Cranberry Streusel Shortbread Bars

Overlooked, underappreciated, and not very appetizing looking, cranberries seem to linger on produce shelves, biding their time until the winter holiday season passes and they can be mercifully banished back to the land of long forgotten fruits.  Yet, when you cook cranberries with some sugar, spread the tart cranberry mixture over rich, buttery shortbread, and top everything off with a crunchy streusel, you will think about these Cranberry Streusel Shortbread Bars all year long.  Not only are these bars easy to make using basic ingredients, they also look bake shop worthy.  So, no excuses; get to baking!

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Cranberry Streusel Shortbread Bars

Makes approximately thirty-five 1 3/4-inch-square bars
(from Fine Cooking)

Ingredients

Crust and Streusel

10 1/2 ounces (1 cup plus 5 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to just warm
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon table salt
2 large egg yolks
14 1/4 ounces (3 cups plus 3 tablespoons) unbleached all-purpose flour

Cranberry Topping

12 ounce bag fresh or frozen cranberries, picked over, rinsed, and drained (I prefer fresh)
1 cup granulated sugar

Directions

Crust

  1. Line a straight-sided 13×9-inch metal baking pan with foil, letting the ends create an overhanging edge for easy removal from the pan.
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together the butter, 3/4 cup of sugar, and salt.
  3. Whisk in the egg yolks.
  4. Stir in the flour to make a stiff dough.
  5. Transfer about 2 cups of the dough to the prepared pan, and press the mixture evenly into the bottom. Prick the dough all over with a fork (this keeps the crust from bubbling up too much when it bakes).
  6. Refrigerate the pan for 30 minutes (or freeze for 5 to 7 minutes), until the dough is firm.
  7. Position a rack near the center of the oven and another near the top. Heat the oven to 325°F.
  8. Bake the dough until the crust begins to set but does not brown at all on the edges (the center will not be firm yet), about 20 minutes. While the crust bakes, prepare the streusel and the topping.

Streusel

  1. With your fingers, combine the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar with the reserved dough until crumbly. The mixture should hold together when pressed, but readily break into smaller pieces.  Set aside.

Cranberry Topping

  1. In a medium saucepan, bring the cranberries, sugar, and 1/4 cup water to a boil over high heat.
  2. Reduce the heat to medium high, and continue to boil until the liquid is reduced to a thick syrup, 5 to 8 minutes.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat, and let the mixture cool 5 to 10 minutes—the syrup will continue to thicken as the mixture cools.

Assembling the Bars

  1. Spread the cranberry mixture evenly over the hot crust.
  2. Scatter the streusel over the cranberries (don’t crumble the streusel too much or the texture will be too sandy).
  3. Increase the oven temperature to 350°F and bake the bars near the top of the oven until the streusel is golden and set, about 25 minutes. (Baking these bars at the top of the oven helps the streusel brown faster without overbrowning the crust.)
  4. Place the pan on a metal rack to cool until the crust is completely firm, at least 1 hour. (For faster cooling, put the bars in the fridge once the pan is no longer piping hot.)
  5. When the bottom of the pan is cool, carefully lift the bars from the pan using the foil sides and transfer them to a cutting board.
  6. Separate the foil from the bars by sliding a spatula between them. Cut the bars into 1-3/4-inch squares.

Note:  Store the bars in an airtight container at room temperature for up to one week (but the shortbread will soften quite a bit after the first three days).

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