Remember that old drink brand, Fruitopia? In the late 90s and early 2000s you could find its vending machines in every high school gym or cafeteria. I remember its bright, obnoxious branding, obviously aimed at a young demographic, riding the wave of the unfortunate, crazy color spectrum that was 90s fashion. It’s not around anymore, having faded out years ago. But of all its bright, fruity flavors, I remember loving, loving, loving the cherry vanilla one.
It was pink, fizzy, and subtle. Something about the tart yet soft flavor of the cherries interspersed with notes of vanilla made my taste buds stand at attention. And although it was merely a soft drink, the fond flavor memory hasn’t subsided. Almost like a cherry amaretto sour, but as a soda.
So when I bought a bag of frozen cherries and relished the taste of them in my smoothie, I wondered how I could encapsulate that same lovable soda flavor profile in a baked good. Not the shockingly bright Maraschino cherries, but the deep, rich cherries you’d find grown in the northwest. Cherries and almonds are not a revolutionary flavor combo, but I do think they’re an underused one, just brimming with taste-tential (a word I made up for “taste potential”).
I remembered a recipe from my beloved cookbook, The Pastry Queen, by Rebecca Rather (buy it! It’s a delight). In it, she has a blackberry pie bar recipe that is aaaaaamazing, one that I’ve made several times, throwing any cholesterol caution to the wind on each occurrence. This recipe here is heavily adapted from that, with an almond-based crust and a sweet, simple custard base infused with almond extract and thawed, juicy cherries.
The result was what I’d hoped for after the soda memory cue. With a thick, shortbread-like crust and the gentle crunch of almond, the pie-like center melts beautifully with it, bite after bite. The cherry/almond flavor is subtle, yet still very present, creating a soul-warming handheld sweet that makes for a delicious treat.
I cut them into little rectangles, eaten like regular bars, but you could easily do wedges or bite-sized squares. If you want to serve it piping hot from the oven, you can scoop it out like a cobbler, served with a topping of cold vanilla ice cream. Try not to think about the caloric intake – just rest assured that it’s worth it.
Cherry Almond Pie Bars
For the crust
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cups unsalted butter chilled, cut into 1/2" cubes
- 1 1/2 cups white sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup slivered almond pieces
For the filling
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups white sugar
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 cups frozen dark sweet cherries thawed and drained
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- To make the crust, combine the flour, cubed butter, sugar, salt, and almond pieces in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture forms a fine meal. If you can compress a small handful together and it stays compact, it’s done.
- Set about 1½ cups of the crust mixture aside to use as a crumble topping. Prepare a 9×13 pan with baking spray or butter and flour. Press the remaining crust mixture into the pan evenly. Bake in an oven heated at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 12 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove and let cool.
- To make the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, buttermilk, flour, cherries, and almond extract. Once combined, pour it over the cooled crust in the pan. Top evenly with the reserved 1 1/2 cup of crust mixture. Bake for about 55 minutes, or until set in the middle.
- If you want to cut into bars, let the mixture cool until set, about an hour or so. If you want to serve it warm from the oven, simply scoop out each serving and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.