Thick & creamy lemon bars with a tart cranberry layer and sweet & buttery shortbread crust. These lemon cranberry bars are so bright and tasty! Such a great dessert for any holiday table, spring brunch, or Sunday dessert!
Lemon bars are just a classic tart dessert! I love all things citrus and these lemon bars are no exception. Not only do these cranberry lemon bars have a sweet yet sour lemon layer, they have a citrus filled cranberry top layer!
I couldn't help myself but create this recipe when I saw fresh cranberries at the store! The day I see cranberries in store is such a good day. I love apple season, I love pumpkin season, but as soon as I see cranberries I think.... Christmas is coming! It's that time of year people!
The cranberry lemon mixture hits the spot if you are a tart dessert lover! It has distinct layers with different flavors. The cranberry topping has fresh orange juice in it and is bursting with flavor. The lemon curd is sweet, rich and creamy. And the shortbread crust is so buttery, sweet, and just melts in your mouth!
Whenever I have a sweet tooth, lemon bars always hit the spot! Next time you're craving lemon bars, try these lemon cranberry bars!
Butter: You will need 1 cup of unsalted butter. My favorite is Kerrygold.
Sugar: Just half a cup of white sugar sweetens the shortbread crust.
Vanilla: 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract adds a sweet depth of flavor to the crust.
Salt: You will need ½ teaspoon of kosher salt for the shortbread.
Flour: The base of this crust is all purpose flour. You will need 2 cups and 2 tablespoons.
Sugar: You will need 2 cups of white sugar for the lemon curd filling.
Flour: 6 tablespoons of all purpose flour sets and thickens the lemon layer.
Eggs: You will need 6 eggs for the lemon filling. The egg yolks give the lemon bars a rich and creamy texture. The egg whites make the lemon bars bouncy & fluffy.
Lemon: Can't have lemon bars without lemon! This lemon curd filling uses 1 cup of lemon juice, which is about 4 large lemons and 6-7 small lemons. I like to juice my lemons and also strain the juice so the curd is super smooth and free of pulp.
Powdered sugar: Confectioners' sugar is an optional topping for the lemon bars.
Cranberries: You will need 4 cups of fresh cranberries for the cranberry sauce layer. Fresh cranberries should be available at your local grocery store from September to January. If you can't find fresh cranberries, check out the variations & substitutions section.
Sugar: ¾ cup of white sugar is the perfect balance for a touch of sweetness without being over bearing.
Cornstarch: 1 tablespoon of cornstarch is the thickening agent of the cranberry filling.
Orange: You will need just 1 tablespoon of fresh orange juice to sweeten the cranberries and add another citrus flavor.
Citric acid: I use Lemi Shine's 100% food grade citric acid in this recipe to intensify the lemon flavor. Citric acid packs a citrus flavor without adding additional liquid to the cranberry filling. This recipe calls for only ½ teaspoon of citric acid. To learn more about citric acid, check out this page. To purchase this kitchen staple for your home, check it out on amazon.
Water: The water in the filling helps reduces the cranberries and aid in them bursting. You only need ¼ cup of water.
variations & substitutions
You can use frozen cranberries if you can't find fresh! Fresh cranberries are only in season from September to January. So if you are wanting to make these in the summer or spring, substitute the fresh cranberries for frozen for an even 1:1 ratio. Frozen cranberries have a little bit more water than fresh so do not thaw them.
Use your favorite citrus juice in the cranberry layer. I love the mild sweetness fresh orange juice adds, but if you want a more sour citrus, try lime, key lime, lemon, or even grapefruit.
tips & tricks
Allowing these lemon bars to completely cool is extremely important. The lemon layer should set at room temperature for at least 30 minutes after baking. Then once the cranberry layer is added, the bars should be chilled in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
Make a parchment paper sling so the bars are easy to pull out of the pan. When lining the baking dish, leave some overhang of parchment paper on the edges. This makes it super seamless to just pull out the baked lemon bars.
step by step instructions
1. Heat oven and prepare pan. First things to do is preheat the oven to 325F and line 9x13 cake pan with parchment paper. Have some extra parchment paper over hang on the sides for easy removal of the bars after baking. Set the prepared pan aside.
2. Prepare the crust. In a medium bowl, mix together the melted butter, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. Then add the flour and mix until a shaggy dough begins to form. Press firmly into the bottom of the prepared baking pan, making sure it is nice and even.
3. Bake the crust. Bake for 20-22 minutes until the edges are light brown. Remove from the oven. Using a fork, poke holes all over the top of the crust, without piercing all of the way through. Set aside.
4. Make the lemon filling. While the crust bakes, make the lemon filling. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and flour. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs. In the large bowl with the flour mixture, add the eggs and combine. Then add in the lemon juice and mix until smooth.
5. Bake the bars. Pour the filling over the warm crust. Bake for 22-26 minutes. The lemon bars are done when they jiggle like firm jello when tapped. There should be no parts of the bars that seem liquidy under the surface.
6. Make the cranberry filling. In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, combine sugar, orange juice, and water and mix until the sugar dissolves. Then add cranberries, orange zest, corn starch, orange juice, and citric acid. Cook on medium heat covered until the cranberries burst, about 5-10 minutes. Then simmer uncovered on low heat for another 5-10 minutes until the mixture has greatly reduced. Then remove from the heat and set aside to cool for at least 30 minutes. The cranberry mixture should be a thick consistency like jam. Based on preference, the cranberry layer can be chunky or smooth. For a chunky consistency, just let the cranberries reduce and be gentle when stirring. For a smooth cranberry consistency, smash the cranberries in the pot during the simmer stage. This will create a cranberry puree consistency.
7. Chill the bars at room temp. Once the bars have finished baking, set them on the counter to chill at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. This will moderately set the lemon layer before adding the cranberry layer.
8. Add the cranberry layer. The last step of the lemon bars is to add the cranberry layer! On top of the lemon bars, gently add an even layer of the cranberry filling. Place the bars in the fridge to chill for at least 2 hours.
9. Finish lemon cranberry bars. Remove the chilled bars from the fridge and add fresh lemon zest to the top of your bars. If you love powdered sugar on your lemon bars, sprinkle some powdered sugar on top of the bars! Serve chilled.
Serve these cranberry-lemon bars chilled with lemon zest and powdered sugar on top.
To store the lemon cranberry bars, wrap in plastic wrap and place in an airtight container. Store in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Why are my lemon bars runny?
- If your lemon bars are runny, this is due to under baking. Bake lemon bars until they wiggle like firm jello and no longer have a liquidy center.
Why does my lemon curd taste weird?
- Lemon curd can taste metallic depending on the bowl it is prepared in. Adding acidic lemon juice to aluminum or metal bowls can react with the metal and cause the lemon curd to taste weird. Make the filling in a glass or plastic bowl.
Why did my cranberry sauce not set?
- You don't need much liquid to begin simmering the cranberry filling. Only add ¼ cup of water so the cranberries can simmer and reduce. Too much liquid will create runny cranberries that don't set.