Yesterday I realized that Valentine’s Day was only a week away, and so far I’ve only posted one Valentine’s recipe on my blog. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not super into the holiday and don’t even have any plans for Valentine’s night, but I do love any excuse to make cute, themed baked goods!
I decided I needed to make some sort of festive treat last night, but didn’t know what. I’ve been seeing a lot of red velvet recipes lately, which all look incredibly gorgeous and dramatic. However, red velvet has never really appealed to me, either because of the colour, my hesitations about consuming food colouring, my dislike of chocolate cake, the fact that I’ve never even tried red velvet cake in my life, or all of the above. I do like the idea of having pretty red or pink treats for Valentine’s Day though, so I started to think of natural food sources that could create a beautifully coloured dessert.
For some reason, I then remembered a recipe for cranberry bars that I had seen in Vegetarian Times a few months ago. After retrieving the recipe and seeing the gorgeous colour of the bars in the photo, I knew I had to make them! And it just so happened that I had the exact amount of cranberries needed for the recipe in my freezer, so it was meant to be. In fact, the only thing that I needed to buy to make these was a can of sweetened condensed milk, so they didn’t cost me much either!
I changed a few things with the recipe, most notably, cutting them into heart shapes instead of squares, because that just seemed like the obvious thing to do for a cute Valentine’s dessert! I also changed the graham flour crust to my favourite shortbread crust because I knew it would pair well with the cranberry filling. And I noticed that a lot of reviews said the bars were too sour, so I eliminated the lemon juice from the filling all together. I didn’t think it was needed because cranberries are already quite tart on their own, and I wanted their flavour to come through rather than the whole thing tasting like a lemon bar.
The result was so much better than I had expected, both in colour and flavour! The bars were a gorgeous shade of dark pink, which looked so pretty contrasted against the light coloured crust. The filling was smooth and creamy, and the taste had just the right balance of sweetness and tartness, which paired wonderfully with the buttery crust. I’m not sure if you would be able to tell when eating them that they’re made with cranberries - I actually thought they tasted more like raspberries, but in my opinion, that’s a good thing! My friend said they tasted like a cranberry creamsicle, and while I’ve never had a cranberry creamsicle, I can see what she means!
The only slight difficulty I had with these was cutting them into heart shapes; they’re quite thick so they were a bit tricky to remove from the cookie cutter. It is possible though, you just have to push the bar up out of the cookie cutter very gently, slowly, and patiently from the bottom. I only had one heart break (not heartbreak, though it was a little sad) while I was trying to remove it, but I happily ate that one myself! Sometimes I pushed too hard and the bar went flying out of the cookie cutter and landed upside down, but even those ones still managed to survive! I ended up with 13 hearts and a bit of leftover scraps, but if you want to get a bit more out of the pan, you could easily just cut them into bars and save yourself the hassle (but they are super cute as hearts!)
I’ll be back in a few days with another beautiful naturally pink Valentine's dish, but this time for dinner! Stay tuned :)
UPDATE: I made these again with different cranberries and they turned out slightly darker, so don't worry if yours don't turn out the exact same colour as these!
Adapted from Vegetarian Times
Makes one 8x8 pan
For the Crust:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
For the Filling:
1 lb. fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup fat-free or low-fat sweetened condensed milk
3 large egg yolks
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8x8 pan with aluminum foil or parchment paper (this will help with removing the bars later).
In a medium bowl, mix together the softened butter, flour, sugar, and salt until combined (mixture will be crumbly). Press into the bottom of the prepared pan.
Bake for 15-20 minutes at 350°F, until crust is firm and starting to turn golden brown around the edges. Let cool on a wire rack.
Reduce oven temperature to 300°F.
Meanwhile, bring cranberries and water to a simmer in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and cook 10 minutes, or until berries have burst and are tender. Let cool, then blend in a blender until smooth. Strain mixture through a sieve. You should end up with about 1 cup of smooth cranberry purée.
Transfer purée to bowl, and whisk in condensed milk and egg yolks until smooth.
Pour mixture over cooked crust, and bake in 300°F oven for 25-28 minutes, until filling is set. Cool at room temperature, then chill in refrigerator for at least one hour before cutting into bars or hearts, if desired.