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Lemon Cranberry Bars

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Prep Time: 15 mins    Cook Time: 38 mins

4.96 from 24 votes

These triple-layered lemon cranberry bars are so yummy. A buttery vanilla crust is topped with a jammy, lemon-spiked cranberry layer. The top is a fluffy egg and lemon mixture. Grab one of these delicious bars anytime you crave a tasty snack or an energy boost.

Four lemon cranberry bars stacked on top of each other.
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Lemon cranberry bars are a great dessert for those who like sweet recipes but don’t have such a sweet tooth. After all, both cranberries and lemon offer a somewhat sharp bite and are balanced out by the sugar in the recipe. It’s easy to adjust the sweetness this way too, so if you want these more tart and less sweet, it’s easy as pie (no pun intended) to do.

Cranberries always conjure up visions of the holidays. Whether it’s Christmas, Thanksgiving, or not a festive time, these lemon cranberry bars are perfect! They’re simple enough for novice bakers to make and delicious enough to pass as a treat from the local bakery. Try them and see!

Cranberries are so festive! Just imagine sinking your teeth into one of these during the holidays. Yum! And while you're at it, whip up these easy cranberry almond biscotti and this cranberry coffee cake too.

Main Ingredients

The ingredients used to make lemon cranberry bars laid out on a table.

You only need 8 different ingredients to make these tasty lemon cranberry bars, since some ingredients are repeated in the different layers. So grab the following ingredients and get ready for one of the best cranberry and lemon recipes you ever made!

  • Cranberries: The main flavor in the lemon cranberry bars. I usually use fresh cranberries to make them, but after experimentation, I find there is very little difference when using frozen, so take your pick!
  • Sugar: For sweetness. The amount of sugar used here is adjustable, so reduce it for a more tart taste or increase it for a sweeter one. White sugar pairs better with the ingredients than brown.
  • Lemons: For an acidic tang. The zip of lemon complements the cranberries so well. You will need fresh lemon since you need both the peel and the juice for this recipe.
  • Vanilla extract: To add another flavor to the bars. If there’s a dessert recipe vanilla doesn’t go with, I haven’t yet found it! Add an extra few drops of vanilla if you love the flavor.
  • Eggs: For the perfect texture. Eggs combine with flour and sugar to get the consistency (as well as flavor) just right.
  • Butter: To make the crust. I know some people like to sub margarine for butter in recipes and if you do, that’s fine. I personally love the rich flavor of real butter though. If you only have salted butter, omit half the salt from the recipe.

Instructions Overview

First, you mix the cranberries and sugar with lemon zest in a pan over heat until the mixture is thick and jammy. Next combine the flour, sugar, and salt in one bowl and the melted butter and vanilla in another.

Combine these two mixtures to make the crust layer and press it into a baking pan.

Now you just have to prepare the lemon layer. Combine some flour and sugar and then whisk in eggs and the juice from the lemons you already zested.

Bake the crust then add the cranberry mixture on top. Add the lemon mixture on top of that and then bake for another 20 minutes or so. Let the lemon cranberry bars cool and then chill them. Cut them into squares and get ready for a wonderful flavor experience in every bite!

Serving bars for dessert.

Common Questions

Do you need to cook fresh cranberries before baking?

Unlike strawberries or blackberries, for example, cranberries do have to be cooked. In any recipe where they’re added to something you’re going to bake, you need to cook them first and the simplest way to do this is in a pan on the stove with a little liquid. Once they burst open you can continue with the recipe. Take care not to overcook them else they will develop a bitter flavor.

What does a cranberry taste like?

These berries are safe to eat raw, but they’re tart and tangy that way and too bitter tasting for most people. They’re as tart as lemons actually since they are as high in acid and as low in sugar.

Are my lemon bars done? How can I tell?

Follow the timings in the recipe. Ovens can be off by a few minutes so the best way to ensure they’re done is to check they are completely set. Give the baking pan a gentle shake to make sure.

Why do my lemon bars crack?

We’ve all been there - something comes out of the oven looking a bit different from how you hoped! Did your lemon cranberry bars crack on top?

