"Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life."
~ Wu Men, translated by Stephen Mitchell
I hope everyone had a lovely Thanksgiving and Hanukkah! Did you partake in the black Friday madness? I never venture out on that day. Large crowds of snarling people make the introvert in me want to run away...far, far away to cosy cabin (at twilight) somewhere in the Rockies, where I'll be greeted by the braying of sheep, one grey donkey and, depending on the season, a roaring fire.
For one of my Thanksgiving desserts I dusted off the recipe archive and paid a visit to a beloved, nearly-forgotten recipe. Thanksgiving feels like it was a week ago already - fortunately I still have a few cranberry bars leftover to ground my spaced out, mountain-bound mind.
Being a food blogger, I sometimes forget about past recipes - which is tragic. When I made this recipe a few years ago I had every intention of making it a winter staple, instead it kind of just slipped through the sieve of my memory. I'm glad we were awkwardly reintroduced!
I try to avoid making anything that requires more than two sticks of butter and two cups of flour, for these bars I'm willing to squelch a lot of self-imposed rules. Besides, streusel is not streusel without a lush amount of butter. Speaking of butter, this particular incarnation of the classic crumbly fruit bar uses brown butter. Sheer, blissful decadence. Browning the butter gives the crust and crumb a deep, rich nutty flavour - a perfect companion to its perky-tart cranberry filling.
Since fresh cranberries are only with us for a short time, I highly recommend adding this alluring recipe to your holiday repertoire or stockpiling bags of berries in the freezer. They're such glamorous little red things - cranberries remind me of ruby red ballet flats.
brown butter cranberry bars
makes about 24-28 bars
crust and topping ingredients
1 cup + 5 Tablespoons (10 1/2 oz.) unsalted butter, cut into chunks [Note: 1 cup of butter= 2 sticks]
1 cup granulated sugar [divided into 3/4 cup and 1/4 cup]
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3 cups + 3 Tablespoons (14 1/4 oz.) all-purpose flour
12 oz bag of cranberries (that's about 2 cups)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup of orange juice
Line a 9x13-inch pan with foil, leaving a slight overhang along the edges. Lightly butter the entire foil-lined pan.
Prepare the crust: Have a medium heat-proof bowl on hand for the brown butter.
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Increase the heat to medium and, stirring occasionally, cook the butter until it turns golden brown and develops a nutty aroma. Depending on the stove's heat, it can take 5-8 minutes for the butter to brown properly. During this process the butter will first become foamy before changing color, making it difficult to see what's going on. Just be sure to give it a good stir now and then so that the butter doesn't burn. Once it's gorgeous and fragrant, remove the pan from the heat and transfer the butter to a heat-proof bowl. Cool till lukewarm. [Note: while the butter is cooling, give it a stir now and then, just to prevent it from solidifying. You just want to butter to be cool enough so that it won't scramble the eggs when they're added.]
In a large bowl, combine the cooled brown butter, 3/4 cup of sugar, and salt. Stir till well blended. Add the yolks and the almond extract, whisk until smooth. Using a large rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in the flour until you have a stiff dough. [It will have a very odd, dense texture for shortbread, but it will bake up beautifully, so don't worry.] Transfer about 2 cups of the dough to the foil-lined pan and press it evenly onto the bottom. I found that it was easier to just press large chunks of the dough into flat 'shingles' and arrange them evenly in the pan, then use your fingers to squish them together until it's one happy united crust. Refrigerate the pan for about 40 minutes.
Topping: Add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar to leftover dough, and using your fingertips, work the sugar into the dough until becomes crumbly and sandy. Cover and set aside.
Divide the oven, placing one rack second from the bottom, and the other second from the top. Heat the oven to 325 F.
Remove the pan from the refrigerator and prick the crust several times with a fork. [Chilling and pricking the dough will keep it from puffing up too much in the oven.] Place the pan on the lowest oven rack and bake the dough for about 15 minutes, just until the crust begins to set. Don't worry if the center still looks doughy, it's better to under-bake it at this stage.
While the crust is baking, begin preparing the filling.
In a medium size saucepan, combine the cranberries, sugar, and orange juice. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once it starts to boil, reduce the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid turns into a thick syrup and the cranberries take on a chunky jam-like consistency (about 8-10 minutes). Remove the pan from the heat and allow the filling to cool for about 8 minutes.
Spread the filling over the warm partially-baked crust. Scatter the topping evenly over the cranberries.
Place the pan on the highest of the 2 racks and increase the temperature to 350F. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the crumb topping is golden.
Remove the pan from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Cool for at least an hour before removing the bars from the pan (use the foil overhang to lift them out of the pan).
Cut into square or triangles.
adapted from fine cooking