It plonks itself down on the plate in front of me, freed from the confines of the tin in which it was so effortlessly baked. It’s still warm. Then it says something.
“I’m undefinable, baby.”
I should be taken aback at a traybake being able to speak of its own accord, but what it states is obvious. It’s impossible to tell if it’s crumble, streusel, flapjack or a brazen mix of all three, but one thing is made clear: the layered slice I’m looking at has a fruity little mind all of its own. Instead of ploughing headfirst into flapjack identity politics, though, I ask them how its journey to deliciousdom started.
“I was very lucky in the industry,” it begins. It speaks with an offhand laziness afforded only to those made with pure butter. I’m right of course.
“I was introduced to butter early on in my career. She made everything so easy and really forms such a part of who I am today.”
I nod, taking notes. The traybake seems reserved so I prod a little, warm jam coating my fingers. I ask about the linage regarding brown sugar.
“I’d love to say I’m 100% soft brown sugar but i’t just not true. I’m half white granulated and half extra dark muscovado. I’m not ashamed – it’s just a fact. It’s all we had to work with at the beginning.”
The traybake’s life began just forty minutes ago, when an unlikely combination of oats, flour, baking powder, salt, butter and sugar met in a bowl for the first time. Regarding the process, the layered slice has only hazy memories.
“It all came together so quickly,” it reminicies.
“There was a microwave. And some hands. It felt right, especially with butter holding us all together.”
I note that we’re dancing around a certain subject, which runs though the middle of the slice like a red river. It’s a sticky topic, evidently, so I approach it with caution.
“Oh the jam?” The traybake seems relieved I’ve brought it up first.
“The jam doesn’t really matter. I mean, of course it matters. But it doesn’t have to be a particular flavour or colour. It just has to be jam, and it has to be sharp. Mine’s mixed berry today.”
Jam. It makes a lot of sense, but for a traybake so confident in itself initially, the slice shifts around a little bit on the plate. There’s still something troubling it, so I stay silent for a minute. Baked goods always talk when you give them the space to do so.
“The trouble is, you see, ready made jam is too sweet.”
This statement comes abruptly; a confession, almost. But at the heart of things, it’s correct – ready made jam is always too sweet, never quite offering enough of that blessed hit of acidity when you really need it. Luckily, making your own isn’t difficult, and actually takes around as much time to do as having a shower, or losing an argument with a chocolate eclair.
The traybake seems uncomfortable about the fact it’s filled with a jam more delicious and contrastive than the shop-bought kind, but after a while it relaxes and talks freely about its privileged layers.
“Everyone’s got complexities and nuances; no one is one flavour all the way though. I think it’s good to have different aspects of your personality which contrast – it gives you a little element of surprise every now and again. I’m really buttery and rounded for the most part, but then: meep! There’s that tartness of the jam which comes through.”
And the contrastive textures of the traybake should be noted here too. While the middle layers around the river of jam are soft and supple, the bottom turns to a lucious brown caramel colour, with a good chew. And then the streusel/crumble layer (I don’t want to ask which it is, for fear of undoing some of the magic) forms a lovely crunchiness on top. Inflating its ego isn’t the goal here, but as far as trabakes go, it’s pretty perfect. I ask it about any upcoming projects.
“Well, you know, I’m in talks with lemon curd at the moment,” it says, casually. “That could work really well as a combination but we’ve got to sort out the finer details. Obviously my pairing with raspberry was a massive success, so there’s a lot to live up to. I’m worried about not being good enough. But isn’t everyone these days?”
Raspberry Flapjack Streusel Crumble Bars – RECIPE
For the base and topping:
- 230g of porridge oats
- 190g of plain flour
- 180g of salted, melted butter (use vegan butter if you’re a plant lad)
- 220g of sugar (I always prefer soft brown but anything goes)
- Half a teaspoon of baking powder
- A pinchette of salt
For the jam layer:
- One 350-400g bag of frozen raspberries or mixed fruits
- 50-75g of sugar depending on your taste preferences
- The juice of a small lemon
- A teaspoon of cornflour
Put the oven on to 180 and line a square baking tin that’s roughly 20x20cm.
Mix together all the ingredients for the crumble layer – it should look kind of clumpy and sandy at the same time. Press ⅔ of this mix into the baking tray.
Next, empty your raspberries or berries into a large microwavable bowl and zap them on low power for about 5 minutes, or until they’re defrosted a bit. Pour out any excess water, then mix the berries with the sugar, lemon juice and cornflour and microwave again for 2-3 minutes or so while you bake your crumble layer for around 10 minutes.
When the crumble layer is looking pale golden, take it out of the oven and spread the berries across it. Now sprinkle over the rest of the crumble mix and bake it for around 20-25 minutes, or until the raspberries are molten lava, and the crumble bits on top are going a robust shade of gordon brown.
Wait to cool before slicing, then interview it like the absolute freak you are.