Peppermint white chocolate mochas and eggnog lattes are certainly top sellers this time of year at the 13,000-plus Starbucks outlets nationwide.
But what lures many devotees into the nation’s largest coffee chain during November and December is the company’s seasonal baked-good behemoth, the Cranberry Bliss Bar.
And why not? It’s brilliant, and irresistible: a moist, dense, blondie-like base that’s enriched with white chocolate and crystallized ginger. A lavish cream cheese icing is tickled with citrus and finished with a decadent white chocolate drizzle. And there’s plenty of festive, seasonally appropriate dried cranberries. It has been making the season merry for years.
For those interested in re-creating baked “Bliss” at home, forget about getting the recipe from Starbucks; the company did not return requests for so much as a morsel of information regarding its über-popular holiday baked goodie.
Thankfully, the Oregonian, the daily newspaper in Portland, wasn’t nearly as reticent.
“I know the whole story of this particular recipe,” said food and entertainment writer Grant Butler.
Type “Cranberry Bliss Bar recipe” into Google, and page after page of facsimiles pop up. The one that bakers should rely upon originates with the Oregonian. Eleven years ago, Linda Faus, then the paper’s test kitchen director, was publishing a column that re-created restaurant dishes.
“She had numerous requests for Cranberry Bliss Bars, but she couldn’t get Starbucks to share the recipe,” said Butler. “That’s when she decided to crack the code herself.”
Aided by test kitchen assistant Nathan Hostler, Faus got to work, with colleagues providing feedback as they enjoyed each variation. The resulting recipe was an instant — and, as it turns out, enduring — hit. Still, Cranberry Ecstasy Bars isn’t the newspaper’s most-requested recipe; that honor belongs to a buttermilk biscuit formula (find it at bit.ly/2i1l7kM).
“But it’s in our Top Five, for sure,” said Butler. “It’s certainly better than the Cranberry Bliss Bar sold at Starbucks. Think about it. The Starbucks version was baked who knows how long ago in a factory, where it was frozen, and then later thawed at the store. Linda’s version is fresh. They’re insanely great.”
Cranberry Ecstasy Bars
Makes 16 triangle-shaped bars.
Note: Starbucks currently uses orange zest rather than lemon zest in its Cream Cheese Frosting. Adapted from Linda Faus of the Oregonian.
For bar cookies:
• 1 1/2 c. flour
• 1 tsp. ground ginger
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for pan
• 1 1/4 c. firmly-packed light brown sugar
• 3 eggs
• 1 tsp. vanilla extract
• 1/2 c. minced dried cranberries
• 1 1/2 oz. white chocolate, chopped
• 1/4 c. minced crystallized ginger
• 1 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese, at room temperature
• 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 1 c. plus 3 tbsp. sifted powdered sugar
• 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
• 1/8 tsp. freshly grated lemon zest
• Pinch of salt
• 1/3 c. minced dried cranberries
For White Chocolate Drizzle:
• 1 oz. white chocolate
• 1/4 c. sifted powdered sugar
• 1 tsp. milk
To prepare bar cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9- by 13-inch baking pan with parchment paper and then butter the paper.
In a medium bowl, sift together flour, ground ginger and salt, and reserve.
In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add light brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla extract, and beat until fully combined. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture and mix until just combined. Fold in dried cranberries, white chocolate and crystallized ginger.
Spread batter in prepared baking pan and bake until golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove pan from oven, transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.
To prepare frosting: In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-low speed, combine cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and salt, and mix until creamy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove cake from pan and trim off the edges. Using an offset spatula or the back of a large spoon, uniformly spread the frosting across the top of cake. Sprinkle minced dried cranberries on top of frosting. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
To prepare White Chocolate Drizzle: In a double boiler over gently simmering water (or in a bowl in a microwave oven), melt white chocolate. Remove from heat, add powdered sugar and milk and whisk until fully combined. Scrape White Chocolate Drizzle into a small, sturdy plastic bag; cut a tiny corner of the bag and squeeze to decorate. Decoratively drizzle the White Chocolate Drizzle over the top of the entire frosted cake. To serve, slice the cake lengthwise down the center, creating two long rectangles. Cut each rectangle into 4 equal portions; then slice each of these in half diagonally.
Rick Nelson • @RickNelsonStrib