Fresh cranberries sparkle between two layers of the butteriest shortbread you’ve ever had! These cranberry bars are so easy to put together; the recipe is foolproof. They are sturdy enough to be eaten with your hands, but are also amazing warmed up and topped with a scoop of ice cream!

cranberry bars

I’ve been playing this game with myself recently. It’s called “Don’t Ever Go Grocery Shopping Ever, and Make Up Dinner From the Nothingness That is in Your Fridge.” It’s pretty exciting. Have you guys ever played?

Everyone’s really loving it so far. Recent comments from the kids include, “What IS that?” and “Why are we eating this?” and “Can I have mac and cheese please.”

cranberry bars recipe

You would think that as a food blogger I would be a master at whipping up dinner from sparse ingredients. Uh uh. I’m not one of those cooks. I’m a recipe person. I work really hard on the recipes on my site, and love them all, but that doesn’t mean I’m good at improv cooking.

Is anyone else like this? I can follow any recipe, adapt any recipe to my heart’s content. But opening the fridge to find nothing but 2 cucumbers, 1 pepper, eggs, and yogurt makes me reach for peanut butter and jelly faster than you can say charlatan. Instead two nights ago we got this weird ravioli concoction with carrots and peas and poultry seasoning. <– what?? Why, why??

cranberry crumble bars

Eric pretended to like it because he’s a good husband. He even texted on the way home the next night, “Can’t wait to eat leftover ravioli!” You’re really nice Eric. You’re also a liar.

shortbread bars

Instead of dinner, I’m making much better use of my time with more important and less healthy things. Like Butter Pecan Cookies. And Pumpkin Cookies with Brown Butter Icing. And Dulce de Leche Cream Pie. Tis the season for dessert! That’s really why they call it the most wonderful time of year I think. Baking improv is WAY more fun that cooking improv, if you ask me.

cranberry shortbread bars

These Cranberry Bars have been on my list of things to experiment with for a long time, and I freaked out all the other shoppers in the grocery store when I finally found the season’s first fresh cranberries. (Why doesn’t anyone else shriek with joy when they encounter difficult-to-find produce items??)

How to Make Cranberry Bars

First you start with a lot of butter. And I mean a LOOOT of butter. Talk about moderation to Responsible Karen next time she posts a healthy dinner. For now, just accept that these bars have a pound of butter in them.

cranberry bars

Beat that butter to within an inch of it’s life, then add some sugar and vanilla. No eggs necessary in this easy recipe. This is just a really basic shortbread glorying in all it’s buttery, flaky simplicity. Add a whole bunch of flour (it seems like too much but it’s not) and some salt, and call it good.

Press half into a pan and dump a bag of cranberries on top. No need to fuss or chop them, just throw them in.

cranberry bars recipe

Mix in some walnuts with the remaining dough and crumble it on top. Walnuts are optional but I really like the crunch they add! You could also experiment with adding white chocolate chips at this point! I wanted to keep my bars really simple and focus on the buttery-cranberry flavor, so I left them out. But it would be good. Probably 3/4 cup will do ya.

I like to shape medium/big pieces of dough to go on top of the cranberries (see above), but you can do it however you like. At this point, I think it’s worth it to chill the bars before cooking for about 20 minutes. Cold shortbread going into a hot oven is what gets you that rich, flaky texture we are going for. Just be careful if you are using a glass pan. Chill the bars and then let them sit out of the fridge for a couple minutes before putting them in the oven so your glass doesn’t shatter.

cranberry crumble bars

shortbread bars

Cranberry Bars: perfect dessert for the holidays!

And voila! Perfect cranberry bars. I’m in love. These bars are perfectly buttery, and not overly sweet. I love TART desserts, and this one is perfectly balanced. Lots of cranberry bar recipes you find will have you cook the cranberries on the stove with a bit of sugar, making the finished bars a lot more sweet.

cranberry shortbread bars

These cranberry bars are sweet enough for me while still holding onto that perfect Christmasy tartness that cranberries have to offer! But, if your sweet tooth is growling, I’m not going to stop you from adding a drizzle of salted caramel…or dulce de leche. You could also serve it with the Warm Vanilla Butter sauce that goes with this Cranberry Cake with Warm Vanilla Butter Sauce.  And maybe a scoop of ice cream, too, for good measure!

