The idea for these cranberry bars with a chocolate crust has been brewing for weeks. I’m part of a fun group of bloggers brought together by our love of chocolate. Each month we are challenged to pair chocolate with a special ingredient and this month, of course, it’s cranberries. When the November theme was revealed, cranberry bars almost immediately came to mind–the inspiration coming from one of my favorite sweets, lemon bars. Most of the recipes I found online are baked with a thin layer of cranberries and topped with streusel (nothing wrong with that) but I didn’t see any with chocolate. Would cranberries taking center stage be a hit or miss? I had doubts, to be sure, but I had to try.
My goal was to showcase the tartness of the cranberries without overwhelming the taste buds. So I cooked them with just enough sugar to bring out their best without feeling like I was eating cranberry jam and I also opted out of adding any spices so the topping wouldn’t be mistaken for leftover cranberry sauce. My biggest doubt was whether or not the chocolate crust would work.
As it turns out, the chocolate and cranberries got along well together. I made a shortbread crust with unsweetened cocoa powder (not the chocolate bar that is pictured here; lazy photographer!), chopped almonds and oats. The latter two ingredients gave the crust a very nice, crumbly texture and the deep chocolate flavor was bold enough to hold its own against the tart cranberry topping. The chocolate actually anchors the bars. Without it the cranberries would be too much on their own.
My husband, who has a strong dislike for cranberries (except for canned cranberry jelly, go figure), loved these bars. When I politely offered him a taste I was convinced he would reject it considering the key ingredient but he indulged me. As I busied myself taking pictures to share with you here, I kept hearing him say, “These are unusual. Hmm.” Finally, I asked him, “Unusual in a good or bad way?” “These are really, really good”, he said. “The cranberries and chocolate go well together.”
But he did ask me (a few times) to publish this recipe with a caveat. He asked that you not be so quick to dismiss this cranberry dessert if you belong in his camp. He ate over half the batch in less than 24 hours so he thinks you might enjoy them, too. Success.
Check out the link below for other Chocolate-Cranberry goodies the rest of the group has baked this month for the Chocolate Party.
- ***For the Crust***
- ⅔ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- 2½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- Scant ¼ cup oats
- ¼ cup chopped almonds
- ½ cup butter, softened (I used salted butter because it's what I had. If you have unsweetened butter, add pinch of salt)
- ***For the Filling***
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ⅜ cup water
- 12 ounces (1 bag) cranberries (fresh or frozen)
- 2 Tablespoons juice (I would have preferred orange juice but I had an open jug of lemonade and it actually worked well)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Powdered sugar for sprinkling
- To prepare the crust: Preheat your oven to 350°F. Butter an 8-inch square pan, line it with wax paper and butter the top of the wax paper. Set aside.
- In a bowl of a stand mixer, sift together the powdered sugar, flour, cocoa powder, salt. Add butter, oats and chopped almonds and, using the paddle attachment of the mixer, mix the ingredients on low speed just until a soft dough forms; this will take less than a minute.
- Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and spread out to the corners. If your dough is too soft, refrigerate it for a few minutes to make it more manageable. I rubbed my fingertips with a little butter to keep from sticking. It's also much easier to push and press the dough out from the center to the corners.
- Cover the dough with wax paper or foil and add pie weights. Bake for 10 minutes then remove the weights and cover and bake for another five minutes.
- To prepare the filling: Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil then add the cranberries. Cook on med to medium-high heat until the cranberries pop, about 5-6 minutes. Add the butter and juice and cook for another 3-4 minutes on medium low heat until the mixture thickens.
- The crust should be ready by the time the cranberries finish cooking. Pour the cranberries into the pre-baked crust and distribute evenly onto the pan. Place the baking pan back in the oven, raise the oven temperature to 400°F and bake for another 15 minutes. I pulled the pan out of the oven when I started to smell the chocolate in the crust.
- Cool in the pan on a wire rack before cutting into squares (I cut in 9 squares). Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.