Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends.
This one’s for you!
Confession: I’m a recipe pack rat. Stashed in cupboards are piles of Gourmet magazines dating back a few decades. Every year, the pile gets pruned down even as I cherish them still for the photo spreads, recipes and articles about food culture around the world. Much of their archive is now online but missing much of the good stuff of these original copies. I keep the holiday editions to mine for ideas. With apologies to Martha and her minions, there is still no better source book for this home cook.
This recipe dates back to 2001, in a Thanksgiving feature on cranberry. I’ve adapted the recipe by boosting the cranberry flavour and losing the chocolate topping. You don’t need it. The combination of tart cranberry, gooey caramel and crisp shortbread crust is unbeatable. You’ll want these on all your holiday cookie trays.
The method itself is very straightforward but be forewarned: you do need a candy thermometer for this.
Cranberry Caramel Shortbread Bars
What you need:
For shortbread bottom layer:
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup packed light brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 ½ sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
For cranberry caramel topping:
- 2 sticks ( 1 cup) unsalted butter
- 1²⁄³ cups granulated sugar
- ¼ cup light corn syrup
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups fresh cranberries*
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 2 ½ cups pecans, toasted and cooled, then chopped
What you do:
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Line a 15 by 10 inch jelly roll sheet pan ( 1 inch deep) with foil, leaving a 2 inch overhand on the short sides. Butter the 4 sides of foil but not the bottom.
- Make base: Combine flour, brown sugar and salt in food processor.
- Add cold butter chunks and pulse until mixture begins to form pea-size lumps.
- Sprinkle into baking pan and press with a spatula to form even layer.
- Bake until golden 15-17 minutes.
- Cool in pan on rack.
- Make cranberry topping: Melt butter in heavy saucepan over moderate heat. I use one of my Creuset pots for this and put on oven mitts. Too many burns have taught me to be careful.
- Add sugar, corn syrup and salt and boil over moderately high heat, stirring, until temperature on a candy thermometer reaches 245 F, about 7 minutes.
- Reduce heat, add cranberries, then return to boil until it again reaches 245 F. This may take a few minutes. Keep stirring and enjoy the gorgeous colour as the berries burst into the caramel.
- Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and pecans.
- Spread caramel topping over base layer, using a fork to distribute nuts and berries evenly.
- Cool completely, then lift from foil and transfer to cutting board. Cut 6 strips across, then 6 lengthwise to form 36 bars.
* Don’t bother chopping the cranberries as they burst during cooking. If you want even more cranberry flavour, add 1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries.
These cookies freeze well. Store them in layers, with wax paper in between.
Optional: Drizzle melted white chocolate for a beautiful Christmas cookie. And yes, for all you dark chocolate lovers, it is pretty spectacular with the chocolate drizzle too.