Cranberry Oatmeal Bars

This dessert recipe is for Cranberry Oatmeal Bars and it’s perfect for after Thanksgiving because it uses leftover cranberry sauce.

My mom is one of the most innovative cooks I know. It’s from her that I learned to trust my instincts to jump in and try new things in the kitchen. Not that my instincts (or probably hers) are always right. But the fun of cooking is when you try something different and it works!

It was one of my mom’s great instincts that led to this recipe. Basically, what she did was to take her old recipe for Matrimonial Squares and substitute canned cranberry sauce for the dates. Wait, what are Matrimonial Squares, you ask? That is the name used for Date Squares in parts of Canada.

The reason for the matrimonial name seems to be that the two streusel-like layers are being brought together by the dates to solidify their relationship, like a couple getting married. Yes, really!

So, my mom had an extra can of cranberry sauce left after a Thanksgiving dinner. Somehow, she then had the brilliant idea to use the sauce in place of the dates in her classic Matrimonial Squares recipe. Voila! Deliciousness was born!

Cranberry Oatmeal Bars: A delicious, easy dessert and a great way to use up leftover cranberry sauce after Thanksgiving

This easy dessert recipe hits so many amazing flavor and texture components, sweet, tart, rich, crunchy, soft and chewy. It’s got it all. I wonder if my mom swooned when she first made it.

The best thing about these cranberry oatmeal bars, besides their taste and ease, is that they’re a great use for leftover cranberry sauce. I mean, that’s sort of how they came to exist so it makes sense.

Once Thanksgiving rolls past and you find yourself with leftover cranberry sauce don’t fret and wonder what to do with it. Make these oatmeal bars. You’ll love them. So much so that at future Thanksgiving dinners I bet you’ll hide the cranberry sauce at dinner just so you’ll have enough left to make these bars.

But really, no need to hide the sauce from your guests. If you don’t have the amount of cranberry sauce called for in the oatmeal bars recipe below, you can absolutely supplement with jam of any kind. Or open another can of cranberry sauce and combine it with your leftovers since these bars can happily accommodates more filling.

If you’re looking for more ways to use up cranberry sauce, check out my list of ideas for what to do with leftover cranberry sauce . There are tips, ideas, and recipes too.

NOTE: There were many comments on this recipe that were wonderful, and many that found the oat mixture to not have enough butter or be difficult to work with. I figured out that I was explaining things incorrectly, and that softened butter is easier to use for this than cold. I have therefore edited the recipe to use the easier softened butter and to explain how to work the butter into the dry ingredients. I hope this helps everyone enjoy this recipe more. It’s one of my true all-time favorites and I hope you end up loving it as much as we do!

 

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Cranberry Oatmeal Bars


  • Author: Christine Pittman
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 22 minutes
  • Total Time: 32 minutes
  • Yield: 24 bars

Description

This twist on the classic Matrimonial Squares (also called Date Squares) uses cranberry sauce as a filling instead of a date purée. They’re super easy to make and are a fabulous use for leftover cranberry sauce. Note that this recipe originally called for cold butter but I have retested it and it now uses softened butter, which is much easier to work into the dry ingredients. Enjoy!


Ingredients

  • 2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 cups flour (2 cups of all-purpose white or 1 cup of all purpose white and 1 cup of whole wheat)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 (14 oz.) can whole berry cranberry sauce or 1 and 1/2 cups homemade cranberry sauce

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. In a large bowl mix together the oats, flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. Use your fingers to rub in the butter into the dry ingredients. Then keep rubbing until you can’t really find any butter in the mixture anymore because your fingers have melted it quite a bit and it has mixed in so well into the flour and oats.
  4. Spoon three-quarters of the oat mixture into an ungreased 13″x 9″ cake pan. Press down on it firmly everywhere to form a firm layer that evenly covers the bottom of the pan.
  5. Add the cranberry sauce in dollops and spread it in a thin layer over the oat layer.
  6. Sprinkle with the remaining oat mixture. Press down lightly on the oats so that they adhere to the wet cranberry sauce a bit.
  7. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Note that the topping will not change color but it is still done.
  8. Allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack. Cut into 8 strips along the length of the pan and 3 strips along the width yielding 24 bars. Use a spatula to remove the bars from the pan.

128 responses to “Cranberry Oatmeal Bars”

  1. Jennifer says:

    This is delicious, people are funny about adding eggs and all this other stuff saying the consistency is wrong… they are similar granola bars, it’s not a cake!!  With that being said…. What a workout for your hands!… it is difficult to get the butter all mixed in….. I used the paddle on my stand up mixer and alternated between letting that go and doing it by hand… it made it so much easier and worked great.   So delicious and a good thing to have on hand for an on-the-go breakfast

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Thanks for the feedback, Jennifer!

