Thursday, December 20, 2012

Cranberry crumb bars with mulling spices

This week I’ve been baking batch after batch of cookies as we head towards Christmas. I’m not sure why cookies are the sweet treat most associated with the season, but perhaps it has something to do with their portability, which not only allows you to take a batch with you when you go visiting but also allows your host to send you home with a few, as well. Of course there’s also the endless variety of cookies, which when sitting next to each other on a plate can be as lively and festive as a tree draped with ornaments and lights.

In Texas, one of the more popular gatherings this time of year is the cookie exchange. While each party can be different—with some being relaxed and others rigid with rules—the purpose is always the same: to share cookies with your family and friends. It’s a good way to spend a December afternoon.

While I have my favorite cookies to bake, I’m always on the lookout for new ones to add to my rotation. And when I spotted cranberry crumb bars with mulling spices in Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, my decision was made.

Earlier this year, some fellow bloggers and I attended a cookie exchange at Ina Garten’s home. We had a lot of fun and it was a great way to spend an afternoon. Deb, author of the wonderful blog Smitten Kitchen, was also at the cookie exchange and since then I’ve been excited about cooking from her book.

It’s her first, and much like her blog it’s not only beautiful but also filled with delightful anecdotes about cooking and life. When you read her book, you feel as if you’re hanging out in the kitchen with her watching her cook. And it’s filled of with a host of recipes that make you want to head into your own kitchen and get cooking, as well. With dishes such as Maya’s sweet and sour holiday brisket, gingerbread spice Dutch baby, or tres leches rice pudding—I didn’t know where to begin. But as I said, it was those cranberry crumb bars that spoke loudest to me and demanded that they be made right now.

Fruit-filled bar cookies are some of my favorites, as they also have a bit of pie in their make-up as well—a point duly noted by Deb in her head note. And indeed these cranberry bars are like little portable slices of pie with a tart and sweet filling sandwiched between a crumbly, buttery crust.

If you’ve been indulging in sweets all day, the cranberries’ tartness in these cookies is refreshing. Because they're not super sweet, they're even appropriate at breakfast, though they’re equally at home hanging out with all the other cookies on the holiday display. But my favorite thing is that Deb has added spices such as cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg to the crumb, which will make you feel cozy when it’s chilly outside.

When you bake these cookies, your home will be filled with the warm scent of the holidays. Your neighbors will ask, “What are you baking?” And the man delivering packages will be very grateful to be given a few. This recipe yields quite a few cookies, which makes them perfect for sharing. But even if you feel like you shouldn’t eat another cookie, be sure to save yourself at least one or two.

Cranberry crumb bars with mulling spices

Ingredients for the crumb:
16 tablespoons (225 grams or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled, plus more at room temperature for the pan
3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1 large egg

Ingredients for the filling:
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1 1/2 tablespoons orange juice
3 cups (340 grams or 12-ounce bag) fresh cranberries
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Preheat your oven to 375°F. Line the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper, and butter the sides and the parchment. In a large, widish bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and allspice. With a pastry blender or fork, work the chilled butter and the egg into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Pat half the crumb base into the bottom of your prepared pan; it will be thin.

In the bowl of a food processor or blender, briefly pulse the orange zest, orange juice, cranberries, sugar, and cornstarch until the berries are coarsely chopped but not pureed. Spread the filling over the crumb base. Sprinkle the remaining crumbs evenly over the cranberry mixture.

Bake cookies for 30 to 35 minutes, or until lightly brown on top. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Yield: 36 smallish rectangles



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Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar said...

These sound lovely!

Sheila said...

Just looking at these made my mouth water. Delicious. thanks for sharing. I need to get my hands on that cookbook!

Anonymous said...

I would like to make these today but my bag of cranberries is in the freezer. Can I use them frozen in the food processor or do I need to thaw them first?

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Katrina--They are!

Shella--It's a wonderful cookbook!

Lisa (Homesick Texan) said...

Anon--That's a good question! I'd probably thaw them for an hour before proceeding with the recipe.

Culinary Collage said...

These look amazing.....I love anything with cranberries.

Winnie said...

These bars look yummy. I have never attended a cookie swap here in NYC. I think I will have to host one next year. It would be fun! Thanks for inspiring and have a safe and Merry Christmas!

Jennifer Jo said...

Recipe made! So good!

Julie @ Texan New Yorker said...

These look and sound fantastic (and very appropriate for the season!). I bought Deb's book right when it came out, it's really wonderful. I haven't tried these yet, but I hope to soon. However, I highly, highly recommend the Balsamic and Beer-Braised Short Ribs over parsnip puree. Enjoy the book!

Anonymous said...

These look and sound just wonderful!

Must confess that the old date bar cookies from a box mix were a special treat in my childhood home. These look like a mature version of those. Yum!



Alicia said...

Yum!!! These look fabulous especially since they don't appear to have a great deal of sugar which in my mind, almost risks overwhelming the cranberries. I like a bit of a tang to be honest. I can't wait to check these out with the extra bag of cranberries that I keep in my freezer 'just in case' bag!

Meg Jones | The Spatularettes said...

I opened The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook to make the Gooey Cinnamon Squares. I made them and they were fabulous. But the cranberry crumb bar recipe was on the next page, so naturally I made those too... the same night. One can never have too much dessert from the SK, now can they?

Sharmila said...

I made these today and my nephew devoured them. I didn't have allspice but they were still great. I'm probably the only food-loving person in the country who doesn't have the Smitten Kitchen cookbook yet so thanks for sharing this fabulous recipe.
Happy holidays to you and thanks for all you share.

Sharon Dodge said...

I finally got your book this week - my Christmas gift to myself! I've been meaning to get it ever since I made your sour cream enchiladas (the best I've ever had).

Thanks for all the excellent goods.

your fellow homesick Texan,
Go Roos!
'02 SD (in NM)

Ashley Erin said...

My grandfather-in-law gave me your cookbook for Christmas and I was so happy I almost cried. My husband and I (both native to Houston) just moved to the UWS from Dallas, where we had been living for 6 years. I love feeling the community of Texas up here in Yankeelandia! Thank you!

Sushi Queen's Food Blog said...

It looks so yum.
I was wondering what to do with my cranberry sauce I made, I could bake cookies using your recipe!
Thank you :)

Rocky Mountain Woman said...

I have a bag of cranberries left over from the Holidays so these will be just the perfect thing!

Happy New Year,


Donna (Texas) said...

This sounds delicious! Will have to try it!
Hello from Texas!

Sara @ The Cozy Herbivore said...

I got that cookbook recently myself and the cranberry bars really leaped out at me. Your version is so pretty-- I can almost imagine that sour punch of flavor as you take the first bite! Gorgeous stuff.

Shelley said...

Maybe combine a cookie exchange with a book exchange?

Anonymous said...

I want to make the Cranberry Bars but am a little confused by what goes in the filling with the cranberries.

Lisa Fain (Homesick Texan) said...

Anon--Orange zest, orange juice, sugar, and cornstarch.

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