I think my parents thought I was crazy when I was looking at colleges. My “fall-back” was a small state school in upstate NY. And by upstate, I mean way-the-hell-upstate, not just a little north of NYC, as many downstaters see the upper Hudson Valley. Potsdam is north enough in New York that you could almost throw a stone over the Canadian border. It was an 8 1/2 drive to see the school. In March. Where it still snowed like a mutha. My first choice, however, was an even smaller lush private school in PA where snow was “meh”. I had butterflies when I visited. I’m sure my parents were terrified of the cost.
You’ve heard this story before. You know what happens. That following August, this south-shore-downstater packed her Bean Boots, silk long underwear (a much better baselayer than traditional long-johns, FTR), heaviest winter clothes (who knew what November would bring even before Thanksgiving was in sight?) and half of her childhood bedroom (my mom would say three quarters) and headed north to her new home away from home.
Included in the massive amount of winter clothing that filled my tiny dorm closet to the brim that August were a few pair of flannel lined jeans. On the mornings where the average low temperature in January was nearly 0 degrees F, these jeans came in handy. And sometimes, the long underwear went underneath the flannel lined jeans. It was freaking cold. But those jeans saved me that year – they were like a warm hug on a cold morning.
These cranberry bliss bars are similar. They’ll wrap you up and warm your soul. If you’ve been to Starbucks this time of year, you know the treats I’m talking about…and surprise, surprise – they’re super easy to make at home! With a white chocolate, cranberry, and brown sugar blondie base, a lightly-flavored orange cream cheese frosting, and more cranberries and white chocolate drizzled on top, how could you possibly go wrong? There is a little bit of ground cloves in the blondies which pulls the orange and cranberries together beautifully and adds to the general addictiveness. Those mushy-base “bars” Starbucks sells that you have to eat with a fork are no comparison to these homemade treats. Perhaps paired with a mug of warm spiced wine or cider, these bars are perfect for a cold winter night.
In place of the chopped white chocolate, you could use white chocolate chips but I really love biting into a substantial piece of white chocolate in these bars. The chips will get a little lost so if you go that route, you’ll want want to increase the amount of chips to 8 oz.
For the blondies:
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
- scan 1/8 tsp ground cloves
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) salted butter, cubed
- 1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 6 oz white chocolate, coarsely chopped
For the frosting and garnish:
- 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
- 1 cup powdered sugar, sifted
- 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
- 4 oz white baking chocolate, melted
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×11-inch baking pan with cooking spray or butter. Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and cloves together in a medium bowl; set aside.
- To make the blondies: Melt the butter and stir in all of the sugar until the butter has completely incorporated; let the mixture cool to room temperature. Pour the mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat in the eggs and vanilla on medium speed until the eggs have incorporated. With the mixer on low, gradually stir in the dry ingredients until no evidence of flour remains. The batter will be very thick. Stir in the cranberries and white chocolate until they are dispersed.
- Dump the batter to the prepared baking pan and with your hands, flatten it out (without mashing it) into the pan. Baked for 18 to 20 minutes until the edges are just barely golden brown (mine took exactly 18 minutes). Let the pan cool on a wire rack until the blondies are completely cool.
- To make the frosting: Beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar together on medium speed in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until combined, about 30 seconds. Quickly mix in the orange zest.
- To assemble: Remove the uncut blondies from the pan and place the whole piece on a large cutting board. Spread the frosting evenly over the blondies (an offset spatula works great here) right out to the edges. Sprinkle the cranberries over the frosting. Drizzle the white chocolate over the cranberries and frosting – don’t worry about being too neat in your drizzling here. Before cutting, transfer the blondies on the board to the refrigerator to allow the frosting to set up for 30 minutes. Cut the blondies lengthwise into thirds then cut each third into four squares. Cut each square diagonally in half into triangles. You can cut the triangles in half again if you want/need more bars. These bars can be kept at room temperature for a couple of days but they last better in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container. Serve right from the refrigerator or slightly warmed to room temperature.
Yield: 24 to 48 bars