Cranberry Bliss Bars
I love Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bars but they’re a seasonal item and as fast as magically appear in the bakery cases this time of year, they can disappear just as fast, never knowing if, or when, they’ll return.
Something about seasonally-available items makes me yearn for them them even more. Just think of the pandemonium that surrounds the first few days of Pumpkin Spice Latte season.
I don’t have to worry about being bliss-less anymore because I can make these at home now, which is both good and bad. Good because these are a dead ringer for Cranberry Bliss Bars, bad because they are a dead ringer for Cranberry Bliss Bars. Better lace up those running shoes.
Cranberry Bliss Bars are really just blondies that have been amped up with white chocolate, cranberries, and then frosted with white chocolate-infused cream cheese frosting. I am both a blondie lover and a white chocolate lover and for anyone who likes white chocolate as much as I do, it’s used three times in the recipe. As chips baked into the bars, melted and incorporated into the frosting, and lightly drizzled on top of the frosted bars.
I have two white chocolate blondie recipes, this one, which uses a bit of baking powder in the base, creating a fluffier and more cake-like blondie. And then my preferred blondie recipe, which doesn’t use any leavening. As with brownies, I like my blondies denser and less cakey. So I tweaked my preferred recipe by adding cranberries and kept the white chocolate chips to create the Bliss Bar base. It’s a very simple batter that comes together in less that five minutes by hand based on ‘ones’. Melt one stick of butter, add one cup brown sugar, one cup flour, one (and a half) teaspoons vanilla, and stir. Stir in the dried cranberries and white chocolate chips and it’s ready to be baked.
The batter is fairly shallow in the baking pan and it bakes up quicker than you may think, about 18 to 20 minutes. Even a few extra minutes of baking time will create a much more dried out bar, ruining the bliss. I find the secret to commercialized chain-store successes like Mrs. Field’s cookies, Cinnabon cinnamon rolls, orStarbucks Cranberry Bliss Bars is that none are overbaked; all are ooey, gooey, and chewy. Keep that in mind and pull the bars from the oven as soon as the top is set. It will be a pale golden hue.
While the bars bake and are cooling, make the white chocolate-spiked cream cheese frosting. The frosting is where the magic happens and catapults this recipe from white chocolate and cranberry blondies to copycat Cranberry Bliss Bars and it lends so much authenticity to the bars. To make it, melt one cup white chocolate chips and when melting white chocolate, I cannot stress this enough, it scorches easily and melts twice as fast, if not faster, than milk or semi-sweet chocolate chips so go slowly and in little bursts. Place the white chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl, heat on high power for about 30 seconds, stop and stir. Then heat in ten-second bursts, stopping to stir after each, until the chocolate can be stirred smooth, being patient with it and not allowing the mixture to get too hot or it will seize up and you’ll need to start over. You can also melt white chocolate over a double boiler, however I find this to be more work and have no issue using the microwave, but to each her own and melt it in whatever way you’ll have success,
Add about three-quarters of the melted white chocolate to a fluffy pile of confectioners’ sugar, vanilla extract, and four ounces of cream cheese that’s waiting in a mixing bowl. You may use whipped or light cream cheese, you know, to save calories so you can eat more. Beat this mixture together until it’s very fluffy, playing with the confectioners’ sugar ratio as necessary, adding an additional dollop of cream cheese or splash of milk if it becomes too thick. The mixture will start out thick but keep beating, for at least three minutes, and it will magically fluff up. Spread the fluffy, creamy goodness over the cooled blondies.
Then, sprinkle generously with dried cranberries and drizzle the remaining white chocolate over the top. The beauty of adding both dried cranberries and a parting white chocolate drizzle on top of the frosting is that any imperfections in the frosting will be masked. I didn’t bother sifting the confectioners’ sugar used in the frosting because I knew that any tiny lumps would be concealed. Sift if you prefer or are serving these to royalty who may chastise you over a miniscule lump of confectioners’ sugar.
It’s best to allow the bars to set up for about thirty minutes before slicing into them, because it will make the job easier, neater, and they’ll look prettier and more authentic. To slice the bars, lift them out using the aluminum foil overhang, because yes, you were smart enough to line your pan with foil before beginning, making this stage of the game a cinch and it makes cleanup effortless, too.
Slice the bars by making a cross, creating four small squares or quadrants. To each of the four quadrants, slice on the diagonal to create two triangles, for a yield of eight triangular-shaped bars. They’re generously-sized, very similar in size and shape to the Starbucks version, but the beauty here is that this recipe makes just eight bars, since it’s baked in an 8-by-8-inch pan. I have not tried doubling the recipe, and in theory, doubling and using a 9-by-13-inch pan would probably work, but I haven’t tried. Eight of these puppies in one batch was plenty, eating 16 of them before the frosting gets a little too crunchy or dried out would have been overkill for our family of three.
Hands down, I prefer these to Starbucks. Scott also loves Starbucks Cranberry Bliss Bars but preferred the homemade version. When we tried to analyze why we liked these better, all we could come up with is that they have a homemade taste, rather than a commercialized, mass-produced taste. Sometimes the exact nuances why one item is preferred over another isn’t always perfectly well-defined and you just like what you like.
Subtle differences are that my blondie base is slightly denser and less cake-like than Starbucks. If you prefer a cakier base, and one that leavens just a bit more, when making the batter add one-half to one teaspoon baking powder when adding the flour, depending on how cakey you want to go. I prefer density as opposed to cakey in all blondies or brownies, so omit chemical leaveners entirely when making either.
The amount of white chocolate chips and cranberries baked into the bars is slightly more abundant in the homemade version. Within each bite, there are plenty of chunky and sweet bits of white chocolate chips, interspersed with chewy and slightly tart dried cranberries, and who would ever complain about slightly more white chocolate or cranberries. With the final sprinkling of cranberries over, I’m sure I sprinkled with a slightly more generous hand.
