As Thanksgiving approaches, I've been giving more thought to new dessert recipes to go with the traditional pecan and pumpkin pies that we make each year. I recently had an absolutely delicious lemon bar, and it occurred to me that a modified cranberry sauce would be a good substitute for the lemon curd.
I used shortbread as the cookie layer. Shortbread is very easy to make, and the buttery and crumbly texture is a nice foil to the sweet and tart flavor of the cranberries. Once the shortbread had baked, I spread a thin layer of chestnut spread over it. The chestnut spread balances the tartness of the jellied cranberries.
To make the cranberry jelly, I added guava in place of the usual orange juice to give the jelly sweetness as well as a more complex flavor. (It also reminds me of our recent anniversary trip to Cancun). Guava is not really in keeping with the season, so if you prefer, apple juice would be fine, but I think the guava has more depth. The goal is to limit the sourness of the jelly because after all, we're making a dessert.
After applying a generous layer of the cranberry spread to the bars, I finished them with a sprinkling of chopped pecans.
Servings: 48 bars
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 tablespoons superfine sugar (or granulated sugar)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
cooking oil spray, for greasing the baking pan
1-1/2 cups fresh cranberries, (1/2 12-ounce bag)
1 vanilla bean, slit lengthwise
2/3 cup guava nectar
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
1 star anise pod
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons powdered pectin
10 ounces chestnut spread, (3 100-gram small tins)
3/4 cup pecans, finely chopped
For the jellied cranberries:
It's best to make the sauce a day in advance.
In a bowl, dissolve the pectin in 2 tablespoons of water.
Using a paring knife, scrape and gather all the grains of the vanilla bean.
Wash the cranberries. Pick out and discard any bad ones (discolored, shriveled or bruised). Place the cranberries in a saucepan; add the grains of vanilla, sugar, star anise, cinnamon, clove and 1/8 teaspoon of salt. Add the guava nectar. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Skim off any foam that develops on the top. Cover and cook for about 25 minutes, until the cranberries have burst. Using a wooden spoon, stir frequently to prevent the cranberries from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add the pectin liquid. Stirring constantly, bring back to a boil over medium-high heat and let it boil for about 20 seconds. Turn off the heat. To ensure the jellied sauce is set, place a drop of the sauce on a cold plate. After it cools for about 2 minutes, if you tilt the plate and it stays in place, the sauce is ready. You can also check when your candy thermometer reads 220°F. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick, clove and star anise. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes.
For the shortbread:
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Line a (9 by 13-inch) baking pan with parchment paper. Spray cooking oil over it, especially on the sides of the pan.
In a bowl, combine the flour with 1/8 teaspoon of salt. Sift the dry ingredients.
Using the dough paddle attachment, cream the butter with the superfine sugar. Whisk using a stand-mixer to get as much air as possible into the butter. Add brown sugar and vanilla extract. On low speed, add the flour and mix until it forms crumbs of butter and flour. Do NOT over-mix. Transfer the dough into the baking pan. Place a silicone mat (or parchment paper). Even out the dough using a small rolling pin (or using food service gloves if you don't have one) by flattening and slightly pressing on the shortbread dough.
Bake for 15-18 minutes. Allow to cool completely.
When the shortbread has cooled completely, spread a layer of chestnut spread. Add a layer of jellied cranberry sauce and finally sprinkle with the chopped pecans.
Using a paring knife, release the parchment from the side of the baking pan and remove the paper from the bottom. Cut 48 rectangles (about 1.5 by 3-inch bars) or 24 squares (about 3 by 3-inch bars).
Serve at room temperature.
After scraping the grains of vanilla, do NOT discard the remaining vanilla bean. Just place the vanilla bean in a jar and cover it with regular granulated sugar. Let it sit for a few weeks and you'll get a nice, fragrant vanilla sugar.
Our local market carries chestnut purée but you can also find it online.
It's preferable to roast pecans prior to crushing them in a mortar and pestle. That way the pecans release a nice aroma. Simply roast them in the oven for about 10 minutes at 325°F. Let them cool and chop them finely.
When washing and soaking the cranberries, also discard the ones that sink.
I used Kern's guava juice but you can use any other juices you prefer.
You can store the cranberry bars in the baking pan covered with a plastic lid for up to 2 days to keep them moist. Otherwise, you can simply eat them all, as we did .