Recipe: Cranberry Curd Bars with Walnut Shortbread Crust

Recipe: Cranberry Curd Bars with Walnut Shortbread Crust

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Emma Christensen
Nov 20, 2018
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Here's one last recipe to squeeze into your Thanksgiving line-up! Tangy-sweet cranberry curd meets buttery walnut shortbread for a twist on the classic lemon bar. A dash of cinnamon ties it all together. And don't worry - this whole recipe can be made a day ahead, perfect for the busy Thanksgiving week.

Cranberry Curd Bars: Watch the Video

I started out wanting to make this recipe with straight cranberry juice. I thought this would be an easier approach, plus then I could make the recipe at times of the year when fresh cranberries aren't available.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

But sometimes it's hard to find cranberry juice. It turns out that most "100%" cranberry juices are actually a blend of cranberry, apple, and grape, which is then further diluted with water. In the end, it came down to buying a jug of organic "real" cranberry juice for $8 or making it from scratch from fresh cranberries for $1.50, and the fresh cranberries won hands down.

But the good news is that cooking fresh cranberries is far easier than you might think - or at least, it was easier than I had thought. You just combine about three cups of fresh berries with a half cup of water and let this simmer for about five minutes. The cranberries pop open and soften into a purée. (They do literally pop, so don't be startled!) Once strained of skins and seeds, this purée becomes the base for the curd in this recipe.

It's hard to keep from spooning the curd straight from the bowl. In fact, if you'd like to use it as a spread on your morning toast, just cook it a little longer until it becomes jammy and wonderful.

Tester's Notes

These vividly hued cranberry curd bars are a delicious twist on sunny lemon bars. Take advantage of cranberries while they're available around Thanksgiving and give these a go. The nutty press-in crust is sturdy enough to hold up to the sweet-tart cranberry curd, and these bars are a great after-dinner treat or afternoon pick-me-up with a steaming mug of coffee or tea. If you're not a fan of walnuts, I've also made these with almonds with great success.

I made these in both metal and glass pans, which both worked fine. How long the cranberry curd takes to cook on the stovetop can vary quite a bit, so just stir constantly and take it off the heat as soon as it comes to a simmer. Don't worry about any little lumps in the curd — they'll get strained out before going onto the crust.

- Christine, November 2018

Cranberry Curd Bars with Walnut Shortbread Crust

Makes 24 bars

Prep time: 15 minutes ; cooking time: 3 hours

  • For the crust:
  • Cooking spray

  • 1 cup

    walnut pieces

  • 1 cup

    all-purpose flour

  • 1/2 cup

    powdered sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground cinnamon

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    salt

  • 8 tablespoons

    (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces and at room temperature

  • For the cranberry curd:
  • 12 ounces

    fresh or frozen cranberries (about 3 cups)

  • 1/2 cup

    water

  • 1 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 4

    large eggs

  • 4

    large egg yolks

  • 2 tablespoons

    freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    salt

  • 8 tablespoons

    (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces and at room temperature

  • Powdered sugar, for dusting

  • Candied citrus zest (optional - see here for a tutorial, and spiral the pieces around toothpicks as they dry to get them to curl)

Make the crust: Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with parchment paper so that there is extra paper hanging off the two long sides like a sling, as described in this tutorial. Coat the paper and exposed sides of the pan with cooking spray; set aside.

Place the nuts in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment and pulse until coarsely ground, about 15 (1-second) pulses. Add the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt, and pulse until finely ground, about 10 (1-second) pulses. Scatter the butter over the top of the flour-nut mix and pulse until the mixture forms moist clumps, 20 to 25 (1-second) pulses.

Transfer the mixture into the baking dish and press into the dish with your hands or the bottom of a floured measuring cup, making it as even as possible. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes. Twenty minutes before the crust is ready, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350°F.

Bake the crust until beginning to brown around the edges, 20 to 25 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the cranberry curd.

Make the cranberry curd: Place the cranberries and water in a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until all the cranberries have burst open and are mushy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, fit a fine-mesh strainer over a large bowl.

Pour the cranberry mixture into the strainer and press the cranberry purée through using a spatula until only pulp remains in the strainer. Set the purée aside to cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, discard the contents of the strainer and clean the strainer and the saucepan for reuse.

Add the sugar, eggs, egg yolks, lemon juice, and salt to the cranberry purée and whisk until smooth. Return the cranberry mixture to the saucepan over medium heat. Stir the curd continuously, making sure to scrape the bottom and corners of the pan, until it comes to a simmer and thickens slightly, coats the back of a spoon, and registers about 150°F on an instant-read thermometer (there's some wiggle-room, so don't fret about being exact), 5 to 11 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, add the butter all at once, and stir until completely melted. Pour the curd through the strainer again into a clean bowl to strain out any small chunks of cooked egg. Pour the warm cranberry curd onto the crust and spread into an even layer.

Bake until the curd is set but still jiggles slightly in the center, 10 to 15 minutes. Place the pan on a wire rack and cool for 1 hour. Refrigerate until chilled through, at least 2 hours and up to 1 day.

When ready to serve, run a thin knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the cranberry bar slab. Use the parchment paper as handles to lift the slab from the pan onto a cutting board. Trim off the sides to make even edges if desired. Cut into 24 pieces. Dust the tops of the bars with powdered sugar, which will melt into the cranberry curd and make a sweet glaze. Garnish each square with the candied citrus zest if desired.

Recipe Notes

Using cranberry juice: Substitute 3/4 cup 100% cranberry juice for the cranberry purée and increase the lemon juice to 1/4 cup if fresh or frozen cranberries aren’t available.

Using almonds: Substitute 1 cup slivered almonds for the walnuts if desired. The crust may need a few additional pulses to come together into moist crumbs.

Making the crust by hand: Chop the walnuts as finely as possible. Combine with the dry ingredients and the cut or rub in the butter, as you would for a pie crust, until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Press into the pan and bake as directed.

Less-sweet cranberry curd: As it is, this curd is definitely on the sweet side of tart, but still tastes distinctly "cranberry." If you really love the super tart taste of cranberries and would prefer the curd to be less sweet, try reducing the sugar in the curd recipe to as little as 1/2 cup.

To make cranberry curd by itself: To make the cranberry curd into a spread for toast, continue cooking it in the saucepan until it reaches an internal temperature of about 170°F. Mix in the butter, strain, and cool. Cool, then refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Storage: The cranberry bars are best eaten within 24 hours, but may be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days. The crust will get softer as time goes on.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Related: Thanksgiving Sides: 5 Alternatives to Cranberry Relish

(Images: Emma Christensen)

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