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The mashed potatoes and candied yams may have gone, but the cranberry sauce remains. Its role on the Thanksgiving table can be paralyzing, but I assure you, cranberry sauce isn’t tied to a meal of turkey. It’s truly just a sweet fruit compote, jelly, or jam (depending on your preferences), and can be used as such. And when you can’t seem to use up that last cup or so of cranberry sauce, you should make these cranberry jam bars. (You’ll suddenly wish you had more left over.)

How to make cranberry jam bars

One broken jam bar on a plate.

Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

These jam bars use a straight forward mixing method, and the recipe works well with a chunky or loose sauce. I used one and a half cups of homemade cranberry sauce in the recipe below, and it made for a reasonably thick jam layer in the bars, but keep in mind that this amount is very flexible. If you have only a half-cup of cranberry sauce, you can make a thin stripe layer instead. Two cups of cranberry sauce will make for a nice jammy center, but I don’t recommend much more than that, or the sauce could bubble over the topping.

1. Mix the wet ingredients

Melt the butter in a medium sized bowl and stir in the brown sugar, egg, almond extract, and salt. The egg should be room temperature so it mixes well with the butter; a cold egg will cause the saturated fat to clump up. Feel free to substitute the almond extract for vanilla if you’d like. 

2. Add the dry ingredients

Mix the flour, oats, and baking powder together in a small bowl. Dump them into the wet ingredients all at once, and stir until just combined. The dough will be thick like cookie dough, because that’s essentially what it is.

3. Press the dough into the pan

Add half of the dough to a buttered baking dish. I used a nine by seven inch Pyrex dish, and I lined it with a strip of parchment paper to keep it from sticking. However, if your dish is well buttered, it won’t stick either. Press the dough down into an even layer across the bottom. Don’t worry about making it smooth, a finger dimples won’t show later.

4. Add the cranberry sauce and topping

Spoon spreading cranberry sauce onto cookie bars.

Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

Scoop the cranberry sauce onto the dough and spread it out into an even layer. Add chopped pecans to the remaining dough in the bowl and stir it together to incorporate the nuts. (If you don’t like nuts, you can add the same measurement of rolled oats.) Break the topping into small chunks and distribute them across the surface of the sauce. There’s no need to press down, as it’ll relax when it heats up in the oven.

Crumble topping on jam bars.

Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

Bake the bars for 40 minutes in a 350°F oven, or until the topping is slightly browned, the edges are bubbling, and the center remains firm when pressed.

Once cool, dust with powdered sugar and cut into bars. They’ll strike just the right balance between breakfast bar and jam cookie, which makes them great for breakfast and dessert. I haven’t tried making them with the canned jelly variety of cranberry sauce yet, but it’s worth a shot if you have some hanging out in the fridge. The key there will be to let the bars cool completely before slicing, so the jelly can set up again after being warmed up. 

Cranberry Jam Bars Recipe


  • 1 stick butter, melted

  • ¾ cup brown sugar

  • 1 egg (room temperature)

  • ½ teaspoon almond extract

  • ¼ teaspoon salt

  • 2 cups flour

  • ½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats

  • ½ teaspoon baking powder

  • ⅓ cup chopped pecans (for crumble)

  • 1 ½  cups cranberry sauce

  • Powdered sugar for dusting

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a baking dish well, and line it with parchment if desired.

2. Mix the butter, sugar, egg, extract, and salt together in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, oats, and baking powder. Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture all at once. Mix until just combined.

3. Add half of the dough to the baking dish, and press it into the bottom of the dish in an even layer. Spread the cranberry sauce evenly on top of the base layer.

4. Add chopped pecans to the remaining dough in the mixing bowl. Mix to combine. Break the dough into small pieces and distribute them across the surface of the jam layer. Cover the jam evenly, but it’s okay if some of the jam peeks out. Bake at 350°F for 40 minutes, or until the edges have lightly browned, the jam is bubbling on the edges, and the center is firm when pressed. Cool completely before slicing.

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