Seven springs ago we planted a Montmorency tart cherry tree. Under the bare roots we laid our daughter’s placenta, and the tree grew. For the first few years there were few blossoms, and fewer cherries. I remember one year when we got only a handful. But then last year everything changed. The tree was covered in blossoms. I held my breath–would they all become cherries? I’m not sure if all of the flowers bore fruit, but many did. I found myself in the tree, under the tree and on a ladder to gather as many of the deliciously tart fruits as I could. I packed three gallon bags full of cherries which I proceeded to tuck into a freezer to process later, when I had more time.
Now, it is May, and the tree is blossoming again. And a very full gallon bag of fruit remains from last year’s crop. I feel almost paralyzed, not sure how to best to showcase this precious gift. It’s like the fruit is so special that I don’t know what to do. Should it be a pie, gone in a flash? Should it become preserves, perhaps lasting longer, but not everyone’s favorite creation? What about tart syrup for mixed drinks? But then what of the cherry pulp? What should I make that most reflects the preciousness of the fruit?
An invitation to a party helped propel me to decide. I would make a tart cherry crumb bar from one of my favorite recipe sites, Brown Eyed Baker. I made a filling, thickened with cornstarch, then the buttery crumb layer, and a smear of lightly sweetened cream cheese in between, and skipped the icing on top, as I love the natural sweet-tart of the Montmorency cherries. And it was divine, and devoured. Perhaps it’s really friends and family enjoying the fruits of our tree that is most important.
For the Crumb:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
For the Filling:
24 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 (21-ounce) cans cherry pie filling (*I made my own)
*4 heaping cups pitted frozen cherries
½ cup powdered sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream or milk
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan.
2. Make the Crumb: In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter, and then the egg (the dough will be crumbly). Press half of dough into the prepared pan and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until light golden brown. Set on a wire rack to cool.
3. Make the Filling: In a separate large bowl, beat the cream cheese and sugar on medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and mix to combine. Using an offset spatula, spread the cream cheese mixture into an even layer over the crust. Spoon the cherry pie filling in an even layer over the cream cheese mixture. Crumble the remaining dough evenly over the cherry layer.
4. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the top is light golden brown. Cool completely before adding the glaze.
5. Make the Powdered Sugar Glaze (if using): In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, cream and vanilla extract. Add more cream if you want a thinner glaze, or more powdered sugar if you want a thicker glaze. Drizzle over the bars and allow to set.
6. The bars can be served at room temperature or chilled. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.