Brown butter and cherry oat squares

  • 9 squares
  • 60 minutes plus a few hours for cooling
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These oaty bars from Eleanor Ford are made by cooking a buttery, flapjack-like layer over a short, rich and only lightly sweetened biscuit layer. Mahleb will definitely require a trip to a speciality store, but it’s worth the trip. There is nothing else quite like it, but Eleanor notes that 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or a grated tonka bean are a good alternative.

This recipe is taken from A Whisper of Cardamom by Eleanor Ford (Murdoch Books, £26) Photography: Ola O. Smit

First published in 2024

Eleanor says: 'Two flavour boosters are at work in these crumbly based, gooey-topped bars. Firstly mahleb, the kernel found inside the pit of the mahaleb cherry. It is a spice much used in enriched Greek breads and Middle-Eastern bakes for its bewitching, fruity-floral, slightly almondy aroma. Rather inevitably, it is wonderful with cherries. Butter is the second. Taking it beyond melting point until its milk solids gently toast gives a caramel nuttiness that is transformative. A tip if, like me, browned butter is your baking vice: up the ante by adding a little dried milk powder to scale up those precious brown flecks.'

Spice switch: Spice the biscuit base with 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or a grated tonka bean.




Biscuit base

Oaty top


  • 20x20cm square cake tin



Line a 20cm (8 inch) square tin with an overhanging layer of baking parchment. Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan (350°F)


Finely grind the mahleb and set aside for a couple of minutes to help the bitter flavours dissipate. (If you are using ready-ground mahleb, increase the quantity by about half, as the flavour will be muted.)

  • 1/2 tsp mahleb kernels, finely ground

Put the mahleb, flour, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add the cold butter cubes and blend until the mixture comes together into clumps of dough. Press these into the baking tin to form an even base. Bake for 15–20 minutes to a pale golden biscuit


Meanwhile, make the oat top. Put the butter and milk powder (if using) in a medium pan over a medium heat. Cook, stirring often, as first the butter melts then fizzles until the milk solids turn a delicious golden brown under the foamy top


Remove from the heat and stir in the sugars and salt. Leave to cool for 5 minutes or so before mixing in the remaining ingredients


Spread the oaty mixture over the cooked biscuit base and return to the oven for 15–20 minutes. The top should be firmly set and golden


Leave to cool completely in the pan for a few hours before cutting into squares

First published in 2024

Eleanor Ford is an award-winning author writing about food and travel.

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