Monday, December 10, 2012

12 Days of Christmas Treats: Merry Berry Cheese Bars

     One of the reasons we kill ourselves baking at Christmastime is because we want to show our friends and families how much we love them.  These treats in particular made me think of several people as I was putting them together.

cranberries, oatmeal, cream cheese

     The cranberry sauce recipe came from a blogger friend, Hannah Cordes, who runs the lovely blog Blue Kale Road.  She's a Seattlite too, though we haven't met in person, it's always nice to have someone commiserate about the weather with.  Her cranberry sauce recipe calls for quince as well as cranberries and uses honey and maple syrup as sweeteners.  It's just fab in this as the cranberry is not quite so sharp and the quince adds an interesting texture.  She also uses apple cider in hers but since all I had was apple juice, I added some cinnamon and cloves while the quince was cooking down.  It makes a delightful addition to the whole proceeding.   And so, I thought about Hannah as I was making this.

     A few months ago, I was digging some compost into the garden and the boys came running up to me breathlessly.  "MOM!  There's a boy here!  He came out of the woods!"  And thus, our family was introduced to Aiden: The Little Boy From the Woods.  He was actually visiting our new next door neighbors and had grown tired of sitting around listening to grown ups talk about babies and heard my boys outside being as raucous as humanly possible.  Every other Saturday or so, he wanders down out of the woods and they have a big ol' time playing whatever it is 5-7 year olds play these days.  He even spent the night a couple of weeks ago.  His family also keeps bees and his Dad brought me a jar last week.  Light and sweet, it is the perfect thing for Hannah's cranberry sauce!  So I thought about our new friends while making this.

    Earlier this year, I was given the opportunity to buy a box of lemons and having just run out of lemon juice, I did what anybody would do, and bought a 40 pound box to make juice out of.  Then, not knowing exactly how difficult it was going to be to juice 7 bazillion lemons by hand, I called up my friend Danika who just happens to own a juicer.  Danika and her family had to withstand a whole two days without fresh juice so that I could make these bars (and everything else I've used lemon for this past year.)  I thought about her family while I was making these.

     I thought about everybody I've given these to over the years, and there are a lot of you.  Thought about how much Mom liked them.  It was a little amazing how one little silly cookie could have so many people wrapped up in it.  OMIGOSH!!  Merry Berry Cheese Bars is PEOPLE!!

     I decided to update the recipe a little this year to be more in keeping with my no chemicals as much as possible policy and the result was a milder, more refined bar, which I am calling "grown up."  Not in the "uses profane language way" not in the "adult channel way" not in the "there's booze in there way" but in the "I'm happy with who I am, I don't need to be so in-your-face anymore, I think I'll push my reading glasses up and snuggle down with a good book" sort of way.

"Grown Up" Merry Berry Cheese Bars
(Adapted from Eagle Brand's classic recipe)

2 C unsifted flour
1 1/2 C oatmeal
34 C + 1 Tbs firmly packed brown sugar
1 C butter, softened
1 (8oz) package cream cheese, softened (I used Sierra Nevada Organic Cream Cheese)
1 (14 oz) bottle Trader Joe's Organic Sweetened Condensed milk (Not evaporated milk)
1/4 C Lemon juice
1 recipe of Hannah's Cranberry Quince Sauce (I only had 8 oz of cranberries and it worked fine)
2 Tbs corn starch

Make the cranberry sauce up a few days ahead of time if you want, so it's ready when you want to make your bars.

To make the bars, preheat oven to 350°.  With mixer, beat flour, oats, 3/4 C sugar and butter until crumbly.  Set aside 1 1/2 C mixture; press remaining mixture on bottom of greased 13X9 inch baking pan.  Bake 15 minutes or until lightly browned.

With mixer, beat cheese until fluffy.  Gradually beat in condensed milk until smooth, stir in lemon juice.  Spread over baked crust.  Combine cranberry sauce, cornstarch, and remaining 1 Tbs sugar.  Spoon over cheese layer.  Top with reserved mixture.

Bake 45 minutes or until golden.  Cool and cut into bars.  Refrigerate leftovers.

This is a lovely update to an old classic.  I love the extra spices in it.  It's fantastic warm, btw, if you can't wait until it cools for a bite!

Cara has posted her beautiful vegan and gluten-free version of these as a crumble!   Complete with sweet little ramekins!  Bask in the cuteness at Fork and Beans!


  1. This is a beautiful post, Brooke. It doesn't get better than baking for those we love! I smiled at your boys running up with the news of the "boy from the woods" - such excitement! I'm delighted to be part of the process in making these marvelous bars. They look so tempting and I can't wait to try them! Thank you for your kind words. And I do hope our paths cross in person in 2013! :)

    1. I hope you like them, Hannah! And I do hope we bump into eachother in the coming year!

  2. Loved reading about 'boy from the woods' :) lol... Love the way children put togther words!
    And... what can I say about the cheesecake... wish I lived somewhere close tou so that I could eat all these delcious recipes you are posting these days.

    1. Chimayie, if you made me your recipes with all those fantastic exotic ingredients, I would happily supply you with all the Christmas cookies you could handle!!

  3. These cheese bars look festive and divine!

    1. Thanks, Angie! I hope you give them a try sometime!


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