Friday, December 7, 2012

Cranberry Crumb Bars with Mulling Spices

When last we met, I was bouncing on a yoga ball, weeping over the inevitable. In the intervening months, my family and I have moved from the D.C. area to Charlottesville-- home to Mr. Jefferson and his university-- and I have left my job at the U.S. Senate and am now at home with the baby, who, admittedly not having much choice, has become my adorable and miniature sous chef.

I wanted my foray back into blogging to be something semi-healthy-- or at least savory-- to help offset the onslaught of holiday sweets and baking thrust upon us as of late. (I say that as though I'm not enjoying it. Oh, but I am.) But then I tried this recipe, out of Deb Perelman's (of smitten kitchen) new cookbook, and I was stopped in my tracks. No, that's the wrong way to say it; I haven't stopped yet-- eating, that is. Someone take these away.

I'm not being hyperbolic, nor am I much of a cranberry eater-- so I thought these would not tempt me. I wound up with an extra bag of cranberries a few weeks ago, and, since we're all friends here, I'll tell you that it was the result of a pre-Thanksgiving two-for-one special at the grocery store, one I intended to freeze and forget until next Thanksgiving.* But my freezer is slowly filling up with ice cubes of vegetable purees for the baby, so suddenly I needed the space. I thought I could pawn this off on The Physicist, or at least his colleagues, but I really haven't given them much of a chance. But tomorrow! They leave my counter tomorrow. What is left of them, anyway.

* Do they keep that long? Who knows! But I just boil them with sugar and a few other things for the relish, so I doubt the freshness of the berries absolutely crucial. But should you disagree with me, now you know never to eat my Thanksgiving cranberry relish. Yum!

A final note: Another change that's taken place in the last several months is that we replaced my clunky old laptop with an iPad. Hooray! I'm still getting used to being completely mobile, though, and I'm posting from an app. So if you notice anything wonky, please do let me know in the comments.

Cranberry Crumb Bars with Mulling Spices

Ever-so-slightly adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

As is the case with most crumb bars, these are easy both to make and to adapt. I swapped some whole wheat pastry flour in for some of the AP, and next time I may try a different whole grain flour. I forgot the orange at the grocery store, so instead used two clementines from our ever-present supply. And, as per usual, I used more spices; next time instead of "heaping" the indicated amount, I may double it; as written, the mulling spice flavor is very subtle. I like a bit more punch and I think the cranberries could take it-- particularly of the cloves, and I'd consider adding ginger, as well. Want to replace the refined sugar in the filling with brown sugar, as I do? Let me know how it goes!


For the Crumb:

  • 16 Tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 cups AP flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 (heaping) teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 (heaping) teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 (heaping) teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/8 (heaping) teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 large egg
For the filling:

  • 1/2 teaspoon orange, or other citrus, zest
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons orange, or other citrus, juice
  • 3 cups fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and butter a 9x13-inch baking pan.
  2. Whisk together the flour(s), sugar, salt, baking powder, and spice. Work the cubed butter and egg into the flour mix, as you do for a pie crust, trying to work quickly to keep the butter from getting too warm. Deb recommends using a pastry blender or a fork for this step, but I always find that using my own fingers makes this process move along much quicker. It helps if your nails are very short, but really get in there and make the mixture look like coarse meal.
  3. Pat about two-thirds of the crumb mixture into the bottom of the buttered pan. It's not an exact measurement so don't sweat it too much.
  4. Briefly pulse all the filling ingredients in a food processor or blender until the cranberries are coarsely chopped but not pureed. Spread the filling evenly over the crumb base.
  5. Sprinkle the remaining crumb topping over the filling.
  6. Bake bars for 30 - 35 minutes (it took me only 30), or until the tops are just slightly browned. Allow to cool completely before cutting.


  1. Leanne! This was such a pleasant surprise in my reader this morning :)

    These bars look great. And dangerous! I've heard good things about the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, what do you think about it? I'm thinking I'll order it, along with a few others, when I'm back in Vancouver for the holidays.

    Glad to see you back on the blogosphere!

  2. Thanks, Katie! It's great to be back : ) I am really enjoying the SK cookbook so far. Of course, her sweets section is incredibly tempting, but I've tried several of her mains and sides, and all have been really good. Especially the black bean ragout, it's the best black bean dish I've ever had. I'd say it's a worthy addition to your shelves! What others are on your list?

  3. Welcome back to the world of blogging, I agree with Katie - so happy to see your post in my reader! Sadly I am looking at these and wondering how I can make them more unhealthy (maybe some white chocolate chips in there?) which says a lot for my holiday mindset...

  4. Thanks, Kathryn! And what a fantastic idea ... I hadn't thought of adding white chocolate chips ... yum! And I say this is the perfect time to do it. It's the perfect late-year partnership!


What do you think? I love hearing from you!