in this recipe, so I figured it shouldn't make much of a difference if I used frozen fruit instead. I defrosted the fruit and cooked it with a little sugar and water until the berries broke down. After pushing the cooked mixture through a sieve, I mixed the collected juices with ground freeze-dried strawberries, condensed milk, crème fraîche, lemon juice, vanilla, and salt. I also added a bit of red liquid food color -- but it was natural color, which is never very effective.
The crust and topping are made from the same mixture, and in addition to all-purpose flour, it includes either almond flour or oats. I was making these bars for friends where a nut allergy is an issue, so I went with the oat option. You just throw all of the crust/topping ingredients (all-purpose flour, almond flour or oats, brown sugar, granulated sugar, baking soda, salt, and softened butter) into a bowl and mix. You press half of the resulting crumbly mixture into the bottom of a parchment-lined pan and bake it until light golden. Then you spread the strawberry filling over the partially-baked crust, scatter the remaining crumbly crust mixture on top, and bake until golden.
I was worried that the filling might not set, because it doesn't include any eggs. I chilled the bars thoroughly before cutting them and was delighted that the filling was set and held its shape, although my slices were not as nice and clean as the ones in the cookbook photo (and my bars also looked considerably different because I used oats instead of almond flour).
The bars were fantastic. The crust was crisp and hearty, the crumbs were crunchy, and the cold and creamy center tasted like strawberry ice cream with restrained sweetness. The fruit flavor was so clear and bright and the overall combination of flavors and textures was simply delightful. And because you can make these bars with frozen fruit, you can enjoy them any time of the year!
Recipe: "Strawberry Crème Fraîche Bars" from 100 Cookies by Sarah Kieffer, recipe available here at Chowhound.