Recipes for cranberry breads and cakes often call for the use of fresh cranberries. Cookies and bar cookies, by contrast, usually call for dried cranberries instead. They’re easy to incorporate and have a nice sweet-tart taste. Dried cranberries mix into batters and doughs just as easily as nuts and chocolate chips do because they don’t add any additional moisture to a recipe. Fresh cranberries can have their advantages, however, and shouldn’t always be overlooked as cookie dough add-ins. They are more tart and have a clearer cranberry flavor than their dried counterparts.
This is precisely why I opted to use fresh cranberries in these Cranberry Almond Squares. The squares are moist and soft, with a base made with just enough ground almonds to give them a rich, nutty flavor. Without the berries, the bars would be very plain. With the berries, they are colorful and have a great balance of sweet and tart in every bite. I added some sliced almonds to the tops of the bars to give them a little contrasting crunch.
It’s great to have a sweet-tart dessert to serve alongside richer, sweeter desserts that tend to appear during the holidays. Cranberries are fresh and easily available during the late fall and early winter, as well. Although I’ve called for fresh cranberries in the recipe, you can substitute frozen berries easily to make this year-round. The recipe also doubles well and can be baked in a 9×13-inch pan. Or, you can simply do what I did, and bake three batches in a row to satisfy hungry taste-testers!
Cranberry Almond Squares
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp almond meal (finely ground almonds)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup silvered almonds, divided
1 tbsp coarse sugar, for topping
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease an 8×8-inch baking pan.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, almond meal, baking powder and salt.
In a medium bowl, cream together butter and sugars until light. Beat in egg and vanilla extract. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until just combined. Mix in chopped cranberries and 6 tbsp slivered almonds. Dough should have a cookie dough-like consistency.
Spread dough into prepared pan using a spatula to push it into the corners. Sprinkle remaining 2 tbsp slivered almonds on top of the dough, then sprinkle with coarse sugar.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until top is lightly browned.
Cool completely before slicing.
Makes 16 squares