I know, I know – I’ve been negligent in my baking duties the last couple weeks. Sometimes this whole “responsible adult” thing really gets in the way of my baking ambitions…
But never fear! Holiday baking season is now officially in full swing and I have plenty of seasonal baking plans ahead (and responsible adult or no, I will see them through goddammit!) Kicking things off are these seasonally appropriate cranberry pie bars (my contribution to Thanksgiving this year).
I personally am a huge fan of cranberries. In fact, I would even go so far as to say they are probably my second favorite berry behind raspberries. As a baking ingredient, they’re super versatile and delicious in every from, whether fresh, frozen, or dried, and nothing beats their bright red pop of color.
That said, I recognize that the sometimes intense tartness of fresh cranberries is not for everyone. Which is why the key to baking a successful, crowd-pleasing cranberry dessert is balance. In this case, the buttery-ness of the orange & pecan shortbread base and added sweetness of the crumb topping provide a perfect foil for the sweetened-but-still-tart cranberry filling, sure to satisfy both the tart-loving and tart-averse among us.
So without further ado, here’s my recipe for cranberry pie bars:
For the crust:
- 1 1/2 sticks butter, chilled and cubed
- 1/2 cup sugar
- orange zest (approx. 1 tbsp)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1 3/4 cup flour
For the filling:
- two 12 oz. bags of fresh cranberries (frozen would work fine here too)
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- orange zest and juice from 1 orange (I zested one whole orange and split the zest almost evenly between the crust and filling)
- pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- dash of cinnamon & nutmeg (I just kind of eyeballed how much I wanted, but if you like to be precise, try starting with 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp nutmeg)
- splash of vanilla (about 1/2 to 1 tsp, or whatever suits your fancy)
For the topping:
- 2/3 cup steel cut oats
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- dash of cinnamon & nutmeg (as with the filling, I sort of just sprinkled until it looked about right – I’d guess about 1/2 tsp of each)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 3/4 cup pecan
- 6 tbsp melted butter, cooled slightly
For the crust:
- Line a 9 in x 13 in baking pan with parchment paper and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- With a food processor: Pulse together the sugar and orange zest. Add salt, flour, and pecans and pulse to combine. Add vanilla and cubed butter and pulse until crumbly dough starts to form.
- By hand: Whisk together sugar, salt, flour, and orange zest until combined. Finely chop the pecans (or, if you need to get out some aggression, give the bag a few good whacks with a wooden spoon or rolling pin) and whisk them into the flour mixture. Add vanilla, then rub in cubed butter (or cut in with a pastry cutter) until mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.
- Pour the into the lined baking pan and press evenly across the bottom of the pan. To get the dough to a relatively uniform thickness throughout, press it in by hand first just to get complete coverage, then roll the edge of a small glass over the surface of the dough, applying light pressure, to even it out.
- Use a fork to perforate the dough all over and bake for about 15 minutes. The shortbread should still be relatively pale, with only slight browning at the edges. Set the shortbread on a cooling rack while you make the filling and crumb topping.
- Leave the oven on and turn the heat up to 375.
For the filling:
- Combine all of the ingredients in a medium to medium/large-ish sauce pan over medium heat and cook about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries have started to pop open and the mixture begins to thicken. Remove the filling from the heat and set aside to cool slightly while you make the crumb topping.
For the topping:
- Pulse the oats in a food processor until they are finely ground (if you don’t have one, you can just use oat flour instead of whole oats). Add the flour, sugars, salt, and spices and pulse to combine (or whisk if you’re doing it by hand). Add the pecans and pulse just until they are finely chopped (see instructions above for alternative chopping methods). Add in the melted butter and pulse/mix until crumbs start to form.
- Once you’ve made the topping, spread the now slightly cooled cranberry filling evenly over the shortbread base and then sprinkle on the crumb topping.
- Bake at 375 for about 45-50 minutes, until the cranberry filling starts to bubble up through the crumb topping. If the topping is browning too quickly (which mine did), cover the pie with aluminum foil for the second half of baking to keep the topping from burning.
- When its done, place the pan onto a cooling rack and let cool to at least room temperature (about 3 hours or so) before trying to remove the pie from the pan. Once it’s cooled and you’ve removed the pie from the pan, cut into bars/squares/triangles, etc. for serving.
And voila – cranberry pie bars for your eating pleasure! These guys are delicious served warm, unadorned or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and, if you have leftovers, also make an awesome breakfast pulled straight from the fridge and accompanied by your favorite morning brew.