Baking is the best way I know to get into the Christmas mood. As soon as November rolls into December, I love putting on my favorite holiday tunes, getting the wood stove crackling hot, and getting to work on old standby recipes and adventurous new ones. Like my grandmother used to do, I love having a stash of seasonal treats in a big round lidded tin in the cupboard to use as needed.
I developed the recipe for these bars just recently because I wanted a cookie that was a bit healthier than the usual fare yet still delicious and festive. I’m pleased to say that these have gotten rave reviews so far. They have only seven ingredients in total: spelt flour, coconut oil, sea salt, lemon zest, honey, dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds.
I like this recipe because it’s a busy time of year and it’s nice to have a few easy back-pocket recipes that are quick to prepare but still elegant and gratifying. And also, not too sweet or rich.
These little bars will be appealing to some in that honey is their only sweetener and coconut oil replaces my beloved butter, which I have a “little” tendency to over-indulge in at this time of year (ahem). If you’ve ever tried my Baba au rhum or my Tourtière, you’ll know what I mean. So it’s nice to vary it up sometimes. If it wasn’t for the honey, these bars would be vegan-friendly, but the honey is really what makes them so luscious!
I had actually started off with the idea of making cherry pistachio bars but I was trying to avoid the high cost of dried fruits and nuts because I wanted to make several large batches of these. They’re nice to have on hand for friends and guests as well as for gifting. Cranberries and pumpkin seeds were a more affordable option yet still festive-colored and tasty, so I went with those instead. But you could certainly try dried cherries (or even goji berries), and pistachios instead. Anything that sticks to the red and green color theme will look great. A little citrus zest in the spelt shortbread base layer gives a sweet zing to the tastebuds and a salted honey caramel made with only honey, coconut oil, and a little salt coats the cranberries and pumpkin seeds and hardens into a sweet chewy delight. Feel free to modify the ratio of pumpkin seeds to cranberries based on your own preference. I prefer a bit more pumpkin seeds, for their crunch and to avoid an overly sweet bar.
Let me know how you like these. Enjoy this month of holiday preparations!
Salted Honey Cranberry Pumpkin Seed Bars
- For the Shortbread Base:
- 1 cup + 2 Tbsp light spelt flour
- 1/3 cup coconut oil (refined, not extra-virgin)
- 2 Tbsp honey
- Zest of one whole organic lemon or orange (about 2 tsp)
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- For the Topping:
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries (preferably the organic and apple juice sweetened kind)
- 3/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds
- 1/4 cup honey
- 2 Tbsp coconut oil (refined, not extra-virgin)
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- To begin, preheat your oven to 350F. Place your jar of coconut oil in a bowl of hot water so that it liquifies completely. Be sure to use refined coconut oil which has a neutral taste. In a large bowl mix the spelt, salt, liquified coconut oil, honey, and citrus zest. Mix together well until a soft uniform dough is obtained. Press this dough into the bottom an 8-inch square baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper for easy removal. Try to evenly cover the bottom of the pan.
- To make the filling, simply mix all the ingredients together very well (making sure you use liquified coconut oil here as well so it integrates easily). Pour this sticky mixture on top of the shortbread base and carefully spread it out evenly. Don’t worry if the honey isn’t completely evenly distributed, you can fix this during baking.
- Place the pan in the oven on a rack in the upper third portion. Check about 15 minutes in and tip the pan slowly from side to side to swirl the melted honey around gently if necessary to make sure the seeds are evenly coated. At 25 minutes, check again to make sure nothing is burning. Your bars should be ready around the 30 minute mark, when the seeds look ever so slightly toasted and the edges are a bit golden. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan for about 20 minutes. Remove from the pan by pulling the sides of the parchment paper and allow the bars to finish cooling completely before slicing. Slice using a large sharp knife, using quick decisive strokes to cut into clean bars.
- The bars will store for several weeks in a cookie tin kept in a cool place.
Yield: Makes about 12 bars
Aube Giroux is a food writer and filmmaker who shares her love of cooking on her farm-to-table blog, Kitchen Vignettes.
Aube is a passionate organic gardener and home cook who likes to share the stories of how food gets to our dinner plates. Her work has been shown on television and at international film festivals. Her web series has been nominated for multiple James Beard Awards for Best Video Webcast (On Location). In 2012, she was the recipient of Saveur Magazine’s Best Food Blog award in the video category.