I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what we as individuals project out into the world. How interesting is it to observe how the things we think we might exemplify differ from the things we actually exemplify? And sometimes, it’s more devastating than interesting, if we’re all being honest.
See, I would love to seem like the kind of person who might radiate strength, and I’m sure that sometimes I do, but there’s this biting part of me that gets vicious when I don’t live up to my own standards 100 percent of the time. Especially when that part of me sees the things that make me falter. Things including but not limited to crappy people, liars, lies, and baked goods, all of which I have encountered in the last few weeks.
Let’s focus on that last one for a moment. I would tell you that I can resist all things sugar-filled and carbo-loaded in nature, but we both know I have over 100 blog posts illustrating the exact opposite. Friends, all of my teeth are sweet ones. Every last one of them wants decadence and all kinds of sugars (granulated, confectioner’s, brown–I don’t discriminate). And it is here, on this grey, kind of mild Christmas Eve that I admit to the most embarrassing part of all: whoever I live with usually hides these things from me. I am not proud…and maybe that’s the whole point of it, really. I’m not perfect. AWESOME! And suddenly, that voice within that was angry and reeling at the pathetic quality of my vices and frustrations has nothing to feed on.
Now we can move on to bigger and better things. Things like candied ginger- and cranberry- and white chocolate-filled bars, baked to brown sugary perfection and dolloped with an imperfectly perfect smattering of citrus-scented white chocolate and cream cheese icing. I like to think that these bars are the idyllic picture of a time of year that wants desperately to reach perfection-resulting in the crumbling of attitudes, relationships, and good feelings. Here’s the amazing part, though–these bars actually pull through on their promise. These, my friends, are the partners you’ve been looking for, full of only the sweetest sentiments and surprises, toppling with delicate white, and then leaving you, fulfilled and changed for the better. Isn’t that what this time of year is supposed to be about?
Bake these, share them (bearing in mind that I never said how many people you had to share them with–no judgement if it’s with yourself), and accept all they are willing to offer. From the bottom of my heart, I wish you a genuinely happy season, one full of awakening, acceptance, and compassion, like a refreshing blast of chilly air to the lungs.
Gingery Cranberry and White Chocolate Bars
Makes 16 squares
1 1/4 cups dark brown sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
1 1/2 tsp orange zest
8 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Juice of one lemon
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup dried cranberries, chopped, plus more for serving
1/4 cup candied ginger, chopped, plus more for serving
1/2 cup high-quality white chocolate chips
WHITE CHOCOLATE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING:
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup white chocolate chips, melted
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp orange zest
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
CRANBERRY BARS: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and grease and line an 8x8x2 pan with parchment paper. In a large bowl using your fingers, rub together the lemon and orange zest and the brown sugar until incorporated and fragrant. Stir in the melted butter until just combined. Add the egg, lemon juice, and vanilla extract and stir. Stir in the salt and the flour, then add the cranberries, the candied ginger, and the white chocolate chips, making sure to stop stirring when all the ingredients are just combined (i.e., be careful not to over-mix, since this will effect the moist, chewy texture of the blondies). Use a spatula to gently press out the dough so it is evenly distributed in the greased pan, then bake for about 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out relatively clean, with moist crumbs attached. Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then slowly use parchment paper to remove bars from the pan. Allow to cool completely on a cooling rack. Once completely cool, frost with white chocolate cream cheese frosting.
WHITE CHOCOLATE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING: Use a hand mixer to blend together the butter, cream cheese, and white chocolate. When fully incorporated, beat in the lemon zest. Beat in the confectioner’s sugar and spread liberally across the cranberry blondies. Sprinkle with additional cranberries and candied ginger, then refrigerate for 45 minutes. Once cool, slice into 16 squares and serve. Bars should remain refrigerated and will keep for two days.