For the first time, I am enjoying some experimentation with fresh cranberries. After a few unsuccessful attempts at homemade cranberry sauce that just didn't surpass the guilty pleasure of the canned jell, I gave up trying a few years ago. I mean, who doesn't love ridges that let you know precisely where to cut the jiggling goo into perfect slices? Trader Joe's has a pretty good cranberry chutney that I liked for a while, but this year, a very simple recipe that I linked to last week revived my interest in the bags of fresh cranberries that are piled high in all the stores these days. I've made that recipe several times now, and expect that I will continue making it through the winter. Cranberries freeze well, so you can stock up now and have some available until next Thanksgiving.
Recently, I came across a recipe for cranberry oat bars that looked appealing and seemed easily adaptable to qualify as a "healthier" dessert with a one-to-one switch of whole wheat pastry flour for the specified white flour. Unfortunately, I had completely missed the last line of the ingredient list which called for 1 and 1/2 sticks of butter. By the time I noticed this little deal breaker, I had already preheated the oven, put the cranberries, sugar and orange zest into a saucepan, and, most importantly, had already started craving the taste of one of these bars. I guess that's why it's better to prep the whole dish before starting the recipe.
What to do? I kept one half stick of butter in the recipe as I thought the crust would require some. I substituted one half cup of canola oil for another half stick. Lastly, as there was already orange zest in the filling, I used 4 tablespoons of frozen orange juice concentrate that I had in my freezer, instead of the third half stick.
Though more butter might have produced a crisper crust, we loved the tart flavor and texture of these cranberry bars. The oats, which I really like, come through loud and clear. This is still a dessert, though it is probably not any worse than some of the granola bars and lunchbox snacks floating around.
Cranberry Oat Bars
(greatly adapted from the Washington Post, which says it adapted it from Rick Rodgers' Christmas 101: 100 Festive Recipes With Menus and Timetables for Stress-Free Holiday Entertaining. At this point, who knows?)
makes 16 bars
for the filling:
2 cups fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sugar (I used organic cane sugar)
zest of 1 large orange (get out the Microplane!)
3 tablespoons water
for the crust:
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats (not the quick cooking or instant kind)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons chilled, unsalted butter (1/2 stick) cut into small cubes
1/2 cup canola oil
3 - 4 tablespoons frozen orange juice concentrate
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8 inch square baking pan with cooking spray.
2. Place cranberries, sugar, orange zest and water into a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Lower heat to medium and let the mixture simmer for about 5 - 10 more minutes, stirring often, until the mixture has thickened and reduced a bit. Take off the heat and let cool.
3. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, oats, brown sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter cubes and with your fingers, begin to work it into the dry ingredients. Once partly combined, add the oil and 3 tablespoons of the orange juice concentrate and continue using fingertips until wet ingredients are well incorporated. If it feels too dry to be able to mold a little, add another tablespoon of the orange juice concentrate and incorporate.
4. Press half the flour/oat mixture into the greased pan so that the bottom of the pan is entirely covered. Spread the cooled cranberry filling on top. Sprinkle the rest of the flour/oat mixture over top of the cranberry filling and tap it down gently so that the top is even and all the cranberry mixture is covered.
5. Bake on the middle rack for about 45 minutes, until the top is nicely browned. Take pan out of oven and let cool completely.
6. Cut into 16 bars. Once bars are removed from pan, let bars cool further. Store in a container with a tight fitting lid.