Last week, a dear friend of mine sent me a blurry photo and recipe with this hilarious comment:
“This recipe is my Christmas recipe nightmare! A favorite of my husband and youngest son but a living mess to make EVERY SINGLE YEAR. My son and my sister-in-law made it this year and this is the debacle. Burned on the edges, underdone in the middle, left the oven a smoking mess, and the dog had a go at it as well. This recipe is very old—handed down from Grandma Betty. It certainly could stand some updating!”
She added: “And it’s too many cookie bars! No one can eat an 11 x 15 pan of raisin mumbles!!” (To which I replied, genuinely, “Oh, it’s supposed to be bars?!”)
I’ve often said that I love to cook but I don’t really love to bake—baking typically requires precision, not my forte. But cookie bars seemed doable … and the challenge enticed me. Here’s what happened.
I started by cutting the recipe roughly in half—and I cut the sugar even more, because the original had a whopping 5 cups total and I thought even half of that would overwhelm the rest of the recipe’s flavors.
I decided on an 8×8-inch pan and, instead of foil, I chose parchment paper, which I knew would release from both the pan and the bars after cooking.
Then I heated the raisin mixture, using a lot less water than in the original recipe and being sure to bring it to a gentle boil before reducing to a simmer, to ensure that the sugar would incorporate fully.
It turned out to be important to wait at least 20 minutes for this mixture to cool. As you can see, the heated raisins continued to absorb liquid and the final mixture wasn’t so soupy.
Making the crumble part was straightforward: Mix dry ingredients, cream butter and (a lot less) sugar, and then combine. After reserving one-third of this mixture for the topping, I pressed the rest into the pan, using a flat measuring cup to compress it.
Next, I spread the mostly cooled raisin mixture on top, crumbled the reserved crumble on top of that, and voila—ready to cook at 350 degrees.
I had no idea how long my revised version would take, but I figured the 25 minutes in the original recipe was an OK place to start—and then I just kept adding time until the top looked golden brown and the filling was bubbling around the edges, a total of 40 minutes.
Now came the hard part: waiting for it to cool so I could take it out of the pan. The original recipe stated that the bars were “easier to cut if they are frozen,” so I deduced that cooling would be key to solidifying the layers. Once the pan was not hot to the touch, I put it in the fridge for about an hour to cool completely.
At that point they were ready to remove from the pan. Because some of the sticky raisin layer seeped into the corners, I ran a dinner knife around the pan edge (outside the paper) to loosen it, and then lifted the whole thing out onto a cutting board. Because the bars were solid and cool, it was easy to peel off the parchment paper without the entire block falling apart.
The moment of truth: I was so happy to see that the layers remained distinct and the cold bars cut nicely—and they taste terrific! Kind of like fig bars but even better.
Here is the final recipe. Incidentally, I used regular flour, but I am sure this would work just as well with a gluten-free flour mix and gluten-free oats.
One last question remains: Why are they called mumbles??
Makes one 8×8-inch pan | About 25 squares
12 ounces seedless raisins (about 2 1/4 cups)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup water
2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
scant 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
- Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with two crosshatched pieces of parchment paper, leaving a few inches of overhang on each edge.
- Combine all raisin mixture ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let cool for 20 minutes; mixture will continue to thicken as raisins absorb liquid.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Separately, beat butter and brown sugar. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture and mix well.
- Reserve one-third of crumbles mixture. Press remainder into pan. Top with cooled raisin mixture. Crumble remaining crumb mixture over raisins. Bake for about 40 minutes, until golden brown on top and bubbly around edges. Let cool, then refrigerate until completely cold.
- Run a knife around pan edges (outside parchment paper) to loosen from pan; using parchment paper, lift bars out of pan and transfer to a cutting board. Peel off parchment paper; cut bars while cold.
Try it and let me know what you think!