Cranberry Pecan Crumble Bars

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This Cranberry Pecan Crumble Bars recipe is a small batch of dessert bars that are made with a tender shortbread crust, tart and sweet cranberry filling brightened with fresh orange and cardamom, and finished with a pecan crumble topping.  This is a great dessert for the holidays, or to use up all of those leftover holiday cranberries!

Cranberry Pecan Crumble Bars

This recipe for Cranberry Pecan Crumble Bars is very timely – at least in my house.  Every year I buy way too many cranberries for the holidays.  And every year I end up with at least 2 bags that don’t get used.  While I know they will probably keep in the freezer until next year, I would rather make them into sweetly tart dessert bars!

These cranberry bars come together easy, and combine different layers of delicious flavor:

  • Shortbread Crust – Think of your classic shortbread cookie as the base of these cranberry bars.  Tender, buttery, and ever so slightly sweet.
  • Orange Spiked Cranberry Filling – Fresh orange juice and zest complement the tart cranberries.
  • Fruity and Spicy Cardamom – While the cardamom is optional, I highly recommend it to add another flavor dimension.
  • Sweet and Buttery Pecans – While any nut will work, the buttery and sweet pecans are a great pair with the cranberry filling.  Plus, they are abundant during the holiday season!

Small Batch Dessert Bars

This is a small batch dessert bar recipe that makes one 6-inch pan of bars.  I like to use my square 6-inch cake pan to make the bars because you can get 6 good portions out of it.  With that, you could also use a 9×6-inch loaf pan, or even a round 6-inch cake pan to make the bars fancy.

This is a pretty easy and forgiving dessert recipe.  Meaning, you can double it, add additional spices, or even fruit, and it will still turn out great.  Certainly, there are ingredients that may alter the result of the shortbread – such as liquid (milk, cream, juice), or nut butters (I have been tempted to try peanut butter!) – so you may want to avoid items that change the consistency too much.

Cranberry pecan crumble bars cut into squares on a wire rack

What You Need To Make Cranberry Pecan Crumble Bars

Ingredients

  • Orange – 1 medium orange is all you need for the juice and the zest.
  • Fresh or Frozen Cranberries – If using fresh cranberries, make sure they are dry.  Conversely, if using frozen, I don’t recommend thawing them.  We don’t want to impart too much extra liquid into the filling.                 
  • Pecans – I like to toast my pecans – or any nut for that matter – when baking with them.  I find it releases more of their natural yummy flavors.
  • All-Purpose Flour – I have not tested the shortbread with a gluten free flour.
  • Unsalted Butter – This is one time where the butter can be cold.   The cold butter keeps the shortbread intact and from getting greasy when baked.
  • Granulated Sugar
  • Salt – We use salt to balance out all of the flavors.
  • Ground Cardamom – This is an optional ingredient, but I recommend trying it at least once for its fruity and somewhat spicy flavor.
  • Vanilla Extract  – Totally optional, but the vanilla adds more flavor.
  • Cornstarch – The cornstarch helps to thicken the cranberry filling.
  • Powdered Sugar – The powdered sugar is for the icing on top.
  • Milk or Water – It is a very simple recipe for icing, and you can either use any milk you have on hand, or water.  If you want to get really fancy, use any extra juice you my have from the fresh orange!

Baking Equipment

  • 6-Inch Square Cake Pan – Or you can use a 9×5-inch loaf pan, or a round 6-inch cake pan.
  • Mixing Bowls

Tips For Making Cranberry Pecan Crumble Bars

Shortbread Crust and Crumble Tips

  • Start with cold butter – We use cold butter cubes to make the shortbread to keep it from falling apart and getting greasy when baked.
  • Use your fingers to mix the shortbread crust dough – Using your fingers to cut the butter into the flour and sugar is so much easier.  Which is especially true for the small batch of shortbread!
  • Mix the dough until it is moist and crumbly – It will take a couple minutes, but we want to the dough to be crumbly and moist.  Don’t give up – eventually the butter will moisten the flour!
  • Pre-bake the shortbread crust until it is golden – The crust needs to be pre-baked.  And be sure to bake it until the sides and top are a light golden brown.
  • Don’t forget to reserve part of the dough for the crumble topping – I offer this tip, as I may have forgotten to do this once …  Yikes!
  • Toast the pecans – Toasted nuts have such a richer flavor, and while it is not required, I highly recommend toasting the nuts.  You can do this while the oven is preheating.

Cranberry Filling Tips

  • Use a fresh orange – A fresh orange has such a brighter flavor.  Plus, we want to add some zest to the filling to make it even brighter!
  • Fresh or frozen cranberries will work – Either will work fine.  Just don’t thaw if they are frozen.
  • Use a slotted spoon if the cranberry filling has a lot of liquid – It may totally depend on how far ahead you make the filling, or just how juice and fresh the cranberries are, but the filling may produce a lot of liquid.  If this is the case, use a slotted spoon to scoop the filling on the crust when ready to bake.  Too much liquid will probably make the crust soggy.

