sour cream raisin bar

Sour Cream Raisin Bars

I first met Carrie when we worked together at a little café in downtown San Diego. I had recently returned from New York, defeated by the city, but full of hope and a passion for all things baked. She was smoking a cigarette out by the dumpsters, still sweaty from her morning bike ride to work, and I was taking out the recycling. We bonded instantly over our mutual dislike for our naturally curly hair, and the fact that we had both graduated from the CIA’s culinary arts program, but had now crossed over to the world of flour and sugar. She had been hired to make all of the croissants, muffins, and scones. Being a recent convert to pastry-ism, I was instantly smitten.

We became fast friends, and spent a long, not so lazy summer baking stuffed croissants from scratch in my tiny galley kitchen and going on “cake binges”, as she called them, for days at a time. When her sister asked her over the phone “So, what? Is Rachel, like, your new BFF or something?” She replied with, “She’s more like a sister.”

Carrie is the daughter of the founders of The Seed Savers Exchange, a non profit organization that collects and distributes heirloom seeds from all over the world. She grew up on a huge farm in Decorah, Iowa. While most of us were busy dressing our baby dolls, Carrie and her siblings were picking massive zucchinis that had gone to seed, drawing faces on them, and swaddling them like a baby. On long walks through our neighborhood that summer, she could provide the Latin names of just about any plant I pointed out. We walked aimlessly for hours, trying to figure out how we could raise some money for butter and flour, and planning the rest of our lives.

She was preternaturally talented and not worried about the future. I admired her ability to be relaxed about what may come, for it is a trait I do not possess. This isn’t something I’m proud of. It’s something that is just so. I’m working on it though; it’s on my things to do list.

Carrie had the most fascinating stack of recipes written on the backs of receipts and brownish index cards, smeared with a little jam. Most of them had come from newspapers or had been recited to her over the phone from her mother, whom is rumored to make the best pie dough that I’ve never tasted. I’ve gained many things from my friendship with Carrie, the most tangible of which is the recipe for her grandmother’s Sour Cream Raisin Bars. Made from a few simple ingredients that I almost always have on hand, they are the most delicious and decadent bar cookie around. Studded with plump raisins, laden with rich, tangy custard and topped with a salty-sweet oat streusel, these bars are sure to take you back to your childhood…or someone else’s. I’ve made these with various other dried fruit, and you can too, but I find them most satisfying made with a mixture of black and golden raisins.

Sour Cream Raisin Bars

Carrie’s Grandma

I recommend baking these on an 11” x 17” half sheet pan. If you don’t have one (then go get one, you won’t be sorry), you can also bake them in a 13” x 9” baking pan, just cut the recipe in half. They freeze famously and as long as you ignore the FDA, can be stored at room temperature wrapped tightly for a few days. They are best enjoyed at room temperature.

Crust and Topping

  • 3 ½ cups instant oats
  • 3 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • 2 cups packed brown sugar
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups (1#) butter, melted

Filling

  • 8 egg yolks
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar
  • 6 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 4 cups sour cream
  • 4 cups raisins, preferably a mix of golden and black

For the crust/topping:

Combine oats, flour, brown sugar, baking soda and salt. Mix with a fork. Add butter, and mix to form a crumbly mess. Press 2/3 of the mixture into the bottom of a lined half sheet pan, or baking dish. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.

Meanwhile, make the custard.

Combine all ingredients in a large, heavy bottomed pan. Using a whisk, and paying close attention to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pan, mix and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook for 5-10 minutes, or until the starchy mouth-feel of the cornstarch is gone. Pour over pre-baked crust and spread evenly. Top with reserved oat mix. Bake at 350 20 minutes. Cool completely (preferably overnight) before cutting into 24 bars.

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