April 5th, 2011

Japanese Fruit Bars

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Combining myriad dried fruits, pecans, and coconut, this luscious bar has its roots in an old-timey recipe, curiously called “Japanese Fruit Pie.” I first encountered said pie several years ago at a church social, the contribution of Jean, a terrific cook from Asheville, North Carolina.

Jean used to cater professionally, back-in-the-day, and although she is in her eighties, she still likes to keep hands in the pot, so to speak. Her style of cooking always conveys down-home Southern-hospitality, in a posh way. Rich and tangy, her pie was a coconut-pecan custard studded with raisins. I was surprised by how much I liked it, and I had find out more.

“My mother’s recipe,” she said. “It’s Japanese Fruit Pie.”

“It’s really good,” I said. But I failed to see the connection to Japan. “Why the name?”

“Oh, I think because long ago people associated coconuts and Japan as far away and exotic. This was country folks’ way of making something special,” she laughed. “More high-falutin’.”

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The next time I saw Jean, she had a recipe card made out for me. I studied it–six ingredients, with white vinegar contributing the distinctive tang. And, it set me thinking. As a caterer, I was always on the lookout for new recipes—or old recipes that could be made anew. The pie was so rich, you could only handle a sliver. But what if it were baked into bars or squares? And cut into nice little pick-up bites?

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I talked with Tonya, our baker. We decided that there was no reason why we couldn’t make the pie into a bar. A shortbread crust would be good. And, we always kept an assortment of dried fruits in the kitchen. There was no reason why we couldn’t embellish–make it more “high-falutin'” by stirring in apricots, cherries, dates…

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Our final tweaking of the recipe added ground pecans to the shortbread crust, and a splash of balsamic vinegar, instead of the traditional white, to the filling. The balsamic was inspiration! It lent a darker, more caramel color to the custard, and a deeper tang to the fruit.

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We were really pleased with the results. The different fruits glistened like little jewels. Regarding those “jewels”–we could readily modify the recipe—based on whatever fruits we had on hand.

The bars froze with no ill effects; in fact, they were delicious, super-cold. And the slab could be cut into neat bite-sized shapes: a welcome addition to our assorted petite sweet trays. We tried to think of another name for them, but decided that Japanese Fruit Bars would suit, since they were inspired by Jean’s Japanese Fruit Pie.

Recently I spent a day baking with my friend Maggie, in her country kitchen, and we cooked up a batch. I had quite the festive array of dried fruits, and some unsweetened coconut to toss into the mix.

Once out of the oven, though, we couldn’t wait for the bars to cool. Maggie made a small pot of coffee, and we relished our high-falutin’ treats.

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JAPANESE FRUIT BARS

For the Pecan Shortbread Crust:
1 stick of softened Butter
1 Cup Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup ground Pecans
2 Cups All Purpose Flour

9″x13″ Baking Pan

In a mixing bowl (if using stand mixer, use the beater on low speed),cream butter and brown sugar together. Mix in ground pecans, and begin adding flour, 1/2 cup at time. Form a ball. Wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. This can be made ahead of time, and refrigerated overnight.

When you are ready make the bars, remove the dough ball and let it soften.

Preheat oven to 350°

Roll and press the crust into a 9″x13″ baking pan, or pyrex dish, bring it up the sides.
Place into oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove and let cool while you make the filling.

For the Filling:
12 T. melted Butter, cooled to tepid
1 1/2 Cups Sugar
3 Eggs
2 T. Balsamic Vinegar
1 T. Vanilla
1 1/2 cups Assorted Dried Fruits: apricots, cranberries, raisins, blueberries, dates, cherries….your choice….coarsely chop the apricots and dates
1/2 cup Shredded Unsweetened Coconut (in the freezer section)
1/2 cup chopped Pecans

Whisk melted butter and sugar together. Add eggs and continue whisking until sugar becomes dissolved. Add balsamic vinegar and vanilla. Mixture will become glossy. Stir in dried fruits, pecans, and coconut.

Spread over cooled crust.

Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes, until filling feels set. Allow to cool before cutting into bars. Unless you can’t wait.

The bars improve with age. They also freeze nicely.

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Posted in Desserts, Recipes

21 Responses to “Japanese Fruit Bars”
  1. Kath Says:

    These sound wonderful and I love the tale of how they have developed. I really like the sound of the pecan shortbread – delicious.

  2. mark Says:

    Looks terrific—we need to make these at First Harvest Cafe!

  3. Karen Says:

    I love the story behind these “high-falutin” fruit bars! It’s so neat when food has a history and a connection to real people, which is quite rare in our sad processed food world. Your addition of balsamic vinegar makes these delicious little treats even more divine!

  4. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Karen–Ha! maybe that’s what we should have called them–the High-Falutin’ Fruit Bars!!

  5. Christine @ Fresh Local and Best Says:

    I like the story behind these fruit bars, they do sounds extra special to be called Japanese. You guys are so creative to have added the balsamic vinegar, I can imagine how wonderful those contrasts in flavors must have been.

  6. heather Says:

    DELIGHTFUL!! Thank you Nancy, can’t wait to get baking!

  7. Maggie Says:

    Nance, it was fun, whipping these up! And, so your readers know, they do indeed freeze well – I ate one straight from the freezer just yesterday – delicious!!! I think you did Jean proud!

  8. Barbara Says:

    What a fun story behind the bars. We’d really like these fruity bars in my family. And how super with tea. How interesting to have the balsamic vinegar. That would sure give it a tang and nice depth of flavor.
    Going to make these soon, Nancy. I’ve already copied the recipe!

  9. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Mag–I concur. I really like them right out of the freezer–I can carve off just a sliver, to satisfy that desire for something sweet.

    Barbara–hope you and you family enjoy them!

  10. Nancy Says:

    These look really delicious; great idea to transform the pie into bars. And I love the story behind the name – so cute!

  11. Michele Napoli Says:

    I love how this recipe evolved into something relevant for you now. You did a great job honoring your friend as well as the history of the recipe.
    Looks delicious.

  12. Kelli Says:

    Ladies Retreat at church is next weekend. I think I know what I’m bringing for Friday night’s goodies!

  13. gg Says:

    I’m workin’ these high-falutin’ bars this weekend! Great post!

  14. Denise | Chez Danisse Says:

    These look great and I like the story behind them, the country folk seeking the exotic, the high-falutin’.

  15. Anna Johnston Says:

    This sounds stunning – truly love the pecan shortbread base, very lah dee dah huh :)

  16. My Little Expat Kitchen Says:

    These look good Nancy! I’ve never made such bars before even though I love dried fruit and I’m a sucker for anything with coconut in it. I love that last photo. Cute plates!
    Magda

  17. FOODESSA Says:

    As I was reading the post mentioning the white vinegar…I immediately thought of Apple Cider vinegar…then you came up with a more brilliant idea with balsamic. Ahh…experieince and wisdom do go together so well. I always learn something from you Nancy.

    This recipe is probably only missing a few bittersweet chocolate chunks to balance the sweetness…maybe? Oh well, just an idea.

    I do love how recipes originate and then turn into something even more wonderful ;o)

    Have a great weekend,
    Claudia

  18. Sruthi @ Exercise, Food & Beyond Says:

    These look great and they are so nutritious too.

  19. Juliana Says:

    Nancy, these bars look delicious with all the dry fruits and I love the idea of pecan shortbread crust. Perfect at anytime. Have a great week ahead :-)

  20. Joyti Says:

    Yum, these sound really good. I have a recipe for Japanese fruit egg rolls…they really, really remind me of those.

  21. Timmy Says:

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