Lemon Cranberry Bars
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During the holidays, I love to try new recipes and make twists on familiar favorites! Lemon Cranberry Bars are refreshing and bright with sassy and sweet tones. They are wonderfully refreshing after a big meal and so festive with layers of yellow and red.
When I find fresh cranberries in the store, I can’t resist buying them. Desserts made with fresh fruit are heavenly, and my cranberry squares recipe is popular for both kids and adults. Reminiscent of the popular Genevieve Ko NYT Cooking recipe for cranberry lemon bars.
If you’re a cranberry lover like me, you won’t want to miss these Oatmeal Bars packed with seasonal flavors. You can even use frozen berries! And if you want the basic lemon bar recipe, these Old-Fashioned lemon squares are the best!
More great cranberry recipes, how about this AMAZING Cream Cheese Dip that’s easy, mouthwatering, and savory— perfect for using up your leftover cranberry sauce. And don’t forget Nantucket Pie that is simply irresistible with its crispy, buttery, cakey-cookie topping!
I am proud to be a brand ambassador for Rodelle products, and this Cranberry Lemon Bar recipe is part of our 2021 Cookie Celebration. I used Rodelle Reserve Pure Extract in these bar cookies, and it is sublime! It has amazing flavor, is rich in color and essence. Rodelle products are all-natural, many of them organic — all of them exceptional!
Disclaimer: As a brand ambassador for Rodelle I receive free products, however; the opinions expressed are entirely my own.
All measurements, full ingredient list and instructions for Cranberry squares in the printable recipe card at the end of the post.
- Cranberries | You can use fresh or frozen! This time of year, I always pick up several bags to have on hand for other dishes. And to make it easier, you may also use leftover cranberry sauce, you will need about 1 cup.
- Lemons | You need freshly squeezed juice for the top layer of the bar, and the zest gives this treat an extra punch of flavor!
- All-Purpose Flour | I love to use King Arthur’s organic unbleached flour in all my baking for it’s wonderful results.
- Sugar | You’ll need both granulated and powdered sugar for this recipe.
- Eggs | These are essential for the curd-like topping to set up properly, I use large eggs in baking.
- Butter | Real butter makes all the difference for both flavor and texture in your baking.
- Vanilla Extract | For the holidays and baking, I keep this exquisite Rodelle Reserve Vanilla Extract on hand.
Instructions for the Best Lemon Cranberry Bars
Step 1 | Make Cranberry Layer
First things first, this is a layered dessert, make the Cranberry layer ahead of time and cool it (up to a day or two ahead is fine, bring to room temperature before spreading) and make the crust and cool it slightly.
Use a medium saucepan to boil the cranberries and sugar in water.
Reduce the heat to low and simmer while stirring occasionally. As the fruit cooks, break up the whole berries with a spoon or spatula.
Remove the pan from the stove and let the mixture cool for about 30 minutes, or longer.
Step 2 | Making the Shortbread Crust
Next, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line your baking pan with parchment paper. Leave some excess hanging over the sides and add some cooking spray so the dessert is easier to remove.
For the crust, combine the flour, salt, and sugars with zest in a bowl of a food processor (my dream food processor!). Add the butter cubes and pulse until crumbs stick together. You may also make in a bowl, using a pastry blender to combine the butter into the crumbs.
Press the dough into the bottom of the prepared pan for your cranberry lemon bars.
Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden. Cool for 20-30 minutes, then spread the cooled cranberry mixture over the crust and refrigerate.
Step 3 | Lemon Layer
For the final layer, whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, flour, Rodelle vanilla and salt.
Lightly beat the eggs in a separate bowl, then whisk them into the other ingredients.
Remove the chilled crust and first layer from the fridge.
Whisk the lemon mix one more time so it’s frothy and pour it over the dessert.
Bake for 40-45 minutes until the center is set.
Let it cool completely on a wire rack, then refrigerate your treat for 12 hours.
Lift the dessert out of the pan using the excess parchment paper and slice into evenly sized cranberry squares.
Dust with powdered sugar before serving. If you would like an extra garnish, top each bar with a few Sugared Cranberries!
GLUTEN-FREE LEMON CRANBERRY BARS
You can make these cranberry lemon bars gluten-free by using 1 cup almond flour and ⅓ cup coconut flour as a substitute. The curd-like topping can be thickened with tapioca starch or coconut flour. You may also use a good gluten-free all purpose flour; but in shortbread I have found that I like almond flour better!
CRANBERRY LAYER SUBSTITUTE
If you don’t want to the make the cranberry puree you can use leftover cranberry sauce or canned whole cranberry sauce, just don’t make that layer too thick. You will need about a cup. You may also use raspberry, cherry or strawberry preserves if you wish.
