Raspberry Rhubarb Coconut Bars (gluten free, dairy free, egg free, sugar free)

While waiting in the lobby at my acupuncturist's office, curled up in a chair with the most recent copy of Eating Well, I saw a recipe for for Raspberry Bars. They looked delicious - a pecan shortbread crust, topped with raspberry filling a swirl of sweetened cream cheese. I thought I could make a version sans dairy, gluten, nuts, and sugar. It seemed easy enough - a simple crust of GF flours, a naturally sweet fruit filling, and some thickened coconut milk to substitute cream cheese. I've been milling over this idea for almost two weeks. So, when I decided to go home for the Memorial Day weekend, I had the perfect opportunity to try my recipe out: the Pre-Memorial Day backyard family get-together meal! These bars were the dessert to our delicious dinner of mesquite-smoked grilled chicken, creamy collard jicama slaw, and roasted vegetables.

Ooooh, and were these bars ever tasty - they passed the test with my grandparents and my parents. Instead of using all raspberries, I decided to throw some rhubarb in the mix, making use of my parents' legendary rhubarb plants that grow in the backyard. Rhubarb was a regular spring and summer baking ingredient in my family. Back in my gluten and sugar eating days, I made every variation of rhubarb dessert you could ever imagine. Bars, cakes, cookies, pies, sauces, jams, relishes, the list goes on. Anyway, I love the tart flavor. And it combines so well with the sweetness of berries - I couldn't resist adding it in! The coconut swirl was tasty and creamy, and added a nice, pretty marbled look. And the crust was delicious - dense, rich, and just a little sweet. I think the recipe for the crust would make a great shortbread cookie all on its own!

Baking notes:
This is a very low sugar recipe. Both rhubarb and raspberries are very low sugar fruits. To sweeten, I used a combination of stevia and agave nectar - the entire recipe only uses 1 1/2 T of agave.

To set the raspberry rhubarb filling (and the coconut cream), I did use gelatin, as the original recipe called for. I'd like to try a version using agar agar instead, but this time around opted to keep in the gelatin, because it was easy and I'm not vegan. I used one small packet of regular Knox gelatin for the whole recipe - 2 tsp for the fruit filling, and the remaining gelatin the packet for the coconut cream swirl.

I think I may have made enough changes to make this recipe 'mine' at this point - but thanks to Eating Well for providing such great inspiration!

RASPBERRY RHUBARB COCONUT BARS (gluten free, dairy free, egg free, sugar free)

yield: 1 8"x8" pan
1/4 c brown rice flour
1/4 c white rice flour
1/4 c amaranth flour
1 T arrowroot starch
1/2 c finely shredded, unsweetened coconut
1/2 tsp salt
3 T cold coconut oil, cut into small pieces
4 T ice water
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/16 tsp stevia
Raspberry Rhubarb Filling
2 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 T water
2 c fresh raspberries, divided
1 c rhubarb, finely sliced (can substitute additional 1 c raspberries if desired)
1 T agave nectar
1/16 tsp stevia
Coconut Cream Swirl (makes more than you need)
scant 1/2 tsp gelatin dissolved in 2 T rice milk
3 T arrowroot dissolved in 2 T rice milk
1 c regular coconut milk
2 T rice milk
1/2 T agave
1/2 tsp vanilla
To prepare crust:
  1. Preheat oven to 400* F. Coat an 8-inch-square baking pan with coconut oil.
  2. Whisk together flours in a medium bowl.
  3. Place flour, shredded coconut, salt, and stevia in food processor, and pulse a few times to mix. Add coconut oil one piece at a time until incorporated; mixture will be grainy. Add ice water and vanilla and pulse just until the dough starts to come together. Transfer to the prepared pan. Press evenly and firmly into the pan to form a bottom crust.
  4. Bake the crust until is set and just starts to turn golden, about 15 minutes. Remove pan from oven, and let crust cool completely on a wire rack.
To prepare raspberry rhubarb filling:
  1. Wash raspberries, and wash and slice rhubarb.
  2. Sprinkle gelatin or agar powder over 2 T water in a small bowl. Let stand, stirring once or twice, while you prepare the rest of the filling.
  3. Reserve 16 raspberries for garnish. Puree the remaining raspberries, rhubarb, agave, and stevia in a food processor/blender until totally smooth.
  4. Transfer raspberry rhubarb mixture to a medium saucepan, and cook over medium heat until bubbling. Stir in gelatin and cook, until gelatin is melted, about 1 minute.
  5. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Pour the raspberry mixture into another medium bowl and set it in the large bowl of ice water. Refrigerate mixture, stirring occasionally with a rubber spatular, until the mixture thickens to the consistency of loose jam and is beginning to set around the edges, about 45 minutes to an hour.
To prepare Coconut Cream:
  1. Dissolve gelatin in 2 T rice milk for a few minutes. In another small bowl, whisk together 3 T arrowroot and 2 T of rice milk, until smooth.
  2. Place coconut milk, vanilla, and agave nectar in saucepan and bring to a bubble over medium heat. Add gelatin and cook for about 1 minute. Then add arrowroot and stir; mixture will thicken immediately. Whisk briskly and remove from heat.
  3. Pour coconut mixture into bowl, and place in the fridge. Chill until thickened, about 30-45 minutes, vigorously whisking often. This mixture will have a gelatinous, kind of goopy texture - just whisk it, it will get better after it chills!
Assemble and chill:
  1. Once thickened, remove raspberry mixture from fridge and stir. Spread the thickened raspberry filling evenly over the crust.
  2. Vigorously whisk the coconut cream. Dollop the mixture over the filling, adding as much or as little as you'd like. There will be leftover cream! I blended my leftovers with some frozen blackberries and made tasty berry cream to eat with scones I'm going to bake tomorrow morning with all that rhubarb...
  3. Draw the tip of a sharp knife or skewer through the fillings to create a swirled or marbled effect. Then, nestle the reserved berries into the filling, evenly spacing them so each bar will be topped with a berry when cut. Refrigerate until completely set, about 3 hours.
  4. Remove pan from fridge, and slice with a sharp knife into 16 2"x2" squares. Serve!