Homemade frosting always reigns supreme to storebought and with the Bliss Bars in particular, the frosting really makes them. I adore cream cheese frosting, especially when it’s been beat to submission with the inclusion of melted white chocolate. Layering this heavenly goodness on just a bit thicker than Starbucks does is the beauty of making these, or anything, at home. You can customize it to your liking, and for me, that will always mean extra frosting. I’m one of those people who likes a little cake with my frosting or a few crackers with my bowl of dip.
We inhaled these and I cannot wait to make them again. They are so easy and came together in about a half hour. A little too easy and so authentic. Between the Outback Steakhouse Wheat Bread and these, I’ve thoroughly been enjoying restaurant-style copycat recipes lately.
I don’t want to burnout on these so am waiting a bit before making another batch, but they’re one of best things I’ve made in ages and I highly recommend blissing out with them.
- For the Bars
- ½ cup unsalted butter, melted (1 stick)
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt, optional and to taste
- ¾ cup white chocolate chips
- ½ cup dried cranberries, loosely packed
- ½ teaspoon orange zest, optional and to taste (edited to add this on 12-9-12)
- For the Frosting and Topping
- 1 cup white chocolate chips, melted and divided
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened (whipped or light may be used)
- ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups+ confectioners' sugar (I used about 2¾ cups)
- ¼ cup dried cranberries, loosely packed (optionally, roughly dice them if the pieces are larger)
- For the Bars - Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8-by-8-inch pan with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray; set aside. In a medium microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter, about 90 seconds. To the melted butter (allow it to cool slightly so you don't scramble the egg), add the egg, brown sugar, vanilla, and stir to combine. Add the flour, salt, and stir until just combined, taking care not to over-mix or the bars will be tough. Fold in ¾ cup white chocolate chips, ½ cup cranberries, optional orange zest, and stir to combine. Pour batter into prepared pan, smoothing it lightly with a spatula or offset knife if necessary.
- Bake for 18 to 21 minutes, and center is set and golden or until edges begin to slightly pull away from sides of pan, or a toothpick comes out clean; do not overbake. Allow bars to cool before frosting them. While they cool, make the frosting.
- For the Frosting and Topping - In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt the white chocolate on high power, about 1 minute, reheating in 10-second intervals, or until it can be stirred smooth. White chocolate is notorious for scorching so melt it very carefully, and slowly, heating in quick bursts, and keep a watchful eye; use a double boiler if that's easier.
- To the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine cream cheese, about three-quarters of the melted white chocolate (about ¾ cup, just eyeball it), 2 cups confectioners' sugar (I don't sift it because any tiny lumps will be covered up by sprinkled cranberries and white chocolate drizzle), vanilla, and beat until smooth and fluffy. Start by mixing on low speed so sugar doesn't spray, and then beat on medium-high for about 3 minutes. Mixture will seem stiff at first but will loosen and fluff up after 2 to 3 minutes of beating on medium-high; stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add additional confectioners' sugar (I used about 2¾ cups, I like it on the thicker side) based on taste preference and desired frosting consistency. Frost the bars; if you have excess, it will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for at least 1 month.
- Evenly sprinkle ½ cup cranberries over the top of the frosted bars. Evenly drizzle bars with remaining melted white chocolate, reheating for a few seconds in the microwave if it has set up. Allow bars to set up for at least 30 minutes before slicing and serving. Bars may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
- To keep gluten-free, use your favorite gluten-free flour blend, taking care that all other ingredients used are acceptable for your dietary needs.
- Base of bars adapted from Coconut White Chocolate Blondies and White Chocolate Chip Blondies. Frosting and Topping inspired by Taste of Home
Cranberry and White Chocolate Chip Cookies – Cranberry Bliss Bar flavors, in cookie form. Tender, soft, pillowy centers and a 2012 Top 10 Favorite
White Chocolate Blondies with Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting – This blondie recipe yields bars that are slightly cakier, fluffier, and less dense than to today’s recipe. Today’s recipe, and the next two links, use my newer and preferred base, which is the blondie equivalent of a fudgy brownie as opposed to a cakey one, as I don’t use any baking soda or powder in them now, but this is a matter of personal taste preference
Coconut White Chocolate Chip Blondies with Semi-Sweet Chocolate Drizzle – I adapted these blondies for the Cranberry Bliss Bars by removing the coconut flakes and semi-sweet chocolate drizzle, however I think that cranberries, coconut, and white chocolate sounds lovely
Chocolate Chip and Cherry Blondies –My spin on cherry blondies, as opposed to cranberry. And semi-sweet rather than white chocolate. With blondies in general, the fruit used (fresh, frozen, or dried) can usually be varied with ease based on what’s seasonal and what you have around
Peanut Butter and Jelly Blondies – Peanut butter is used twice in this recipe, both baked into the batter and then swirled on top, in conjunction with jelly, and they’re my favorite way to eat PB & J
Pumpkin Spice Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Granola (vegan, GF) – If you have extra dried cranberries, or pumpkin puree on hand, this granola will put both to use and is a snap to make
Do you have a favorite seasonally-available food that you love?
Cranberry Bliss Bars and gingerbread lattes come to mind, and in the spring of the year, the first strawberry or the first bite of summer watermelon are things I look forward to all year. In general, I think people really build up the fall and winter holiday eating season in their minds, counting the days until Grandma’s stuffing and gravy or Aunt Sue’s sprinkle cookies. I think these Cranberry Bliss Bars are a perfect way to kickoff the holiday (eating) season.
Do you like Cranberry Bliss Bars?
Thanks to The Kitchn for featuring this recipe