If you bake anything with strawberries during strawberry season, please let it be these Brown Butter Strawberry Crumb Bars. These bars have such a lovely marriage of flavors going on. There’s browned butter, strawberries, cardamom, crushed vanilla bean, and orange icing, and they were simply perfect. Better than any strawberry pie I’ve ever tasted. Seriously one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
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How to Make Brown Butter Strawberry Crumb Bars
I buy blueberries and strawberries all year ’round, but there’s no denying that they’re best this time of year. And while it’s still strawberry season, I had to make another new recipe to celebrate this beautiful fruit. When my husband came home from work the day I made these brown butter strawberry crumb bars, he tasted one and promptly asked if I would make them every weekend for the rest of the summer.
The Browned Butter Crust.
These strawberry crumb bars begin with a brown butter crust, which is just incredible. Browning butter toasts the milk solids in the butter, deepening the flavor and eliciting a nutty richness that’s just so good. I combined the browned butter with a simple mixture of flour and brown sugar, a pinch of cardamom, a little baking powder, and of course, salt.
The browned butter crumble is pressed into the pan for the bottom crust, and also sprinkled on top of the strawberry filling for the most rich and buttery tasting crumb topping with just the right amount of salt to enhance all the flavors.
The Strawberry Filling.
For the filling, I simmered fresh strawberries with lemon juice and some strawberry jam, until thick and syrupy. A little crushed vanilla bean complemented the intense tartness of the filling, and the sweet, sticky scent of strawberries filled the house.
After the brown butter strawberry crumb bars had baked and cooled, I finished them with a drizzle of sweet orange icing. Since the bars themselves don’t have a lot of sugar in them, I really felt like they could use the added sweetness of the icing. A simple powdered sugar glaze made from fresh orange zest, orange juice, powdered sugar and a pinch of crushed vanilla bean was so pretty drizzled over the bars.
What is Crushed Vanilla Bean
So, I’ve mentioned “crushed vanilla bean” in this post, but what is it? If you bake often, then you probably know that vanilla is available as vanilla extract, vanilla bean paste, and whole vanilla beans. But did you know that after you scrape the seeds out of a vanilla bean, the leftover bean pod is edible, too?
Since vanilla extract and vanilla beans are so precious, I don’t like to waste any part of the bean. So after scraping the seeds out, I let the bean dry for a few days. Then I grind it up in my spice grinder into a fine powder. That powder is crushed vanilla bean. You can add it to recipes for a lovely hint of vanilla flavor that’s just delicious, and I use it often.
Good-quality vanilla extract has been, and continues to be, somewhat pricey over the last few years. But I’ve been buying whole vanilla beans on Amazon lately, and they are surprisingly affordable! So stock up, and use every part of those fragrant beans.
Notes & Baking Tips
- The Icing. Don’t skip the icing on these strawberry crumb bars. There’s very little sugar in the actual bars, and without the icing, they are more tart than sweet, so the icing adds the perfect sweet finish and flavor.
- Spices. If you don’t like cardamom, you can substitute your favorite spice – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves or allspice, to name a few that would complement these bars.
- Leftovers. Fruit filled bars can sometimes turn soggy after a day or so, and the icing will turn sticky and weepy, but not these. In fact, two days later, I thought they were even better than they were freshly baked. The crumble was still buttery and crisp, and the icing still set.
- Small-Batch Recipe. This is a small-batch recipe that I baked in a 6×6 inch baking dish. For a larger batch, you can certainly double the recipe and bake them in a 9-inch baking dish.
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Strawberry Cardamom Crumb Bars with Orange Icing
- ½ lb strawberries, washed, hulled and chopped
- ½ cup good-quality strawberry jam or preserves
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp vanilla extract
- ⅛ tsp crushed vanilla bean (see note)
- 2 extra strawberries, to place on top of the crumble
Crust and Topping
- ½ cup unsalted butter
- 1 ½ cups + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour, divided
- ¼ cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
- ½ tsp coarse Kosher salt
- ½ tsp baking powder
- ⅛ tsp ground cardamom
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- ½ Cara Cara or Navel orange, zested and juiced
- pinch of crushed vanilla bean (see note)
- In a saucepan, combine the 1/2 pound strawberries, jam, lemon juice, vanilla and vanilla bean. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Continue to simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring frequently, until thick, syrupy, and reduced to about 1 1/4 cups.
- Set the filling aside to cool while you make the crust. The filling can also be made a day or two in advance, and refrigerated.
Crust and Topping
- Preheat the oven to 350. Line a 6-inch baking pan with parchment paper, and lightly spray the paper with non-stick spray.
- In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Continue to cook the butter, swirling the pan occasionally until fragrant, and nutty brown solids form at the bottom of the pan.
- While the butter is cooking, combine the 1 1/2 cups flour with the brown sugar, salt, baking powder and cardamom in a bowl. Pour the browned butter over the flour mixture, scraping up all the brown solids from the pan, too. Use a spoon to stir it together into a soft dough.
- Press 2/3 of the dough evenly in the bottom of the baking pan. Bake on the center oven rack for 20 minutes.
- Add the remaining 2 tablespoons flour to the remaining 1/3 of the dough, and stir together until crumbly – this will be the topping. Set aside.
- After baking the crust for 20 minutes, remove from the oven. Spread the strawberry filling over the hot crust, then sprinkle with the topping. Chop the remaining 2 strawberries, and nestle them on top of the crumble topping.
- Bake the bars for about 35 minutes, until the topping is golden brown and the filling is bubbling. Set aside to cool completely, at least 4-6 hours.
- Remove the bars from the pan by lifting the paper up and out of the pan. Set on a cutting board, cut into 6-8 rectangular bars, and arrange on a plate.
- To make the icing, add the orange juice, a teaspoon at a time, to the powdered sugar, stirring until the icing is a thick, drizzling consistency. Drizzle over the bars. Immediately sprinkle with a little orange zest and crushed vanilla bean. The icing will set quickly, in about 10 minutes.
- Crushed Vanilla Bean: Since real vanilla and vanilla beans are so precious these days, I don’t waste any part of the vanilla bean, using both the seeds and the bean pod. After scraping the seeds from the bean, I save the beans, let them dry a little, and then grind them up in a spice grinder. I keep them in a little glass jar and add those ground bits directly to cakes, cookies, etc. It adds wonderful vanilla flavor.
- The Icing: Don’t skip the icing on these. There’s very little sugar in the actual bars, and without the icing, they are more tart than sweet, so the icing adds the perfect sweet finish and flavor.
- Spices: If you don’t like cardamom, you can substitute your favorite spice – cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves or allspice, to name a few that would complement these bars.