Monday, December 12, 2011

Tart Cranberry Bars

We now enter the gloomy days at the end of the year when we need a little holiday cheer. If the sun shows itself at all, it’s so low in the sky that even little cranberries cast long shadows. Sugar zombies like me get our holiday boost from super-sweet cookies, candies and cakes, but not everyone has such a sweet-tooth, or can tolerate all that sucrose for long.

Here’s a dessert that manages to be not too sweet (in fact, not really sweet at all) while maintaining its integrity as dessert. It’s a cranberry-based custard filling on top of a very crunchy, cookie-like crust. Since there are so many cranberries flavoring the filling, which is only sweetened with some sweetened condensed milk, it is quite tart. In fact it’s very tart, and lovers of the sour will likely love this dessert. (My husband did.)

As delicious, pretty, festive, and relatively easy to make as this dessert is, I have to admit that there are some inconveniences involved in putting it together. First of all, the crust contains a small amount of graham flour, which was not hard to find, but it had to be found outside my pantry. (Now I have quite a bit left and I’ll have to do some research to find good ways to use it up. Should be fun!) I think one might be able to substitute whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour if one does not have graham flour readily available.

Also, I could not find a 7-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk, so had to use part of a 14-ounce can. I almost goofed, so I’ll give you this warning: unlike most of the liquids we bake with, a fluid ounce of sweetened condense milk is not equivalent to an ounce in mass. This means that to measure out 7 ounces, you’ll have to weigh out 7 ounces. And a couple more things. The recipe calls for cooking a pound of cranberries, which usually come in 12-ounce packages. You may be able to buy cranberries in bulk, but if not, you’ll have to buy 2 packages of cranberries and have some left over. (They freeze very well.) The original recipe simply directs the cook to blend and strain the cooked cranberries, but straining the very thick cranberry mixture was not a trivial task. It took some time and effort to press the mixture through a sieve, so be prepared for that step to take a little time.

Despite all these little inconveniences, this is a great recipe. It’s probably a little healthier than some of the chocolate-encrusted sugar bombs that are everywhere right now. These are very pretty bars with a lovely red filling, so they would look very nice on the table as well.

Cranberry Bars
Adapted from Vegetarian Times magazine

1 pound fresh or frozen cranberries
½ cup water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup graham flour
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ cup lemon juice
7 ounces (by weight) sweetened condensed milk
3 egg yolks

1. Combine the cranberries and water in a medium-size saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes, or until the cranberries pop and slump and the mixture has thickened. Set aside and cool completely.

2. Place the cooled cranberry mixture in a food processor or blender and process until smooth, about 1 minute. Place a sieve over a medium-size bowl. Pour the blended cranberry mixture into the sieve. Press the mixture through the sieve, collecting the thick juice in the bowl. A rubber spatula is a good tool for this procedure. Continue forcing the mixture through the sieve until only seeds and other solids are left. Scrape off the outside of the sieve to retain as much of the mixture as possible. Discard the solids.

3. Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease or spray with cooking spray an 8-inch square baking dish, or line it with parchment or foil.

4. To make the crust, melt the butter and set aside. Combine the all-purpose flour, graham flour, sugar and salt in a medium-size bowl. Add the melted butter and vanilla and stir until all the flour is moistened.

5. Press the crust mixture evenly into the prepared baking pan. Bake at 350 F for 25 minutes.

6. While the crust is baking, prepare the filling. Stir the lemon juice into the cranberry mixture. Whisk in the sweetened condensed milk. Whisk in the egg yolks.

7. When the crust has finished baking, remove it from the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 F. Pour the filling mixture on top of the crust and smooth it out to make it even if necessary. Return to the oven and bake at 300 F for about 25-30 minutes or until the filling is set and just wobbles slightly when shaken.

8. Cool and chill. Cut into squares and serve cold or at room temperature.

Makes about 16-20 servings. Store covered in the refrigerator.

Another recipe like this one: Lime Bars with Graham Cracker Crust

One year ago: Milk Chocolate Chip and M&M Cookies

Two years ago: Cream of Carrot and Parsnip Soup

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