Starbucks knockoff makes cookie bakers ecstatic

When it comes to sweets, my tastes are decidedly not in line with the mainstream — the American norm, that is.

Regular readers of this blog may recall my penchant for adding almond extract, an Old World flavor, to pretty much all my baked goods. Strawberry-rhubarb sauce gets a splash of rosewater.

And the secret ingredient that guests couldn’t quite pinpoint in a pomegranate fruit salad served for at my weekend holiday party? Orange-blossom water. The most enthusiastically appreciative guest took home a vial of the floral infusion indispensable in the cuisine of Greece and its Mediterranean neighbors.

So it should come as no surprise to my friends and family that my idea of holiday treats is a little off the radar. My poor mother played along several years ago as I labored over cranberry compote-filled mini cheesecake tartlets. In hindsight, they would have been a fitting repository for that orange-blossom water, instead of the jalapeno with which I insisted on augmenting the original recipe.

Skeptical from the start, Mom gamely tasted a tartlet before busying herself with a batch of cookies that people actually would want to eat. I ate at least half a dozen, and the rest disappeared several days later at the newspaper office.

Rather than fuss with individual pastries again, I’d try the cranberry-cheesecake concept in a tart that I adapted from a bar cookie recipe. The format even accommodated pumpkin and salted caramel for Thanksgiving, mentioned in a previous post and recent podcast.

A toasted-nut crust is an essential element of my version. But crustless bar cookies can be just as beloved. Behold Starbucks’ “cranberry bliss bar,” a seasonal staple so popular that newspaper test kitchens have taken it upon themselves to crack the recipe code.

The bar’s moist, dense, blondie-like base enriched with white chocolate and crystallized ginger emerged more than a decade ago from the Oregonian’s test kitchen. Freshly made, the Oregonian’s bars transcend bliss for the realm of “ecstasy.”

See more holiday cookie recipes in this week’s A la Carte.

Cranberry Ecstasy Bars

Tribune News Service photo

For bar cookies:

1 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cups (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for pan

1 1/4 cups firmly packed light-brown sugar

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup minced dried cranberries

1 1/2 ounces white chocolate, chopped

1/4 cups minced crystallized ginger

For frosting:

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup, plus 3 tablespoons, sifted powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

Pinch of salt

1/3 cup minced dried cranberries

White Chocolate Drizzle (recipe follows)

To prepare bar cookies: Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with parchment paper and then butter paper.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, ground ginger and salt; set aside.

In bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the butter until creamy, for about 1 minute. Add the light brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy, for about 2 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla extract; beat until fully combined. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in the dried cranberries, white chocolate and crystallized ginger.

Spread batter in prepared baking pan and bake in preheated oven until golden brown, for about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove pan from oven, transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

To prepare frosting: In bowl of an electric mixer on medium-low speed, combine the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and salt; mix until creamy, for about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove cake from pan and trim off edges. Using an offset spatula or back of a large spoon, uniformly spread frosting across top of cake. Sprinkle minced dried cranberries on top of frosting. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

Decoratively drizzle the White Chocolate Drizzle over top of entire frosted cake. To serve, slice the cake lengthwise down center, creating 2 long rectangles. Cut each rectangle into 4 equal portions, then slice each of these in half diagonally.

Makes 16 triangle-shaped bars.

WHITE CHOCOLATE DRIZZLE: In a double boiler over gently simmering water (or in a bowl in a microwave oven), melt 1 ounce white chocolate. Remove from heat, add 1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon milk; whisk until fully combined. Scrape White Chocolate Drizzle into a small, sturdy plastic bag; cut a tiny corner of the bag and squeeze to decorate.

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  • Blog Author

    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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