I know, I know. We’re in the doldrums of January (nearly February), not the festive holiday season. And this is the second consecutive not just cranberry but cranberry orange recipe I’m sharing. I am done with your cranberries and citrus, you say.
I disagree. Look, I know I seem like I’m on a crusade for the sake of this combo, and maybe I am a bit, because it’s one of my favorites. Plus, the fact that we’re in the midst of winter makes it even more necessary for a bright, cherry-tasting treat.
As shortbread bars with a jammy fruit topping, this cranberry orange rendition is the wintry cousin of this strawberry shortbread. Here, buttery, crumbly, lightly sweetened shortbread is baked to a deep golden brown, topped with a quick cranberry jam, and then adorned with lacy strands of orange zest. Yes, we’re making the cranberry jam (if it can even be called that, more like a jammy topping), but don’t run: it’s low-maintence and can be cooked up while the shortbread is baking. The topping is only lightly sweetened, and the short cook time means that the cranberries retain their tartness and bite, which I love. The buttery shortbread juxtaposes nicely in texture and flavor with the jammy, tart topping. Christmas it may not be, but vibrant cranberries and curls of orange zest sure do brighten up a polar vortex.
adapted from Bon Appetit, November 2012
The cranberry topping may seem like it’s not enough, but just keep spreading it out, working it over the shortbread to make it as even as possible. If you want, you can use 12 oz cranberries and then adjust the other ingredients (increasing sugar by 1 tablespoon and orange juice by 1/2 tablespoon should do it nicely).
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 10-ounce bag fresh (or frozen, thawed) cranberries
1/4 cup fresh orange or grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon grated orange or grapefruit zest, using a five-hole zester to create the pretty ribbons rather than a microplane
For the shortbread: Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8 x 8-inch pan with parchment paper, leaving a 2 inch overhang on 2 opposite sides. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter into dry ingredients until mixture resembles coarse meal with some larger bits scattered throughout.
Using your fingertips, press the shortbread dough evenly onto the bottom of the prepared pan (using the bottom of a flat measuring cup also works well). Poke the dough all over with a fork.
Bake shortbread until cooked through and pale golden, 25-30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let it cool completely in the pan.
The shortbread can be made 3 days ahead. Cover pan tightly with plastic wrap and store at room temperature.
For the cranberry topping: Bring remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 1 1/2 cups cranberries, and orange juice to a simmer in a small saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, until cranberries burst and mixture is syrupy, about 8-10 minutes. Stir in remaining cranberries and cook until skins begin to split, about 3 minutes. Let cool.
The cranberry topping can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.
Spread cooled cranberry topping over cooled shortbread. Scatter orange zest over. Using paper overhang, lift shortbread from pan and transfer to a cutting board to slice the shortbread. I cut mine into 15 rectangles with 3 extra little slivers (“to make sure they’re edible”).
Storing: These bars do best the day they’re made so the textures are preserved. If you need to make them ahead of time, make and store the shortbread and topping separately. Any leftovers should be refrigerated.