Oat Streusel Cherry Pie Bars with Shortbread Crust
July 14, 2022
Feature summer favorite sour cherries in this fun layered dessert, perfect for your next backyard barbecue. These cherry pie bars start with a simple shortbread base, are covered with a jammy filling, and then topped with crisp oat streusel and a sweet drizzle.
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This might be one of the first times that I’ve ever made a baked good featuring cherries that I didn’t end up finding a pit in. Part of that is because I used a cherry pitter, did a counting comparison of pits to fruit, and triple checked each one. But another level of security was cooking the filling on the stovetop first, letting this summer favorite get nice and jammy.
Besides that yummy filling, these cherry pie bars do have a few parts, but none are complicated. A basic shortbread crust is easy and forgiving. The streusel topping is versatile. And the sweet sugary drizzle is only two ingredients.
What You Need to Get Started
You can easily find all of the ingredients for these shortbread and streusel cherry pie bars at your grocery store:
- Pantry: Flour, Sugar, Salt, Oats, Brown sugar, Powdered sugar (optional)
- Fridge: Butter
- Produce: Sour cherries
- Equipment: Cherry pitter (optional), 9×13 Baking pan, Parchment paper, Mixing bowls, Pastry blender, Saucepan, Whisk, Chef’s knife
Let’s Make Cherry Pie Bars
The first time I made these bars it was to serve at one of many summer outdoor barbecues, where everyone is asked to bring a side dish or dessert to pass. The host specifically requested cherries for the season, but I also knew I was dealing with a nut-free crowd.
So that’s where this came from. Normally I’d try to combine cherries with almonds or at least almond extract, but not here. Instead, every ingredient you’ll use here is a standard kitchen staple — except the cherries themselves.
And since it all comes together pretty quickly, it’s a good idea to preheat your oven and line a baking pan with parchment paper before getting started.
Make and Bake the Shortbread Crust
A perfect shortbread is buttery melt-in-your-mouth goodness, but it’s still stable enough to be the support system for the other pieces of these bars. To make it, you’ll start by whisking together flour, sugar, and some salt, until it’s uniformly combined.
Then, add in the butter. And be sure you are using slightly softened room temperature butter for this, as it’s much easier to work with than cold or melted butter. Using a pastry blender, work the butter into the flour mixture.
When there are no dry areas and the dough holds together when you pinch it between two fingers, it’s ready to use. At some point, you may find it easier to switch to using your hands, which is totally fine. They may get a little messy throughout this recipe anyway.
Dump the buttery dough into your prepared baking pan, and press it into a thin, even layer. You can use the heel of your hand to work it across the pan, and then use your fingertips to gently press it into the corners and edges.
The shortbread dough is very forgiving, so if it feels lumpy or uneven, just continue working with it until it’s spread out over the whole pan. Don’t worry about a few soft hills in the crust, since it will be covered by plenty of other good stuff.
Place the pan in the preheated oven, and allow the crust to bake for twenty-five minutes or so. When it’s ready, the edges will have turned a nice golden brown, while the center has just darkened slightly. It will be very spongy, so don’t press or poke it to check for doneness. Just uses those edges.
Set the baked crust aside on a trivet to cool for at least ten minutes. Meanwhile, this is a great time to work on the other pieces of these cherry pie bars.
Prepare the Cherry Pie Filling and Streusel
Let’s start with the cherries. Sour cherries are the star here, but I know they can sometimes be difficult to get your hands on. If you are not able to access fresh sour cherries, these bars can be made with thawed frozen sour cherries.
You can also skip this step completely and use a your favorite jarred cherry pie filling. I am always here to support your baking shortcuts.
If you are using fresh cherries, be sure to wash them thoroughly, remove and stems and leaves, and pit them. A cherry pitter makes this easier, especially when you are using upwards of sixty cherries, but it’s not required. A paring knife will do the job, just a bit slower.
Add the pitted cherries along with flour, sugar, and water into a medium saucepan, and stir everything together to combine it. The sugar and flour will both help the cherry juices thicken up as they are heated, both on the stove and in the oven later.
The water will mostly cook off to thicken the filling, but it helps to get everything combined before the cherries begin releasing their juices. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Then, cover then pan and let the cherries cook undisturbed for a couple minutes to soften.
Uncover the pan, and continue allowing the cherry juice to simmer for an additional five minutes. This mixture should be a brilliant red color, and will have thickened slightly. However it will still be a syrupy liquid. Turn off the heat and set the pan aside until the crust is cooled.
If needed, the cherry pie filling can be made in advance and stored in a sealed jar in the fridge for a few days. It may thicken when chilled, so warm on the stove and add a splash of water if its too thick.
Meanwhile, as the cherries are cooking, you can begin making the streusel. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, brown sugar, and salt until they are combined. Since I wasn’t using nuts here, I definitely wanted to lean on oats to add a little toothsome texture to these bars.
You can easily omit the oats for a softer streusel. Simply replace it with an additional quarter cup of flour.
Once the dry parts of the streusel are combined, add in the butter. It should be melted, but cooled slightly so it’s not too hot to handle. You can pour it right into the flour mixture and begin stirring everything together with a spoon or your hands.
Personally, I’m a fan of mixing streusel with my hands. I feel like I can really get in there and ensure that the texture is right. Plus, I always enjoy the somewhat primal and cathartic feeling of using my hands to get the job done.
Continue working the streusel, spoon or hands, until there are no dry pockets. This recipe makes for a fairly crumbly streusel, so it’s okay if you can visibly make out some flour or oats. However, everything should be holding together into pea-sized pieces.
Assemble and Bake the Cherry Pie Bars
Okay, we’ve made it to the part where you get to put it all together! Start with your pan of baked and cooled shortbread crust. Allowing it some time to rest will let the shortbread begin to solidify, so the cherry filling rests on top instead of soaking into it.
