Saturday, December 25, 2010
Cranberry Bliss Bars
Merry Christmas! I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season, and a special Christmas morning. We were lucky enough to have a very white Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and it is still all white and snowy outside now. The kids got to shovel with Daddy and play in the snow this morning; it was the whitest Christmas I've ever seen, and I'm so glad my boys got to enjoy it a bit.
I wanted to share with you one of our very favorite holiday desserts. This is the fourth year straight I have made these Cranberry Bliss Bars, and they continue to be that quintessential Christmas treat for us. Just the smell of these bars baking in the oven means Christmas for me, and I don't know if I could celebrate the holidays without them now. My husband and I used to work for Starbucks, and this is a dessert they sell in their stores around the holiday season. We became hooked on them years ago, and when we no longer worked there, we set out to learn how to make them at home.
I managed to find a copycat recipe from Todd Wilbur's Top Secret Recipes. The bars, when made at home, trump the storebought version. At least, that is our humble opinion! They're buttery and dense, thanks to the blondie layer that contains generous chunks of white chocolate and dried cranberry. They're creamy and tart, thanks to the cream cheese frosting layer which contains real lemon juice. They're rich and decadent, in part because I like to drizzle some melted white chocolate across the top after sprinkling the surface with more dried cranberry. The recipe calls for a milk/shortening/powdered sugar drizzle on top, but sometimes I like to go for the more sinful white chocolate option, as I did this year. Whichever way you choose, these are sweet and complex and perfect for any holiday gathering. Happy Holidays!
Cranberry Bliss Bars
adapted from Top Secret Recipes
makes 16-30 bars (depending on how you cut them)
For the bars:
Nonstick cooking spray
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
1 1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup dried cranberries, diced
6 oz. white chocolate, coarsely chopped into chunks
For the frosting:
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
4 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract (or 1/4 tsp. vanilla and 1/4 tsp. orange extract)
For the topping:
1/4 cup dried cranberries, diced
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp. vegetable shortening
1 Tbsp. milk
2 oz. white chocolate, melted and cooled
Make the base: 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a 9x13 baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3 or 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
2. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Mix in the vanilla, salt, and ginger. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and mix just until combined. With a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the dried cranberries and white chocolate. Spread the mixture into the prepared baking pan.
3. Bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, until the sides are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool while you make the frosting.
Make the frosting: 1. Beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Slowly add the powdered sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Once all the sugar has been incorporated, mix in the lemon juice, vanilla extract, and orange extract (if using). Mix well.
Assemble the bars: 1. Once the base layer has cooled completely, spread the frosting evenly to cover the surface of the base. Sprinkle with dried cranberries.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining topping ingredients, or melt and slightly cool your white chocolate if you choose to use that instead. Using a small spoon or fork, drizzle the icing down over the top of the frosting layer, creating zigzags of white all across. Allow the layers to set in the refrigerator for several hours before cutting into pieces.
3. To slice into 16 triangles: Slice the cake lengthwise (the long way) through the middle. Slice the cake across the width 3 times, making a total of 8 rectangular slices. Slice each of those rectangles diagonally, creating 16 triangular slices. You can also cut small squares or rectangles; you can get a lot more than 16 pieces this way!