Friday, November 25, 2011

Something Different: Cranberry Bars with Walnut Shortbread Crust

December.  It's right around the corner.  Usually I greet it with a great deal of trepidation and anxiety.  If you've ever worked in a kitchen during the holidays, you know of which I speak.  The long, long hours, providing merriment for everyone else, take a toll physically, mentally and emotionally.  December is turbo charged with excitement and and a fast-paced ferociousness to churn out high volumes of food in a short amount of time.  At the end of the day, after I drive home in the quiet dark of the Winter night, I peel off the boots and parka, sink into my couch for a good half hour and stare at the ceiling in a semi-vegetative state.  The cats' cries for food rouse me from zombieland my stupor and after a nice hot shower that runs for too long (gotta wash that onion out of my hair!) I feel human again.  A mug of steaming tea helps too.  Or a glass of wine, depending on just how shitty bad the day was.  Often too exhausted to go out and visit friends, or else I'm working most weekends, I don't start feeling the Christmas love until Dec.23 when work is over for 10 days and I can sleep until noon if I wish.  And I sometimes do.  For the last 12 years that I've been cooking professionally this is how December looks and feels in my world, plus throw in a meltdown or two, chapped hands and cranky panties.

I'm aiming for this year to be different - less shivers of anxiety, more comfort and joy.  No tears in the bathroom - only Christmas cheer.  (Ha ha.  That sounds like I'm drinking in the bathroom at work, but I'm not, really!).  I'm going to have a lovely elf help me out of peeling a million pounds of potatoes, and I've already decided to delegate.  And ask for help.  Being somewhat a control freak, this is huge for me.  I've checked off  "yes" to a couple of party invites and booked myself a few hours of massage.  And breathe.  I. Will. Breathe.  I will make it through to the 23rd with nary a meltdown.  Or a cranky panty.  Promise.

Because of my frenetic work schedule, I like to get my Christmas baking done relatively early, so I'm not running around Safeway like a mad woman on Christmas Eve looking for condensed milk and Oreo crumbs.  I adore baking at Christmas - I crank Charlie Brown's Christmas and cream butter like crazy.  Boxing up my goodies for family and friends has become a tradition of mine - sending it across the country too, to places like Windsor, Toronto, Edmonton, Lloydminster and Preeceville.  So far no one complains that they get shortbread instead of a gift card at Walmart.  Or else they are just being very polite.  Being of a crafty nature, if I can make a gift personal and from the heart, isn't that really what this season is all about?

My Christmas baking round-up looks something like this:  some traditional standbys that I must bake or else the family would flip.  Like gingerbread trees with lemon icing, chocolate espresso crinkle cookies, and my infamous rosemary oatmeal shortbread.  Hold onto your hats, they are all coming your way very soon!  I also like to shake up the repertoire and include new recipes (because they are everywhere my eyeballs go these days) into the mix.  These cranberry bars from the Kitchn caught my gaze last year and as soon as I saw them I knew they'd make a pretty addition to my dessert gift boxes this year.  That colour is fab, no?  Three cups of cranberries produce that perfect shade of pink.  Don't be intimidated by the few steps here, it's just some simmering and straining.  The crust is easy-peasy press-in, and the walnuts really rock it.  If you prefer pecans or almonds, go crazy.  I know I say this all the time, but yet again I licked the pot of cranberry curd clean.  A longtime lover of lemon curd, I'm happy to report that this tasty business holds up to par.  It's smooth like butta and tastes like it too.  In terms of recipe research I did sneak one out of the freezer to see how well they are holding up and I tell you they freeze like a dream.  The candied lemon peel is a nice finishing touch, and not at all difficult to make.  What ever doesn't make it onto your bars makes good snackage. Santa may like a taste too.

Cranberry Bars with Walnut Shortbread Crust

1 cup walnuts
1 cup flour
1/2 cup icing sugar, tamped down
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter

3 cups cranberries (fresh or frozen.  I used frozen and it worked fine!)
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar (use a little less if you want a less-sweet square, with more cranberry punch)
4 eggs
4 egg yolks
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces. 

To make crust, in a food processor, pulse the nuts 15 times or until coarsely chopped.  Add the rest of the dry ingredients and pulse a bit more to combine.  Add the butter and process until dough holds it shape.  Line a 9x13 inch pan with parchment and press the dough into the pan, trying to get it as even as possible.  Freeze for half hour.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, or until golden around the edges.  In the meantime, make your filling....
Add the cranberries and water to a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Stir until they are popped and mushy, about 5 minutes. Pour and press this through a fine mesh strainer over a medium bowl.  Using the back of a spatula works well.  Cool puree to room temp.  Discard all of the pulpy bits.  To the bowl with the cranberry puree, add sugar, eggs, yolks, lemon juice and salt.  Stir until smooth and even.  Put this mixture back into a clean saucepan and over medium heat, stir continuously until it thickens and coats the back of a spoon.  About 10-12 minutes. Remove from heat and add butter all at once.   Pour the cranberry curd through a clean fine mesh strainer and into a clean bowl.  Pour this mixture into your par-baked crust and bake for 10-15 minutes at 350 degrees.  The centre should be set, but still a little jiggly.  I baked mine for close to 15 min.  Let cool on a rack, then refrigerate before slicing into squares.  Makes about 24 squares.  Dust with icing sugar and a little candied lemon peel to make them look pretty.  Adapted from the Kitchn.