Baking Tips

  • Cook until the cranberry filling is bubbly – You may be tempted to call the bars done after about 20 minutes.  However, we want to make sure the filling has had enough time to cook down and all the flavors to develop. The cranberries need time to burst open!
  • Cover with foilOnly if the top starts to brown too quickly.  Place a piece of foil loosely over the pan to keep the crumble topping from burning.
  • Cool the bars in the pan – Cooling the bars in the pan gives the filling time to set up.
  • Drizzle with icing – Seems obvious, but the bars are that much better when they have a little drizzle on top!
Stack of fruit dessert bars

Common Questions For Making Cranberry Pecan Crumble Bars

Can this recipe be doubled?

I have not tested it, but I think it would work just fine!

Will a gluten free flour blend work instead for the crust and crumble?

I have not tested it, but you can certainly try a 1:1 blend.

Should the cranberries be fresh or frozen?

You can use either. If using fresh, make sure the cranberries are dry. And if using frozen, I don’t recommend thawing them because they will release too much moisture.

I like extra sweet cranberry sauce. Can I add more sugar to the filling?

You sure can! I would just advise to not add too much!

Is the orange juice and zest necessary?

They are not, but both add nice flavor beside just cranberry. Orange is a delicious complement to cranberry!

Can I add more spices to the filling?

You sure can!

I have leftover cranberry sauce. Can I just use that?

I think that would work fine! You may just want to watch the bake time since the cranberries have already cooked, it may not take that long for the filling to get bubbly.

Is there another nut that will work instead of pecans?

Walnuts, almonds, or hazelnuts would be an equally delicious alternative.

Two cranberry bars stacked on a table

More Small Batch Dessert Bars Recipes

Plate of holiday dessert bars
Two cranberry bars stacked on a table
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Cranberry Pecan Crumble Bars

Yield: 6 Bars
This Cranberry Pecan Crumble Bars recipe is a small batch of dessert bars that are made with a tender shortbread crust, tart and sweet cranberry filling brightened with fresh orange and cardamom, and finished with a pecan crumble topping.  This is a great dessert for the holidays, or to use up all of those leftover holiday cranberries!
Prep20 mins
Cook42 mins
Total1 hr 2 mins

Ingredients

Shortbread Crust

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
  • 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Cranberry Filling

  • 1 and 1/2 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1/4 cup, plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom - optional
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract - optional
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch

Crumble Topping

  • 1/4 cup pecans, chopped - toasting is optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom - optional
  • 1/3 of reserved shortbread crust

Cardamom Icing (optional)

  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons milk or water

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 350F degrees and adjust the oven rack to the middle position.
  • Optional – While the oven is preheating, you can toast the pecans. Scatter the pecan on a small baking sheet and toast for about 5 to 7 minutes.
  • Line a 6×6 inch square cake pan with parchment paper: Cut two strips of parchment to fit the sides of the pan, and long enough to hang over the sides. Line the pan with the paper strips crossed. This creates a sling to lift the bars out of the pan, and keeps the caramel from sticking to the sides of the pan.

Cranberry Filling

  • In a small mixing bowl, add the cranberries, orange juice and zest, sugar, cardamom (if using), vanilla extract, and cornstarch. Toss to mix and coat the cranberries thoroughly. Set aside Note – If using frozen cranberries, I don't recommend thawing them as they will release too much moisture. If using fresh cranberries, make sure they have had time to dry after rinsing to clean them.

Shortbread Crust

  • In a medium mixing bowl, add the flour, sugar, and butter cubes. Cut the butter into the flour using a pastry cutter, two forks, or your fingers (works best!), until a crumbly moist dough forms. This may take a few minutes for the butter to moisten the flour. Reserve 1/3 of the dough for the crumble topping in a small mixing bowl.
  • Press the remaining shortbread dough into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes and until the edges are golden. Set the baked crust on a wire rack, and keep the oven on.

Crumble Topping

  • While the shortbread crust is baking, make the crumble topping. Add the chopped pecans and cardamom (if using) to the reserved shortbread dough. Mix with your hands to distribute the pecans. Because the dough is crumbly, the pecans won't necessarily 'stick' to the dough, which is fine.
  • Assemble the bars to bake – Spoon the cranberry filling on top of the baked shortbread crust. It is fine if the crust is warm. Sprinkle the Crumble Topping over the top of the cranberries. Note – If the cranberry filling has a lot of liquid, use a slotted spoon to spoon the cranberry filling on top of the crust. An excessive amount of liquid my make the crust too moist.
  • Bake the bars for 38 to 42 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and cranberries are bubbly. Note – If the Crumble Topping is browning too quickly, loosely cover the pan with a piece of aluminum foil.
  • Cool the bars completely in the pan set on a wire cooling rack. We cool in the pan so the filling has time to set. When ready to serve, gently lift the bars out of the pan using the parchment paper sling. Cut the bars into desired shapes and sizes, drizzle with Cardamom Icing, and Enjoy!

Cardamom Icing

  • In a small mixing bowl, add the powdered sugar, cardamom (if using), and 1 teaspoon of milk or water to start. Stir, and add more liquid as necessary until you reach your desired icing consistency. Note – Add extra liquid in about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon increments. A little will go a long way to make the icing.
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Notes

See the blog post for more recipe Tips and FAQ’s!
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Author: Erin Cernich

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