TFC Pro Tips
- Pro Tip 1 | Don’t use concentrated lemon juice instead of fresh citrus! The only alternative I’ve found to use in a pinch is Minute Maid Premium Lemon Juice located in the freezer section.
- Pro Tip 2 | Store your cranberry lemon bars in the fridge if you won’t be eating them immediately, they tend to get soft.
- Pro Tip 3 | A good hint to know when your shortbread crust is done cooking is by smell. It may only be a little golden, but the aroma will be more like a cookie than dough.
Frequently Asked Questions
If they look runny, they’re not done. The trick is to cook your dessert long enough and give it enough time to set before cutting.
It is normal for them to jiggle slightly when you first take them out of the oven. Once cool, put your treat in the fridge to become firm, and you’ll be set!
If the top of your dessert cracks, it’s getting overcooked and will be chewy. Take it out and let it cool immediately!
Getting them in the fridge as soon as possible will help stop them from continuing to cook in the pan.
Line your pan with parchment paper, when well chilled, at least 6 hours, preferably 12 hours. Using parchment paper, lift out and onto a cutting board.
Run a large knife under hot water, then dry it with a towel. The heat from the blade will slice easily through the dessert and create perfectly clean edges.
Store these cranberry lemon bars in an airtight container in a single layer, or lay a piece of parchment between layers. They will keep well for up to 7 days.
Can you freeze Lemon Cranberry Bars?
Yes, lemon bars freeze beautifully! Make sure they are cooled completely first, place on parchment paper and then on pan and flash freeze for one hour until firm. Then wrap well in plastic wrap and again in foil or place in an airtight baggie. Freeze up to 3 months, thaw in fridge overnight.
Can this recipe be doubled?
Yes, increase the pan size to 9×13 and double all of the ingredients! Bake a little longer, 5-10 minutes covering with foil if browning too much.
- 8×8 or 9×9 square pan | I love a good ceramic baking dish for this recipe
- Zester | This zester will be a game changer for all your zesting (and cheese grating) needs! Makes even quicker work of this Award Winning Key Lime Pie.
- Whisk and a good Wooden Spoon, love my olive wood spoons!
- Parchment Paper | These precut sheets are a lifesaver when it comes to baking!
Thanks for hanging out with me today, I hope if you tried this recipe you will pop down to the comments and let me know!
More Holiday Recipes
- Cranberry Christmas Cake
- Cranberry Walnut Bread (No Knead)
- Easy Traditional Tiramisu
- Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding
- Mini Chocolate French Silk Pies
- White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies
- Champagne Truffles
- White Chocolate Peppermint Cheesecake (Instant Pot or Oven)
- Triple Chocolate Cookies
Gifting these beautiful cranberry squares? You might want to print out our beautiful Christmas food gift tags!
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Cranberry Lemon Bars
- 8 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries, do not thaw
- ½ cup water
- 6 tablespoons sugar, white or cane sugar
Lemon Shortbread Crust
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest, about 1 medium lemon, zest first then squeeze for lemon layer
- ½ cup granulated sugar, I use all-natural cane sugar
- 1 ⅓ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¾ cup cold butter, cubed
- ⅔ cup fresh lemon juice, from about 4 medium lemons
- 1 ¼ cups sugar, I use cane sugar*
- ⅓ cup all purpose flour
- ½-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 5 eggs, lightly beaten
- Make Cranberry Layer**
- Place water, cranberries, and 6 tablespoons of sugar in a medium saucepan, bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, simmering, stirring occasionally, until cranberries start to burst. About 15 minutes.
- Continue to simmer, stirring and breaking up any whole cranberries – a wooden spoon works great for this. Cook until cranberries are completely broken down, with no whole pieces remaining, about another 10 minutes. Remove from heat, cooling for 30 minutes.
- Prepare Lemon Shortbread Crust
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a 9 inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Lightly coat pan and parchment with cooking spray.
- In a medium-large mixing bowl, stir together 1 ⅓ cups flour, ¼ teaspoon salt, powdered sugar, ½ cup granulated sugar, and lemon zest until combined. Mix in butter cubes, using a pastry cutter or your fingers (you may also do this step in a food processor). Once the mixture looks like sandy crumbs that stick together when pinched, press into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown, remove and allow to cool slightly, about 20-30 minutes.
- Once cooled, spread the cooled cranberry mixture over the crust, chill for 30 minutes, meanwhile make the lemon layer.
- Lemon Layer
- In a medium-large mixing bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar, ⅓ cup flour and ¼ teaspoon salt. Add lightly beaten eggs to the mixture, whisking until combined, frothy and lighter in color. Set aside until ready to use.
