Cranberry bars! Have you guys seen To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before on Netflix? It’s a DELIGHT and I’ve watched it like 6 times. How does this relate to holiday desserts, you may ask? Well, there’s a part in the movie where one character pretends that making cupcakes for a school bake sale is her top priority and two other characters point out that the easiest way to bake for groups is to make something that can be cut into pieces. This is good advice!
So this year, we’re only making bars that can be baked in one go and cut into pieces. You’re welcome.
But one place where bars fall short is in their appearance. I love a brownie or blondie (recipe coming at you next week, actually), but they’re not the most attractive dessert. Instead, make these simple cranberry bars and you have a holiday showstopper without much fuss.
These bars have the same sweet/tart profile of a lemon bar, but in a more festive color. I’ve also simplified the recipe so that you can reuse the same kitchen tools for the crust and the filling. And unlike most cranberry curd or bar recipes, I recommend not straining the cranberries after they’re pureed. It doesn’t make enough difference to justify the extra time, effort, and dishes.
A couple of notes:
I fiddled with the amounts of sugar in the filling because I like the bars a little bit tarter and Ethan likes them a little sweeter. If you like tart, use 3/4 cup. If you like sweet, add the remaining 2 Tbsp.
I listed a huge range in the cook time for the tart because it has cooked at wildly varying speeds for me. When I pour the filling directly into the hot shell, it cooked faster, but when my timing was off and I left the crust out to cool while I made the filling, it was a little slower. Also, when I used super fresh cranberries, there was more liquid in the filling and it took longer. Anyway, you get it. Check the tart at about 15 minutes knowing that there is a chance it will take much longer.
1¼ cups all-purpose flour
10 Tbsp cold butter (1 stick + 2 Tbsp), cut into ½-inch cubes
1/3 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
Heaping ¼ tsp salt
Preheat the oven to 350.
Butter the bottom and sides of a 9x9 tart pan or a 10x10 brownie pan. Set aside.
Combine all of the shortbread ingredients in a food processor and pulse 15-20 times until the mixture looks like coarse sand.
Dump the mixture into your tart pan or brownie pan. If using a tart pan, start by pressing the mixture into a medium-thin layer up the sides of the pan. Then press the remaining shortbread mixture into the bottom of the pan in an even layer. If using a brownie pan, just press the mixture onto the bottom of the pan and don’t worry about the sides.
Bake in the middle of the oven until blondish-brown, about 17-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, prep your filling.
10 oz of fresh cranberries (a scant 3 cups if using another type of fruit; save the rest of the berries for decoration)
Juice and zest of 1 large lemon (about 2 tsp zest and 2 Tbsp juice)
¾ cup sugar + 2 Tbsp (if using a sweeter fruit, reduce to 1/2 cup)
3 Tbsp flour
3 large eggs
In a small saucepan, combine the cranberries, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Heat over a medium flame until bubbling and the cranberries can be squished with a spatula without any give, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Wipe out your food processor and puree the cranberries until smooth, about 30 seconds.
Add the sugar and flour and puree for another few seconds until combined and the mixture looks like liquid.
Add the eggs and puree again until combined, about 10 seconds.
Turn the oven temperature down to 300.
Remove the tart shell from the oven (if you haven’t already) and fill with the cranberry mixture until right at the top of the tart. You may have some filling left over.
Bake for 18-34 minutes, until there is no wobble left in the middle when the tart is shaken and the filling feels firm, but springy when lightly touched.
Let cool completely before decorating.
2 oz cranberries (whatever is left in the bag)
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup powdered sugar
In a small sauce pan, combine 1/4 cup of water and 1/4 cup granulated sugar and heat over a medium low flame. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves, about 1 1/2 - 2 minutes. Don’t let the sugar water get too hot; you’re just trying to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat.
Add the cranberries and cover well with syrup. Remove from the syrup with a fork or slotted spoon to remove most of the liquid. Add to a bowl with the remaining 1/4 cup of granulated sugar. Roll the berries around to cover with sugar and remove to a plate. Let harden for 20-30 minutes.
When bars are cool, cover with powdered sugar. Add the cranberries in whatever pattern you like.
Yield: 16 medium squares or slices