* You could also make the cranberry curd all by itself and keep it in the fridge for up to a week.  Amazing on toast and fresh scones and anything else yummy. 

Candied Lemon Peel

5-6 lemons
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup cold water
2 cups sugar

Peel lemons into long, thin strips.  Fill medium pot 3/4 full of water and 1/2 tsp salt.  Add the lemon peels and bring to a boil.  Simmer 10 min, then drain.  Repeat using other 1/2 tsp salt.  This softens the peels and removes the bitterness from the pith.  Drain peels second time and set aside.  Add the 1 1/2 cups cold water and 2 cups sugar to pot.  Stir to dissolve.  Add the drained peels and bring to a boil, simmering over low heat for 45-60 minutes.  Keep an eye that you don't caramelize them near the end.  Spray wax paper with cooking spray.  With a fork, remove peels from pot and place on waxed paper.  Coil around toothpicks so they go all spiral-like. Let cool, then take off toothpick and garnish your cranberry squares.  Makes about 1 1/2 cups.  I halved this recipe and still had lots.  Adapted from the Kitchn. 


  1. Ah Renee, cranberry....what can I say? I have been waiting for a recipe like this!! Hubby goes back on shift with the RCMP this weekend so once the babe is in bed, I'll DEFINATELY be whipping these up!

  2. I absolutely love these! The color is so festive. Candied lemon peel IS a nice touch. I like the idea of breaking from the usual holiday baking routine and adding a recipe like this to the repertoire. Fun!

  3. My husband is a chef so I know exactly of which you speak- although I get to experience it vicariously. He's actually sacked out sound asleep in the middle of the day right now because he had to be at work at 4am yesterday for the Thanksgiving rush and then came home and cooked a holiday meal for me and 3 of his sous chefs. I'm going to be rooting for you to make it through the holiday craziness without a meltdown. Also, great looking bars- that walnut shortbread crust sounds divine!

  4. I am SO making this - they're gorgeous! And lemon and cranberry together - yum. I know sorta how you feel. I was a retail manager/buyer - for us Christmas started in March. No days off in December, working till 7pm on Christmas Eve and back to work at 5am Boxing Day to prep for boxing day sales. I don't miss it and I love Christmas so much more now.

  5. Oh!!! I can hardly wait!!! I love your yummy baking- beats a Walmart Card any day of the week!!

  6. Candus - you will love. Kiss your baby for me, ok? Jess, great colour, no? Lord knows I love me some pink. Shelley, you do know what I'm sayin'. I'm rooting for me sans meltdown this year too! Melissa, thank you! Retail must be crazy too...all of those shoppers...STacy, you will love these, hope they travel safe :)

  7. Something different is right! What a wonderful idea and the bars are so pretty.

  8. Wow, that cranberry filling looks amazing! I MUST make that. And it's so perfect for the season! Thanks for the recipe!

  9. I wish I were on your mailing list to receive those delicious baked goods you are whipping up;) What lucky friends and family you have!
    I do hope your holidays are a little less stressful this year. I worked retail for years and totally remember the relentlessness of December.

  10. Yum, these look great! I made a similar bar with rhubarb this summer - I love tart-sweet desserts. I hope you can stick to your anti-anxiety plan this year! And I'm coming back for that rosemary-oatmeal shortbread recipe... sounds amazing.

  11. Hi, Renee. I think you've a misprint in the crust recipe for these. I made them last night and the crust does not hold together with 1/2 cup of butter but it does hold with a 1/2 pound.

    I made the bars for a party, so I've not tried them yet but they smell wonderful. Thanks.

  12. Thank you everyone for your kind words! So far the anxiety is at bay. Hooray! Visionaria, the recipe is correct at 1/2 cup of butter. If you're using a food processor, keep pulsing until it comes together. Be sure the dry ingredients were measured correctly too. Good luck! And when in doubt, a little extra butter never hurt anyone :)

  13. I made these last night and they are too die for!! I would like to make another pan to include with my cookie boxes but my question is, do you know if they would freeze ok?

  14. Hey Anon, Yes, I have some in the freezer right now! They freeze well, but do require refrigeration, so I wouldn't send them in the mail, but if giving to someone directly, by all means go for it. Some lucky friends and family are getting some of my cran bars too :)


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