Cranberry Curd Bars with Walnut Shortbread Crust

Cranberry Curd Bars with Walnut Shortbread Crust (Emma Christensen / November 22, 2010)

Here's a bright and unexpected way to work cranberries into your Thanksgiving line-up. Tangy-sweet cranberry curd meets buttery walnut shortbread for a twist on the classic lemon bar. A dash of cinnamon ties it all together. And don't worry -- this whole recipe comes together in about an hour, making it an excellent last-minute treat for Thanksgiving or any other special dinner this fall.

I started out wanting to make this recipe with straight cranberry juice. I thought it would be an easier approach, and I hoped it would make it possible to make the recipe at times of the year when fresh cranberries aren't available.

But do you know how hard it is to find 100% cranberry juice? Very hard. It turns out that most "100 percent" cranberry juices are actually a blend of cranberry, apple and grape, which is then further diluted with water. In the end, it came down to buying a jug of organic "real" cranberry juice for $8 or making it from scratch from fresh cranberries for $1.50, and the fresh cranberries won hands down.

The good news is that cooking fresh cranberries is far easier than you might think -- or, at least, it was easier than I had thought. You just combine about 3 cups of fresh berries with a half cup of water and let this simmer for about 5 minutes. The cranberries pop open and soften into a puree. (They do literally pop, so don't be startled!) Once strained of skins and seeds, this puree becomes the base for the curd in this recipe.

It's hard to keep from spooning the curd straight from the bowl. In fact, if you'd like to use it as a spread on your morning toast, just cook it a little longer until it becomes jammy and wonderful.

Cranberry Curd Bars with Walnut Shortbread Crust

Makes roughly 24 squares

For the Crust:

1 cup (4.5 ounces) walnut pieces

1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour

1/2 cup (3 ounces) confectioner sugar, tamped lightly down and leveled off

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened and cut into tablespoon pieces

For the Cranberry Curd:

12 ounces (about 3 cups) fresh or frozen cranberries (see note below)

1/2 cup water

1 cup (8 ounces) granulated sugar