Blueberry Crumble Bars. Rey Lopez for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

Creating recipes for less-sugary baked goods has become a calling for me. I love to bite into a tender muffin, slice of banana bread or cookie with my afternoon tea, but I find most store-bought options and standard recipes overly sweet. Sometimes I’ll use a popular recipe and simply cut back on the amount of sugar called for, but the substitution isn’t always that straightforward. Often, the formula needs to be reworked entirely to make a truly desirable, less-sweet baked good and, from what I can tell, there aren’t many reliable sources out there doing it. (Two who have tackled lower sugar baking exceptionally well are Brian Levy, author of “Good and Sweet,” and Jennifer Tyler Lee, author of “Half the Sugar, All the Love.”) I am happy to step in to help fill this need, especially since it means I get to taste a lot of sweet (but not too-sweet) goodies.

Sinking my teeth into one of these bars was an immediate reminder of the perks of the job. They bring all of the delight of a classic jam-filled, crumble-topped fruit bar, but in a more gently sweet way, with a nutty granola bar vibe. This kind of bar typically has a shortbread-like base slathered with sugary jam, but these boast more fruit-forward layers, which allow the natural sweetness of whole fruit to take the lead, heightened with a small amount of maple syrup.

The jam layer is made up simply of blueberries simmered with a touch of maple syrup, and some orange zest and juice, until the berries have broken down and thickened to a spreadable texture.

The base and topping layers both start with finely ground walnuts, almonds and sunflower seeds, which are mixed with rolled oats, whole-wheat flour and cinnamon. Most of that nut-oat mixture is stirred with a puree of prunes, oil, egg and vanilla to form the crust. The prunes bring the majority of the sweetness – not to mention fiber and antioxidants – and just a touch of maple syrup is added to level it up a bit. (You could substitute dried dates for the prunes, or use a combination of the two if you’d like.) The base mixture is pressed into a baking dish, smeared with the cooked blueberries, then topped with the remaining nut-oat mixture, which has been tossed into a crumble with more maple syrup and some oil.

Once baked and cooled, the bars come out alluringly layered, with a nutty bottom that has a lovely chew from the dried fruit; a jammy center, which brims with true blueberry flavor; and a crunchy, maple-spiked crumble topping. Give them a try, and you’ll understand why they are one of the reasons I love my work.

Ellie Krieger is a registered dietitian nutritionist and cookbook author who hosts public television’s “Ellie’s Real Good Food.” Learn more at


The berries simmer until broken down and thickened to a spreadable texture. Rey Lopez for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

Blueberry Crumble Bars

12 servings (makes one 8-inch square slab)

Active time: 35 mins; Total time: 1 hour

These blueberry bars bring the delight of a classic jam-filled, crumble fruit bar but in a more healthful way. Sweetened with whole fruit and a small amount of maple syrup, the result delivers a granola bar vibe. The bars’ nutty base has a lovely chew from dried fruit, jammy centers brimming with blueberry flavor, and a crunchy maple-spiked crumble topping.

Make ahead: The blueberry mixture can be prepared and refrigerated at least 40 minutes and up to 3 days in advance.

Storage: Store lightly covered at room temperature for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 2 months.



1 medium orange

1 1/2 cups (210 grams) blueberries (fresh or frozen, no need to defrost)

5 tablespoons maple syrup, divided

1/4 cup (60 milliliters) plus 1 tablespoon neutral oil, such as avocado or canola, divided, plus more for the pan

1/2 cup (50 grams) raw walnut halves


1/2 cup (70 grams) raw skin-on almonds

1/2 cup (60 grams) raw, hulled sunflower seeds

1 cup (100 grams) old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant or quick-cooking)

3/4 cup (94 grams) whole-wheat flour

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon fine salt


1 cup (140 grams) pitted prunes

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Into a small saucepan, use a rasp grater to finely grate 1/2 teaspoon of zest from the orange. Cut the orange in half, then squeeze 1 tablespoon of the juice into the saucepan. (Reserve the remaining orange for another use.)

Add the blueberries and 2 tablespoons of the maple syrup to the orange mixture, and set over medium heat. Cook uncovered, stirring frequently, until the blueberries collapse and the mixture thickens and reduces to about 2/3 cup, 15 to 25 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and refrigerate until completely cool, about 40 minutes.


While the blueberries are cooking and cooling, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Brush an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with oil and line it with two strips of parchment long enough to have a generous overhang on all sides.

In a food processor, combine the walnuts and almonds, and process until finely ground and the texture resembles pebbly sand. Add the sunflower seeds, and pulse a few times to combine and break up the seeds a bit. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl; add the oats, flour, cinnamon and salt, and stir to thoroughly combine. (Don’t rinse the bowl of the food processor; you’ll use it again.)

Transfer about 1 cup (130 grams) of the nut-oat mixture to a medium bowl and add 1 1/2 tablespoons of the maple syrup and 1 tablespoon of the oil. Stir to combine – this is the topping for the bars. (The remaining nut-oat mixture in the large bowl will be used for the base.)

In the bowl of the food processor – it’s OK if there are some ground nuts on the sides of the bowl – combine the prunes, the remaining 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) of oil, the egg, the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of maple syrup and the vanilla, and process until the mixture is mostly smooth but with some texture remaining. Transfer the prune mixture to the large bowl with the oat-nut mixture, and mix well with a wooden spoon, pressing the prune mixture to break it up and thoroughly combine it with the oat-nut mixture. This is your base for the bars.

Transfer the base mixture to the prepared baking dish. Place a piece of wax paper on top, and use your hands to press the mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan. Discard the wax paper.

Evenly spread the blueberry mixture over the base layer of the bars, then sprinkle with the oat topping. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown. Let cool completely in the pan, then use the parchment overhang to transfer the slab to a cutting board. Cut into 12 equal-size bars and serve.

Substitutions: In place of blueberries, try raspberries or blackberries (strain out the seeds after cooking, if you’d like). Nut-free? Use all sunflower seeds or a combination of sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds.

Nutrition per serving (one 2-by-2 2/3-inch bar): 244 calories, 24g carbohydrates, 14mg cholesterol, 15g fat, 4g fiber, 6g protein, 2g saturated fat, 53mg sodium, 9g sugar

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