More cranberry recipes you are going to love!

Cranberry Cake with Warm Vanilla Butter Sauce << this is my favorite cake to make every December!

Cranberry Custard Pie << seriously the most festive holiday pie ever, especially if you garnish with these Sparkly Sugared Cranberries!

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies << Perfect for your holiday plates!

Brown Butter Cranberry Tart << this is such a gorgeous, impressive dessert. Cranberries are just so pretty.

Cranberry Dulce de Leche Hand Pies << Why is pie so much more fun when you can hold it in your hand?

Cranberry Cherry Pie with Almond Glaze << why don’t we glaze every pie ever??

Cranberry Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats << if you love cranberries, you will love these rice krispies!

Cranberry Orange Walnut Bread << so good with a slather of butter

Cranberry Bliss Bars from Recipe Girl

Sparkling Cranberry White Chocolate Cake from Life Love and Sugar

Creamy Cranberry Pie Recipe from Wonky Wonderful

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Cranberry Shortbread Bars

Serves 12-16     adjust servings

Fresh cranberries sparkle between two layers of the butteriest shortbread you've ever had! These bars are so easy to put together; the recipe is foolproof. They are sturdy enough to be eaten with your hands, but are also amazing warmed up and topped with a scoop of ice cream!

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (4 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1 and 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 4 cups all purpose flour, spooned and leveled
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 3 cups fresh cranberries* (1 12-ounce bag)

Instructions

  1. Prepare a 9x13 inch baking pan with nonstick spray or grease with butter. It's even easier if you line the pan with parchment paper, that way you can lift the bars straight out of the pan. No greasing necessary. You can line with aluminum foil too, but make sure to grease it. 
  2. In a large bowl or stand mixer, add 2 cups of softened butter. Yes, an entire pound. I didn't call these a health bar people, it's shortbread. Beat until the mixture is smooth and creamy, making sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. 
  3. Add 1 and 1/4 cup sugar and 1/3 cup brown sugar. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. The sugar should be well incorporated into the butter, be sure to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. 
  4. Add 1 tablespoon vanilla and 1 and 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, and combine well.  
  5. Add the spooned and leveled flour 1 cup at a time, beating after each mixture until the flour is mostly incorporated but not all the way. You will probably have to switch to hand-stirring toward the end. It will feel like too much flour. It's not! Once you get the 4th cup in, beat until all the white streaks are gone, and then stop. Do not over mix. 
  6. Add 2/3 of the dough to the prepared 9x13 inch pan. (Just eyeball it.) Press the mixture evenly into the pan and about 1 inch up the sides. I usually wet my hands with a smidge of water so that they don't stick to the dough too much. 
  7. Wash your cranberries and pick out any stems or shriveled berries. Pat dry with paper towels, or let them sit in the colander a while. 
  8. Top the dough in the pan with all the cranberries, spreading them out to the edges.
  9. Add 1/2 cup chopped walnuts to the remaining 1/3 of the dough that's still in the bowl. Beat the nuts in so they are mixed well. 
  10. Use your hands to take medium size chunks of dough and drop them on top of the cranberries. I like dough chunks that are about the size of a quarter, with some a bit bigger or smaller. See photos. 
  11. Once all the dough is in the pan, refrigerate the pan for about 20 minutes. Cold shortbread going into a hot oven makes for the best texture! 
  12. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. 
  13. When the bars have chilled, bake in the preheated oven at 350 for about 42-45 minutes. (it will take a shorter amount of time in a metal pan). You will know they are done when the edges are golden brown and the top of the shortbread crumbles are also golden brown. Don't over bake!
  14. Let cool for at least 10-20 minutes before cutting into bars and serving. I like these served warm or room temperature. And a scoop of ice cream or a drizzle of caramel doesn't hurt either! You could also serve it with the Warm Vanilla Butter sauce that goes with this Cranberry Cake with Warm Vanilla Butter Sauce. (You would probably only need to make a half recipe.) 

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