"I'm sorry, how many cranberries do you have?" I asked having been caught off guard and needing to make sure.
"A crapload," Kristy, my classmate, responded flatly.
"You have a crapload of cranberries?" I was amused at the meter and alliteration of her statement, and yet disgusted by the mental image in my head. "That's... lovely."
"So what can I do with them?"
"Uhh..." she had caught me in the middle of an argument between my various inner voices as we/I debated our/my schedule and how all final papers and assignments would be time budgeted. I silenced them all down as quickly as I could and began to stumble out what seemed to be a cohesive response. "Uh, well... let's see. Um, what kind of recipe are you looking for? I guess, I have a great one for cranberry sorbet."
She gave a frustrated sigh. "I don't have an ice cream maker. Not all of us cook like you do. I need something quick and easy - preferably dessert - that I can slap together a few times over the next few months. My dad brought me like three bags of the things and I dunno what to do with them." As she said all this her hands gesticulated so erratically I wondered if she might accidentally slap some poor passerby unconscious.
"Hmm, well it is a bit early for cranberry sauce I assume?"
"Yeah, and honestly I'm not a huge fan as the canned stuff turned me off as a child," she said, her face contorting into a sneer as her tongue slithered out in an show of disgust.
"Let me get back to you on that, I'll see I can figure out something easy." She thanked me and as she went to her desk and I went back all the different aspects of brain voiced their opinions in heated debate once more.
You could have given her the cranberry cake recipe! Who uses the word crapload? Why would someone not have an ice cream maker? That's a stupid question! I want to do something new! Who has the time? I wonder what would happen if she actually had slapped someone?
And so on. Eventually we/I came to the decision to make some cranberry shortbread bars.
I had tried one or two recipes in the past and found them to be somewhat disappointing as most tasted like soggy pie dough with overly sweetened cranberry sauce sloped over it. Joy of Baking's recipe, whose shortbread base I found inspiring due to the dumplette-like use of it on top of the cranberries adorable and for it's tender texture and old-fashioned flavor, was where I decided to start in developing a new cranberry bar. I took the basic cranberry filling recipe, the same for most any cranberry bar, and then decided to perk it up a bunch.
This filling is a small dose of brown sugar to make the flavor a little darker. An insane amount of grated ginger and the zest of an orange are added to add personality. The result is a cranberry bar that's enticing; one that wears a slinky red dress and beguiles your senses in spicy, citrusy smells.
The next day I brought over the cranberry bars to her desk.
"OMG!" because she doesn't say "Oh, my God," "These are so good! Is there ginger in this?"
"Yeps. I also threw in some orange a pinch of cinnamon and some vanilla too because, you know, why the hell not, right?" I shrugged and smiled. "So these work? Supe easy to throw together and it'll use up your cranberries. Though you will need to pick up some fresh ginger and oranges."
"I'll just throw in some ground ginger and toss in spoonful or orange juice. I have the rest I think."
My brain sighed just a little and I almost said something about her suggested substitutions but decided to leave it alone. More than likely I would choose to do the same if it came to it.
"So when can I get the recipe?"
"Just check my blog in a few days."
And so, here it is.
Ginger Cranberry Bars
Makes one 8X8 pan - adapted from Joy of Baking
2 1/2 cups of cranberries
1/3 cup + 3 tablespoons of sugar
2 tablespoons of brown sugar
1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon of orange zest
3 tablespoons of water
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 cups of flour
2 tablespoons of cornstarch
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
1 cup of butter
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1/3 cup of brown sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 350F and lightly grease an 8X8 (or 9x9) inch pan with butter or cooking spray.
2. Place cranberries, sugar, brown sugar, ginger, orange zest, water, and vanilla extract in a 2 quart saucepan and place over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and boil for 5 minutes until it becomes reduced and syrupy. Be sure to give the mixture a stir once in a while to ensure the mixture does not burn; be gentle though as you don't want to break the berries but keep them whole. Take off heat and allow to cool.
3. Sift together in a separate bowl the flour, cornstarch, salt, and ginger.
4. In an electric mixer cream the butter with the brown sugar and vanilla. Slowly add in the flour mixture until just incorporated.
5. Press two-thirds of the dough into the prepared pan. Then evenly spread the cranberry filling, leaving 1/4 inch of space on the sides. Crumble the remaining dough over the top. Bake for 30 minutes or until top begins to brown around the edges. Cool on a wire rack, then cut and serve.