This can happen if you over-beat the filling or have the oven temperature set too high. It can also happen if you take them out of the oven and the room is cold. This drastic change in temperature can lead to cracks too. Luckily a sprinkling of powdered sugar will disguise them!

What should I serve with these bars?

You can’t go wrong with a homemade bar if it’s snack time. These are also a nice part of a box lunch or picnic. The nutrients from the cranberries and lemon make them healthy. I love mine with a cup of coffee on the side. Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes I have two!

Can I make them ahead of time?

Yes, you can make them a few days ahead if you like. The difference isn’t really noticeable.

How should I store these?

Keep them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 5 or 6 days.

Can I make extra lemon cranberry bars and freeze them?

Definitely! Cut the cooled bars into squares then arrange them on a baking sheet to freeze. When solid, transfer them into a Ziploc bag.

This method is so they don’t stick together. They should keep for up to 4 months. You can either enjoy them frozen or let them thaw if you prefer them softer.

What are some tasty variations?

Tweaking the ingredients is a nice way of putting your own stamp on these lemon cranberry bars. Lime zest and juice would work just as well as the lemon if you prefer the flavor of lime.

I’m curious how grapefruit would work, although I haven’t tested that combo. Let me know if you do! Another variation would be using blueberries instead of cranberries. Blueberries are sweeter though, so you’d probably need less sugar.

Inside the side of a cranberry bar.

Chopnotch Tips

  • Use fresh or frozen cranberries, as you prefer. Do use fresh lemon though!
  • Considering these keep for a while and are good frozen, it’s worth doubling or tripling the recipe to make a batch.
  • Use vanilla paste or even a whole vanilla bean instead of the extract for a smoother, richer vanilla flavor.
Fresh lemon on top of cranberry bars.

Lemon cranberry bars are tangy, zesty, and delicious. Trust me, you are going to love the way these homemade bars taste!

Let us know what you think! Give this recipe a rating in the comments section below.

Recipe

How to Make

Lemon Cranberry Bars

The tang of cranberries and the brightness of fresh lemon make these bars irresistible. They’re easy to make and boast a great fruity flavor.
SCALE THIS RECIPE
Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 38 mins
Chilling Time: 2 hrs
Total Time: 2 hrs 53 mins
Servings: 24 bars

Ingredients

For the cranberry layer:

  • 12 ounces cranberries, fresh or frozen
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar

For the crust:

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • cup granulated sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup unsalted butter, melted

For the lemon layer:

  • 2 large lemons
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
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Instructions

To make the cranberry layer:

  • Combine the sugar and cranberries along with 3 tablespoons of water in a saucepan and zest both of the lemons directly into the pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat while stirring and continue to boil until the berries break open and the mixture is jam-like. Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside.

To make the crust:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9x13-inch baking pan with a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper and spray generously with nonstick cooking spray. Leave some hanging over the two ends of the pan for easy removal later.
  • Whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the vanilla into the melted butter, and then pour it into the flour mixture and mix until the dough comes together in a mass. Then press the dough into the prepared baking pan to form an even layer on the bottom of the pan and bake for about 18 minutes until dry and golden brown on top.

To make the lemon layer:

  • Squeeze the juice from both of the zested lemons until you have about ½ cup of lemon juice.
  • Whisk the sugar and flour in a medium bowl until well combined and then gently whisk in the eggs until just incorporated. Now add the lemon juice and gently stir until smooth.

To assemble:

  • Once the crust is finished baking, let it cool for 5 minutes and then evenly spread the cranberry mixture over it to form the first layer. Then carefully spread the lemon mixture on top of that to create the second layer.
  • Now return the pan to the oven and bake for another 20 minutes until the filling is set. Once set, remove from the oven, let cool completely, and transfer to the refrigerator to chill for 2 hours until firm. Once firm, use the foil or parchment paper to remove the bars from the pan onto a cutting board and cut into 24 squares with a sharp knife. Serve and enjoy!
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Notes

  • Use fresh or frozen cranberries, as you prefer. Do use fresh lemon though!
  • Considering these keep for a while and are good frozen, it’s worth doubling or tripling the recipe to make a batch.
  • Use vanilla paste or even a whole vanilla bean instead of the extract for a smoother, richer vanilla flavor.

