“These mesquite caramel crumb bars are the sort of thing I will remember having here… feeling satisfied, nourished and content in my head, my heart and my stomach”.
When I was eighteen I moved into a three bedroom, fifth floor walk-up, with four people. We signed in late spring and didn’t get fully settled until the fall, which quickly transitioned into what felt like an everlasting winter. I called my bedroom The Womb, as it was so small that my six-foot-tall friend could lie on the floor and touch opposite walls with her feet and her hands. The apartment was tight and it was dark, with lots of bodies but little warmth. I was not happy that year. I took to making plenty of heavy, sodden, whole grain baked goods in the middle of the night when I couldn’t sleep, leaving them for my roommates l;’.while filling myself almost solely with roasted kabocha squash and air-popped popcorn. I turned vaguely orange that winter.
When I was twenty, I briefly moved into a brownstone in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, with a boyfriend and our complicated, tired relationship. There I ate to fill up other empty parts of myself, getting bloated on lots of Mexican food and bodega candy, and the pies I made to keep my hands and head busy and remind myself I could still create good things.
“When I was twenty-four I was living in Austin, Texas, in a small bungalow with two girlfriends. I was working full-time as a pastry chef and, when I wasn’t, drinking a good deal of whiskey. I was tired the moment I woke up. Luckily, I was surrounded by a warm circle of food-inclined friends, the ones that tend to offer different kinds of salt as a gift for any occasion. The last thing I wanted to do was step into a kitchen outside of work, and I took to relying on whole avocados doused in truffle salt for nearly all of my caloric intake that did not come from reject croissants at the restaurant.
“Right now, I’m back in Brooklyn, sitting in an apartment that myself and my partner feverishly renovated over the last month, and where I finally, finally, feel at home. Yes, the air outside is chilly and the sun is setting too early, but it lends my kitchen table the sweetest golden blanket as it does. There is only one thing keeping me from filling my studio with the hearty scents of stews and roasts and the like. Ah! My gas has not yet been turned on. For the last week, I’ve been living in a place that prevents me from doing the very thing that makes a home feel like home — cooking. But, this space that feels so overwhelmingly positive, so very much mine, inspired a treat that needed no warmth to make it comforting and rich.
So, I’ve gotten around. In between these homes there were countless others, in which I can also still picture myself eating. Sure, we are what we eat, but what we eat is where we are. These mesquite caramel crumb bars are the sort of thing I will remember myself having here, feeling satisfied, nourished, and content in my head, my heart and my stomach.
Mesquite may make you think barbecue, and those notes of toasty maple and smoke aren’t far off. The powder is actually made from the ground pods of the mesquite plant (of which the wood is used for grilling), and has caramel-y, nutty, malty tones to it, in addition to a host of nutritional benefits.
Raw Mesquite Caramel Crumb Bars (Vegan, Gluten Free)
Yield: 8 squares
Note: If you can’t locate brown rice syrup, substitute with a bit less maple syrup.
Base and Crumble:
2 cups walnuts
1 tsp brown rice flour
1 tbsp flax meal
3 tbsp almond meal
1 heaping tbsp mesquite powder
¼ tsp salt
1 cup dates
2 tbsp brown rice syrup
1 tbsp water
Fleur de sel (or any very coarse sea salt)
1 1/2 tsp mesquite powder
½ tsp vanilla
1 tbsp brown rice syrup
large pinch of salt
Make base and crumble:
Grind walnuts and brown rice flour in a food processor until a coarse meal forms. Add almond meal, flax, mesquite powder and salt. Pulse until well combined and broken down. Set aside about ⅓ for the topping. Blend the remaining mixture until the meal is fine.
Process dates with brown rice syrup and water until broken down. Add into bowl with the fine nut mixture and combine thoroughly with a wooden spoon, your hands, or on low speed in a mixer.
Line a loaf pan or small baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Using slightly damp hands, press the mixture into the pan, about ¼” thick. Smooth into an even layer and chill while you assemble the caramel and topping.
To make the caramel:
Place all the ingredients in a food processor and blend until smooth.
To make the topping:
To the reserved coarse nut mixture, add one generous pinch of fleur de sel and 1 1/2 tsp another mesquite powder. Press the mixture together to make pebble-sized crumbles.
Remove the prepared nut layer from the fridge and spread the caramel in a thin, even coat across the top. Damp fingers are good for this as well. It should be about ⅛” thick.
Top with crumbles and gently press them into top. Place the pan in the fridge for at least one hour, or overnight.
When ready to cut, run a knife around the edges of the pan and flip onto a cutting board. Turn crumble side up and cut into eight even squares with a sharp knife.
These are best kept chilled and will last for a couple of weeks in the fridge.
+What are your favorite healthy treats?