- Once the cranberry layer has chilled on the crust, remove from the fridge and give the lemon layer once last good stir, pour evenly over the top of the cranberry mixture. Bake in a 350 degree oven 40-45 minutes until the center is set, it may jiggle slightly. Remove from oven, allowing to cool completely on a wire rack.
- For best results, once cooled, chill in fridge for 12 hours before slicing, this will allow time for the layers to settle and firm up.
- Using the parchment paper to lift the bars from the pan, place on a cutting board and cut into 9, 12 or 16 squares. Sprinkle if desired with powdered sugar before serving. These are also beautiful served with a few sugared cranberries.
- StorageStore these cranberry lemon bars in an airtight container in a single layer, or lay a piece of parchment between layers. They will keep well for up to 7 days.
- TO FREEZE: Make sure they are cooled completely first, place on parchment paper and then on pan and flash freeze for one hour until firm. Then wrap well in plastic wrap and again in foil or place in an airtight baggie. Freeze up to 3 months, thaw in fridge overnight.
- Doubling the recipe | Double ingredients and bake in 9×13 inch pan, baking 5-10 minutes longer covering with foil if browning too much.
✱ Kathleen’s Tips
The Fresh Cooky is not a dietician or nutritionist, and any nutritional information shared is only an estimate. We recommend running the ingredients through an online nutritional calculator if you need to verify any information.
About Kathleen Pope
Recipe Innovator | Food Photographer | Food Writer
Hi, I’m Kathleen Pope. Here at The Fresh Cooky you will find easy, mostly from-scratch, trusted recipes for all occasions. From speedy dinners to tasty desserts, with easy step-by-step instructions. I am here to help teach you how to make mouthwatering recipes without spending hours in the kitchen. Read more about Kathleen here.
I followed the recipe to the letter including the cooling time between steps. I used the exact pan and parchment paper and spayed both the pan & paper with baking spray. When cooking with the final lemon layer I noticed that there was no yellow color on top but thought I was just not seeing it correctly. After cooling as outlined I used the parchement paper to help lift the bars out of the pan. All the lemon curd went under the paper and cooked on the bottom. The bars totally fell apart. I tried to press the lemon layer back on top but they are a messy sight. Anyway, I did taste them and they taste good but unfortunately I won’t be able to serve them. Just thought you should know that this is something that could happen. Maybe if I put the paper going both ways the lemon would have stayed put.
I’m so sorry you had that experience. Not sure what went wrong either, maybe your lemon layer hadn’t cooked long enough? Could be your oven is off temperature that is pretty common since most ovens don’t heat to the temperature we think. Anyway, I am sorry that they are ruined especially when it is a labor of love.
This happened to me as well! I was wondering if the curd was just too runny and it oozed under the crust to bake.
Hi there I am wondering if when you lined your pan, did you overlap it or did you just put a little piece on the bottom? Also maybe the cranberry sauce wasn’t pulled all the way to the edges and chilled for a full 30 minutes before adding the lemon layer?
If your parchment was not up and over the sides it could slip out, I suppose. Regardless I’m sorry this happened. I never like hearing a recipe didn’t work out.
Hi Susy and Trish — so I’ve been doing a little more research on how this might have happened. A few things that could be in play. Your crust was not pulled all the way to the sides of the pan, allowing space for the lemon curd to go underneath, and/or the crust cooled too much (more than 30 minutes) before you added the topping. You might also either not line the pan all-together and grease it well, or line it completely with overhang on all 4 sides with aluminum foil or a large sheet of parchment. But be sure to make sure your shortbread crust goes all the way to the edges of the pan, as well as your cranberry layer.
Thanks for the inspiration. I baked a gingersnap cookie crust, and put the cranberries on. Topped this with lemon (I cheated, and used canned lemon filling).
Sounds wonderful!!! And I think that’s awesome, make it yours! Let me know how they taste with the gingersnap!
Gingersnap crust sounds like a wonderful variation! Of course I’ve always done a shortbread crust for lemon bars. It’s what’s expected. Ginger works well with lemon as well as cranberry, so I will give it a go.
Let me know how it turns out!
They Look Delicious !!!!
Thank you Kim!
These are gorgeous! And I know they’ve got to taste as good as they look.
Thank you Nikki!
So good!! That cranberry and lemon combination is out of this world delicious! We all loved it!
It truly is!! Thank you for your kind words!
The perfect balance of sweet and tart, this lemony cranberry dessert is not only delicious, it’s so pretty on the plate! Buttery shortbread, creamy lemon filling, and tangy cranberries — every element is spot on!
These sure are pretty! I find it so hard to resist a layered cookie bar and the lemon with cranberry has to be amazing!
And YOU are the queen of the layered cookie bar!