Nutrition Facts

Calories: 169kcal (8%), Carbohydrates: 27g (9%), Protein: 2g (4%), Fat: 6g (9%), Saturated Fat: 4g (25%), Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g, Monounsaturated Fat: 2g, Trans Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 36mg (12%), Sodium: 58mg (3%), Potassium: 44mg (1%), Fiber: 1g (4%), Sugar: 18g (20%), Vitamin A: 217IU (4%), Vitamin C: 7mg (8%), Calcium: 10mg (1%), Iron: 1mg (6%)
Print Recipe
course:
Dessert
cuisine:
American

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Comments & Ratings

  1. 5 stars
    Made these for our Christmas crew and the disappeared quickly. Definitely a do-over.

    Reply
    • Hi Cindy, that is so great to hear! I'm happy everyone loved them! Thanks for sharing your feedback.

      Reply
  2. Oh one more thing. You say put the lemons in with the cranberry's?? Just making sure.

    Reply
    • Yes, you need two lemons for this recipe which are used in both the cranberry layer as well as the lemon layer. In the ingredient list, I listed the two lemons under the cranberry later, since that is where they are used first in the steps, but this was confusing some people, so I moved the lemons in the ingredient list to show up under the lemon layer instead. Hopefully this makes more sense, but just follow the step-by-step instructions and you will be good!

      Reply
  3. 5 stars
    I haven't made them yet, but can't wait. Look great

    Reply
    • Thanks, Jane! Let me know how they come out. I hope you love them!

      Reply
  4. Am I losing it???? There is no measurement for lemon juice in the "lemon layer"

    Reply
    • Hi Joanna, thanks for your question. I list two lemons under the cranberry layer section of the ingredient list because that is where the lemons are used first. You start out by making the cranberry layer which includes the zest of two lemons. Later, when you make the lemon layer, you will then squeeze the juice from those same two lemons. This is all covered in the step-by-step instructions. Let me know if you have any other questions!

      Reply
  5. Can I use pastry dough sheets instead of flour

    Reply
    • Hi David, I haven't done it myself but I think it would come out fine!

      Reply
  6. 4 stars
    I was really hyped about trying these. Two of my fav flavors-lemon & cranberry. Really relatively easy to make UNTIL I tried to cut them. I used sprayed parchment paper and the bars stuck like glue which was odd because the crust was so buttery. May try again with foil, see if that works better. Taste was very good.

    Reply
    • Hi Peggy, I'm glad they were so tasty, but sorry you ran into a problem with them sticking to the parchment paper. Whether using parchment paper or foil, both should be sprayed generously with nonstick cooking spray to prevent this from happening. Try that and it should definitely solve the problem for next time!

      Reply
  7. I am confused. The instructions for the lemon layer doesn’t include any lemon. I need clarification on the steps.

    Reply
    • Hi Cheryl, you need two lemons for this recipe. When looking at the list of ingredients, the lemons appear under the cranberry layer section, because that is where they are used first. When looking at the instructions, you'll notice you prepare the cranberry layer first. During this step, you zest the two lemons. Later on, when you prepare the lemon layer, you'll squeeze the juice from those same two lemons that you zested earlier. I hope that clears it up for you, but let me know if not!

      Reply
  8. I have a huge bag of craisins (dried cranberries) can I substitute for fresh/frozen?

    Reply
    • Hi Ryan, I'm afraid dried cranberries wouldn't work too well in this recipe. You need fresh cranberries that will burst open when you boil them. This is what creates the jam-like consistency, which is key for the cranberry layer. But if you really want to use dried fruit instead, I'm sure it would still taste yummy. It'll soak up the water when you go to boil it, so you'll need to use more than 3 tablespoons of water as the recipe calls for. I would start there and slowly add more water as needed while mixing. Let it boil and keep mixing until you get it to a jam-like consistency.

      Reply
  9. What's a good egg substitute for this recipe? Aquafaba, flaxseed, or something else?

    Reply
    • Hello, I have not personally tested it in this recipe, but I think you would be okay with using 9 tablespoons of aquafaba in place of the 3 eggs. Happy baking!

      Reply
  10. 5 stars
    I JUST LOVE THESE!!

    Reply
    • Thanks, Charles! I'm so happy to hear how much you love them!!

      Reply