Pour the cherries and all of that delicious red syrup on top of the crust, and use a flexible spatula to spread it around. Be sure any large cherry pieces are distributed evenly around the pan, and make sure you get all the way to those edges.
Now, do the same with the streusel topping. Use your fingertips to crumble any larger pieces, and be sure you are getting a nice, even layer, covering most of that cherry goodness. It’s okay if a little bit of red peeks through, especially where there are whole cherries.
Place the pan back into the oven and allow the cherry pie bars to bake for an additional fifteen minutes. At this point, you are just trying to dry out the streusel, thicken up the filling, and allow the flour to heat up to safe levels, so it’s a pretty fast second bake.
When the bars are ready, the streusel will appear somewhat dried out, and the cherry filling will have darkened slightly. Allow the entire pan to cool on a trivet for at least one or two hours before you try to remove or cut the bars.
Finalize and Cut the Bars
Speaking of cutting, if you are adding the optional sugary glaze, you’ll probably want to do it before cutting the squares. However, you could definitely drizzle each individually before serving as well.
Either way, first you’ll want to remove the bars from the pan. Use the edges of the parchment paper to help you lift it straight up and out of the pan, onto a flat cutting surface. You might find it easier to have an extra set of hands to help with this.
To make the sugar drizzle, combine some water and powdered sugar in a small bowl, and stir to make a glaze. Continue adding water a very small amount at a time until it reaches a drizzling consistency.
Use a spoon or small whisk to create diagonal stripes of the sugar glaze across the entire giant cherry pie bar. You may need to play with the texture slightly, as a thinner glaze will be more easily absorbed by the streusel and cherry filling. Add more sugar to thicken it up before adding the next stripe.
Finally, use a chef’s knife to cut the bars into twenty-four pieces, in a six by four grid. When cutting, you’ll want to press straight down and push through the shortbread instead of sawing it.
Now let’s eat! If needed, the finished cherry pie bars can be stored in a sealed container at room temperature for a few days. Enjoy these room temperature or warmed in the microwave with a dollop of whipped cream or some vanilla ice cream.
A sweet shortbread crust, jammy sour cherries, and a golden browned oat streusel are layered together for a delicious summer treat in these cherry pie bars — perfect for a picnic!
How to Serve Cherry Pie Bars
These bars make a fun summer dessert, and they travel well in their original pan. After cutting, simply use the parchment paper to lift them back into pan, cover, and transport. They’ll be a major hit at your next picnic or pool party. If you’re the host, try serving them with a matching cocktail, like the classy chocolate covered cherry amaro manhattan.
Since these are bite-sized treats, they also work well as part of a dessert spread or buffet bar. To keep with the light and fruity theme, try serving them alongside blueberry cheesecake cookies, lemon curd sandwich cookies, and pear tart bars. Scoops of strawberry ice cream will bring it all together.
More Recipes with Cherries
Oat Streusel Cherry Pie Bars with Shortbread Crust
- 2 Cups All-purpose flour
- ¼ Cup Sugar
- ½ tsp Salt
- 1 Cup Unsalted Butter room temperature
Cherry Pie Filling
- 2-3 Cups Sour Cherries washed, stemmed, and pitted, about 60-65 cherries
- 2 Tbsp All-purpose flour
- 1 Tbsp Sugar
- ¼ Cup Water
- ⅔ Cups All-purpose flour
- ⅓ Cups Quick Oats
- ⅓ Cups Brown Sugar
- ½ tsp Salt
- 4 Tbsp Butter melted and cooled slightly
Simple Glaze (optional)
- ¼ Cup Powdered Sugar
- 1-2 tsp Water
- Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the center. Line a 9x13 baking pan with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt until combined. Add the butter and vanilla, and use a pastry blender to cut in the butter until the dough stick together when you pinch some between your fingers.
- Pour the dough into the prepared baking pan, and press down using your fingertips. Bake for 25-30 minutes until browned at the edges. Set the crust aside to cool while you prepare the filling and streusel, leaving the oven on.
Cherry Pie Filling
- In a medium saucepan, add the cherries, flour, sugar, and water. Stir to combine. Cook over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cover and let cook undisturbed for 2 minutes.
- Uncover, and continue simmering for an additional 5 minutes until the mixture thickens slightly.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, brown sugar, and salt until combined. Add in the butter and mix with a spoon or your hands until uniform and somewhat crumbly.
Cherry Pie Bars
- Once the crust has cooled for about ten minutes, spread the cherry pie filling on top, even distributed any large cherry pieces. Using your fingertip to crumble the streusel, distribute it evenly over the top of the cherry filling.
- Bake the bars for 15-20 minutes, until the streusel appears dry and slightly browned. Let the bars cool in the pan on a trivet for 1-2 hours before serving.
- Use the parchment paper (and a friend) to carefully remove the bars from the pan and place onto a flat surface. Cut with a chef's knife into 24 squares. Serve room temperature or warmed with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Simple Glaze (optional)
- In a small bowl, combine the sugar and half the water. Add the remaining water slowly until you reach a thick drizzling consistency. Drizzle in diagonal stripes over the cooled cherry pie bars, before cutting.
- Make Ahead Tip:
- The finished bars can be stored in a sealed container at room temperature for 2-3 days. Enjoy room temperature or warmed in the microwave.
- The cherry pie filling can be stored in a sealed jar in the fridge for 3-4 days. Warm on the stove and add a splash of water if its too thick to spread over the shortbread.
- Cherries: If you are not able to access fresh sour cherries, these bars can be made with thawed frozen sour cherries. You can also skip the cherry pie filling steps and use your favorite jarred cherry pie filling.