The Sweetest Form of Flattery: Faux Cranberry Bliss Bars

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If I had to make a choice between dark chocolate and white chocolate, there would be absolutely zero contest; dark chocolate always wins. But every once in a while, there’s a treat that captures the heart and may not fit in the box of other preferences. Such is the case for me with Starbucks’ Cranberry Bliss Bars. When I first tried them years ago, I couldn’t get enough and ever since, I always buy one every Christmas. Really, I could have at least one a week, but let’s not get crazy. I’ve been wanting to try a homemade version forever and finally managed to do it this year. I searched high and low for different recipes and settled on an adaptation of a bar from The Recipe Girl blog. I will say that as much as I love Cranberry Bliss Bars, I think the quality of the store-bought bars has degraded in recent years, so I was hoping to make a really special version at home.

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The bars consist of a brown sugar blondie layer studded with cranberries and white chocolate chunks, topped with a white chocolate-cream cheese frosting, chopped cranberries, and a white chocolate drizzle. The Recipe Girl version had a thick blondie layer (whereas several others that I found looked a little anemic), which was probably the deciding factor in choosing her version. There is also a hint of orange flavor in the original Cranberry Bliss Bars, but I did not want this to be overpowering. I made a few modifications to the Recipe Girl version, and I am exceedingly pleased with them. Most significantly, I added ¼ teaspoon pure orange extract to the frosting, which gave it just a whiff of orange but nothing too strong. I also changed the preparation method for the blondies, upped the baking time, and added weight measurements for the ingredients.

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I enjoyed these bars so much, but I was curious to see how they stacked up to the originals, so I bought a Starbucks bar and tested them side-by-side. In my mind, I had built up the Starbucks version to be a dreamy, and, um, blissful bar; in reality it was thin, a little soggy, and had an overwhelmingly orange flavor. This was not the bar I had adored by any stretch. But then! I saw them at another Starbucks location, and they looked so much better, so I got a second one, and it was a completely different experience, much more similar to the bars I remembered. This one was taller, denser, chewier, and had only a hint of orange. I couldn’t believe how different the two bars were; they were the same pastry in name only. My homemade bar tasted nothing like the first bar (fortunately), but somewhat similar to the second bar… though I actually liked the scratch-made ones better! This version is lightly sweet and dense and chewy in texture– it was just what I was looking for. I may not need to buy them anymore, though it might be dangerous to have a whole pan of these at my disposal… 😉

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A couple of meditations upon white chocolate:

  • I recommend using the best quality white chocolate that you can afford here for two reasons. First of all, the white chocolate flavor is essential in this recipe– do not buy anything called “white chips”, as they do not contain cocoa butter, which means they are not real white chocolate. (These are mostly made of sugar and don’t melt well at all.) Secondly, the higher the percentage of cocoa butter, the better melting you’ll get. For example, if you use a 35% white chocolate like Valrhona Ivoire (bar or fèves) or Guittard Soie Blanche, your chocolate will melt in a smooth beautiful pool that you can drizzle ’til the cows come home. If you use something in the neighborhood of 31-32%, which is what most common white chocolates are, it will melt, but it will be much thicker and more difficult to drizzle. It will still taste good though, as long as it’s real white chocolate.
  • White chocolate is more delicate than dark chocolate, and therefore slightly more finicky to melt. You must use gentle heat and keep a close eye on it, or it will scorch easily and end up as a sad, sludgy paste.

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Incidentally, if you need a last-minute holiday dessert, this is really quick and easy to pull together. Happy Holidays and Happy New Year– thank you so much for reading this year, and I’ll see you with lots more recipes in 2016! 🙂

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Faux Cranberry Bliss Bars
Adapted from Recipe Girl
Yields 24-48 squares or triangles

For the blondie base:

  • 2¼ cups (280 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1½ cups (310 grams) light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • ¾ cup (1½ sticks/6 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup (75 grams) dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
  • 6 ounces (170 grams) good-quality white baking chocolate, coarsely chopped

For the frosting:

  • 8 ounces (225 grams) cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup (110 grams) powdered sugar, sifted
  • 6 ounces (170 grams) good-quality white baking chocolate, melted, divided
  • ¼ teaspoon pure orange extract (optional)
  • ½ cup (75 grams) dried cranberries, coarsely chopped

Preheat an oven to 350°F and position a rack in the center. Line a 9×13″ baking pan with aluminum foil overhanging on two sides and spray the foil lightly with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.

Place the brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the melted butter and beat on medium speed for about 1 minute. (This can also be done with an electric hand mixer and a large mixing bowl.) Add the eggs and vanilla and mix just until incorporated.

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Add the flour mixture to the bowl and mix on the lowest speed just until no white streaks remain. Fold in the cranberries and chopped chocolate with a rubber spatula; the batter will be very thick.

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Scrape the blondie batter into the prepared pan and spread it in an even layer to the edges with an offset spatula. Bake for 18-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. (Start checking at around 18 minutes to avoid over-baking.) Transfer the pan to a wire cooling rack and allow the giant blondie to cool completely.

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Meanwhile, make the cream cheese-white chocolate frosting. In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese chunks and confectioners’ sugar with an electric mixer until well-blended; take care not to overmix, as the cream cheese will lose its structure. Stream in half of the melted white chocolate and beat until blended.

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Remove the blondie from the pan by pulling up on the foil and transfer it to a baking sheet. Spread the frosting evenly over the blondie base, then sprinkle with the chopped cranberries. Drizzle the rest of the melted white chocolate over the cranberries.

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Transfer the pan to the refrigerator to firm up for about 1 hour. Use a sharp knife to cut the blondie into squares, triangles, or even diamonds. These are very rich, so you may prefer to cut them into 48 blondie “bites”. Store the bars in the fridge until ready to serve.

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2015.

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