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Cranberry Pecan Cookies - Three Ways

Cookie Swap Memories

Last year, while we were snowed in during the weeks before Christmas, my good friend Alanna from Kitchen Parade called. She wanted to check on the ingredients in a recipe from a cookie swap I hosted many years ago. The recipe was for a drop cookie made with cranberries and nuts.

Cookies with fruit in them are generally not my favorites. Instead I gravitate toward the rich and buttery, cookies flavored with nuts and brown sugar, something chocolaty or fragrant with spices. Still, somehow I remembered the cookies she was asking about, though I had never tried making them myself. I went to my files, pulled out the one marked “Cookie Swap Brunch” and started thumbing through the recipes. Sure enough, there it was, a recipe for Cranberry Pecan Drops.

Bright Surprises

That week I did a lot of baking using whatever I happened to have on hand before the storm. It was pleasant in the kitchen with the snow outside and my oven warm and productive. With my family home and my youngest son’s friends coming and going as they slid from house to house, I had tasters for whatever came out of the oven.
I baked some of our favorites: Ginger Cookie Sticks, Russian Teacakes and of course I made some of Aunt Hen’s Peanut Butter Fudge. I was ready to try something different and now those Cranberry Pecan Drops were on my mind. Though I wasn’t sure I would like them I did happen to have all of the ingredients I needed to make them. I decided to give them a try.
I can't say these are the prettiest Christmas cookies ever but the red flecks of cranberry do give them a festive appeal without any additional steps for icing or garnishing. All in all they were easy to make; just mix, drop and bake.
Still, the best part of making these cookies was how surprisingly wonderful they tasted! Despite the quantity of sugar, the fresh cranberries give these cookies a bright tartness that is a welcome contrast to the spicy richness of many of the other treats on my holiday cookie plate. I loved Alanna’s idea to use orange juice concentrate instead of regular orange juice. That added even more punch to the fruity tang.

Cranberry Pecan Drops

½ cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ cup milk
2 Tablespoons orange juice concentrate
1 egg
3 cups flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 ½ cups cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped pecans

In a medium bowl mix together the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, sugar and brown sugar.. Add milk, orange juice concentrate and the egg, blending well. Mix in dry ingredients, cranberries and nuts.

Drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 – 15 minutes, or until done.

Cool on a wire rack.

Leaving Well Enough Alone

Seldom one to leave well enough alone, I decided to make these cookies again this year but with a twist. Enchanted by the beautiful case of holiday sweets at my favorite Starbucks I began to wonder if their Cranberry Bliss Bars were anything like these Cranberry Pecan Drops. I ‘ve never tasted the Starbucks version but I really liked the festive look of their cream cheese frosting sprinkled with tiny bits of dried cranberries.
Gazing at those pretty bars behind the glass I decided to adapt the cranberry cookies I rediscovered last year to a bar cookie I could dress up in a similar way. I made the dough just as in the original recipe but stirred in a cup of white chocolate chips. Then I spread the dough in a 9 x 13 inch pan, baked it and let it cool before topping it with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting.

Cranberry Pecan Bars with White Chocolate and Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

Prepare cookie dough for Cranberry Pecan Cookies as directed above.

Add 1 cup white chocolate chips, stirring just until combined.

Spread dough in a greased 9 x 13 pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 – 30 minutes, or until done.

Remove from oven and place on a wire rack until cool.

Spread Orange Cream Cheese Frosting over cooled Cranberry Pecan Bars. sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons chopped dried cranberry bits.

When frosting has set, cut bars into squares or triangles to serve.

Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

4 ounces cream cheese
1 Tablespoon orange juice concentrate
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 ½ cups powdered sugar
2 Tablespoons dried cranberries, minced

In a medium bowl, mix together the cream cheese, orange juice concentrate and vanilla until smooth.

Add the powdered sugar gradually and mix at high speed until the sugar is incorporated and the icing is smooth and fluffy.

The result was very pretty and the bars got good reviews from tasters. To my tastes, however, they turned out to be overly sweet and while the flavor of the fresh cranberries was still bright and tangy it was no longer the predominant impression left by the cookie. The white chocolate morsels and the cream cheese frosting looked pretty and tasted good but caused the cookies to forfeit their sharp tangy edge.

Simply Cranberry Pecan Bars

On the other hand, making this cookie as a bar cookie did work out well. It was easier than dropping the cookies on a cookie sheet and, even cut into plain squares, these were at least as pretty as the drop cookie version.

So here’s my plan for next time:
  • Prepare the dough as directed for Cranberry Pecan Drops (without the white chocolate chips I added to the bar cookies above.
  • Spread the batter in a 13 x 9 inch pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25 - 30 minutes, or until done.
  • Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.
  • After the bars have been baked and cooled, drizzle them lightly with melted white chocolate chips and scatter minced bits of dried cranberries on top.
  • Even easier, if time is short I will skip the frosting and drizzle altogether and simply dust the bars with a little powdered sugar just before serving.
Sometimes I think I make things overly complicated. Really this is just one simple recipe with a few possible variations. However you decide to dress these Cranberry Pecan Cookies they are sure to add a fresh festive note to your holiday celebration.


KathyB. said...

I love baking with cranberries, and I think I will be trying these cookies this week! I have been reading your blog for awhile, love it!

grace said...

i really, really enjoy the combination of cranberry and orange, so i obviously find your cookies to be fabulous. however, those bars are a cut above--that frosting is something i could and would eat with a spoon.

pam said...

I love all things cranberry! So, all of these sound good.

theUngourmet said...

I love the bars! They look so pretty and delicious! I actually came over here to snoop around for a gingerbread recipe. :D

Lisa said...

KathyB - Thanks! I hope you like the cookies. They really are a nice, not-too-decadent, holiday treat.

Grace - Cranberry and orange is a great combination, something I seem to have forgotten before Alanna reminded me about these cookies!

Pam - All three of these variations are nice and I agree about the cranberries. I always enjoy them and don't know why I don't think to cook with them more often.

Ungourmet - Thanks! Good luck with the gingerbread.

Alanna Kellogg said...

How fun are these variations, Lis?! You've got me hankering for cranberry bars -- except when THAT happens, I remember the cranberry bars from the Whole Foods in Richardson, I've tried to get the recipe, I've tried to re-create the recipe. No such luck! Do you remember them, too?!

the southern hostess said...

Yum! Two of my favorite things.

Ivy said...

My two ultimate-most favorite ingredients!

Michelle said...

Orange Cream Cheese = Nectar of the Gods!

What a fabulous recipe!

Suze said...

ALL of those variations look AMAZING! And the orange cream cheese...*drools*

Pamela said...

Those look delicious!

If you want a different shortcut to the white chocolate on top, you might try this trick my roommate and I learned in college.

If you sprinkle the chocolate chips (or broken up bars) all over the cookie bars (or brownies too!) as soon as they come out of the oven, the residual heat should be enough to melt the chocolate.

So, working quickly, you can smooth the melted chocolate into an instant frosting/ganache.

Lisa said...

Pamela - Great idea. Thanks for sharing!