What says the Holidays are here more than the Cranberry?
Andrew went all out for our Thanksgiving, baking his extraordinary treats. Included in this year’s selection were these glorious Lemon=y cranberry bars. A generously salted vanilla cookie base is topped with the tangy sweetness of the berries and lemon. The cranberry mix gives the bar its beautiful magenta color. A thin layer of lemon filling is like icing for the cranberries. And lemon zest added to the berries makes a cranberry jam that holds up well enough to keep the bars fresh for up to five days in the refrigerator. With round two of Holiday festivities on their way, put these gorgeous treats on your what-to-bake list.
What is more North American than the Cranberry?
The first English settlers to our shores weren’t surprised to see Cranberries. They were familiar with the European variety. ‘Craneberries’ grew in the bogs of southern England and the low-lying Netherlands. They were called ‘craneberries’ because their flowers looked like the head of a Sandhill crane. The native Americans the first settlers encountered had been harvesting sasumuneash –wild cranberries–for 12,000 years. They were eaten fresh and they were also dried. The dried berries were made into pemmican. This mixture of berries, dried meat, and animal fat provided food to eat with an expiration date months long. Cranberries were also used medicinally. The Medicine men of their tribe used them to fight fever, swelling—even seasickness.
Was the Cranberry a guest at the First Thanksgiving?
No contemporary account of that momentous meal mentions the cranberry. Foods that were mentioned were ‘Indian Corn’, wild turkey, waterfowl, and venison. There’s a chance that cranberries made it into the stuffing commonly used when preparing birds for the dinner table. But as far as making Cranberry Sauce, the scarcity of sugar likely nixed that. The first recipe for Cranberry Sauce didn’t make its appearance until “American Cookery” was published in 1796. That book, written by a woman named Amelia Simmons, was the first known cookbook authored by an American. The 48-page book contained recipes for New England specialties like Indian Pudding and Johnnycakes. And it also contained the first known printed recipe for turkey with cranberries. Here is the recipe for Cranberry Lemon Bars and a couple of other Cranberry recipes for the season.
Cranberry Lemon Bars
A generously salted vanilla cookie base is topped with the tangy sweetness of the berries and lemon.
- For the Cranberry Layer:
- 1 (12-ounce/340-gram) bag fresh or frozen cranberries
- ¾ cup/150 grams granulated sugar
- 2 to 3 large lemons
- For the Crust:
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 1 ½ cups/190 grams all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cup/65 grams granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¾ cup/170 grams unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), melted and cooled
- For the Lemon Layer:
- 1 cup/200 grams granulated sugar
- ¼ cup/30 grams all-purpose flour
- ⅛ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- Confectioners’ sugar (optional)
- Step 1 Start preparing the cranberry layer: Combine the cranberries, sugar, and 3 tablespoons water in a medium saucepan. Zest 2 of the lemons directly into the saucepan. Reserve the lemons
- Step 2 Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Continue boiling, stirring occasionally, until the berries burst and the mixture is jammy, 7 to 9 minutes. Remove from the heat and reserve.
- Step 3 Make the crust: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with one large sheet of heavy aluminum foil, making sure there are no gaps or holes, then generously coat with cooking spray.
- Step 4 Whisk the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk the vanilla into the butter, then pour over the flour mixture. Stir until the dough comes together in a mass. Press into an even layer in the prepared pan. Bake until golden brown around the edges and dry and golden on top, 17 to 20 minutes.
- Step 5 While the crust bakes, begin preparing the lemon layer: Squeeze the juice from the 2 reserved zested lemons. You should have 1/2 cup. Squeeze the juice from another lemon, if needed.
- Step 6 Whisk the sugar, flour, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the eggs and whisk gently just until incorporated. Add the lemon juice and stir gently with the whisk just until smooth.
- Step 7 Let the crust cool for 5 minutes, then spread the cranberry mixture evenly over the crust. Carefully and slowly pour the lemon mixture on top to create two distinct layers.
- Step 8 Return the pan to the oven and bake until the filling is set, 18 to 22 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack, then refrigerate until cold and firm, at least 2 hours. Using the foil, slide the bars out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Cut into 24 squares, wiping your knife between cuts for clean slices. If desired, sift confectioners’ sugar over the tops just before serving.