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Jennifer, I recently tested the recipe with softened butter instead of cold and it worked perfectly. I have changed the recipe above to reflect that. With the softened butter it is MUCH easier to work into the dry ingredients, and since we’re not trying to get a flaky pastry crust or anything like that, the butter temperature doesn’t seem to matter. Thanks for your comment and I’m so happy you liked the recipe.

  2. wendy says:

    FYI if you use instant oats or quick oats and not old fashioned oats it will act as flour and the result will be dry and crumbly. Might be why it didn’t work out for some people. Mine were great!

  3. CookinVictoria says:

    The basic flour  – butter ratio seems to be off.   It results in a base that doesn’t properly form (just all crumbly) as the amount of fat is far too low to bind properly with the flour and oats.  It also effects the streusel topping, which turned out just like the base – far too crumbly because of not enough fat (butter).   I suspected this would happen when I read the ingredient list,  but reading the  other positive reviews, decided to stay true to the recipe.  Sorry, but this was a disappointment.  

    • Christine Pittman says:

      CookinVictoria, This recipe was my mom’s and she has made it at least 30 times and I have made it at least 20 times, and it has a lot of great comments on it too. So when I read your comment I was confused. There has been the odd negative comment before but most have been positive, or exuberant even. So I decided to make a new batch to resolve my confusion once and for all. I happened to have a can of cranberry sauce and some oats so it was easy enough.

      The recipe worked perfectly. The bars turned out great and everyone at my house likes them. However, as I was making the recipe I realized something. The original instruction said to rub the cold butter into the flour mixture until butter pieces are no bigger than the oats. That was completely incorrect and I think I was writing out of habit because a lot of other recipes (like for pastry and other crusts) that use cut up cold butter use that phrasing.

      Instead, what I actually do, and what I should have written, is to rub the butter into the flour until it is completely gone. That is, until your fingers have essentially melted it and rubbed it until it is actually coating the flour particles and oats. You shouldn’t be able to see any specks of butter. I have edited the instructions in the above recipe to say that. I suspect that the problem was that too much of the dry ingredients didn’t have fat on them, so those patches in the crust ended up crumbly due to not being bound together.

      Note, I’m going to try making the recipe again next week using softened butter. I think that will be much easier to work into the dry ingredients, and it will ensure that nobody (me or anyone) thinks that the butter is supposed to be in small pieces, like for pastry, when it is actually meant to be fully incorporated. I might also try it using melted butter. I guess it depends on if we get sick of cranberry bars or not!

      Thank you for your feedback. My sincere apologies for the recipe not turning out.

  4. Susan says:

    This is the tastiest way to use up cranberry sauce leftovers, but mine came out entirely too sweet for my family. Next time I’ll be cutting way back on the brown sugar. 

  5. Janet says:

    Like Lisa, this recipe didn’t work out for me. Luckily I was able to salvage it by mixing in 2 eggs and some vanilla.

  6. Heather McCurdy says:

    It’s recipes like this that make me happy to have cranberries in my freezer year ’round.

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Me too, Heather! I like to get a few extra bags during the holidays so they are waiting when the craving hits! :)

  7. Cheryl says:

    Thank you, Christine, for your prompt response. I kind of thought that “no steel-oats” might be the case!

  8. Cheryl says:

    I haven’t made these yet. They look delicious. Can you use steel-cut oatmeal vs. old fashioned rolled oats? Thank you!

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Cheryl, you can’t use steel-cut oats here. They’d be really hard and wouldn’t soften. It has to be rolled oats for this one.

  9. Lisa says:

    My sister and I are both seasoned bakers. We tried this recipe and like Rachel T’s experience, it was a colossal fail: too much flour made it extremely dry and inedible. The ingredient ratios for butter, flour, oatmeal and cranberry were completely wrong. It was a complete waste of time and ingredients!

    • Christine Pittman says:

      So sorry to hear that, Lisa. We get so much positive feedback on this recipe, I’m not sure what went wrong for you!

  10. Caroline says:

    Should the pan be greased….or can the bars be easily taken from the pan?

    • Christine Pittman says:

      The cranberry bar pan does not need to be greased because there’s a lot of butter in the crumb mixture that goes in the bottom. The bars come out easily. Enjoy, Caroline!

  11. Ginger says:

    Excellent recipe! I halved it and used a square baking dish. I had some leftover homemade cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving that was in my freezer. I am so glad I found this recipe!

  12. Paula B. says:

    Will definitely save this recipe.

  13. Cheryl says:

    These look like a perfectly sweet treat.

  14. Sarah L says:

    What a great use for leftover cranberry sauce. I’d just buy some on sale and get extra to use for this.

  15. Rebekah Kalinowski says:

    These sound absolutely delicious! Cranberry sauce is the most underrated part of Thanksgiving dinner!

  16. Jennifer Phillips says:

    These are great for the holidays, making them for all the volunteers at Project help!!

  17. Angelica says:

    I worked at a coffee shop that sold these like 15 years ago, I kind of forgot cranberry bars existed since then, I used to love getting them as a little treat in the morning! The nostalgia will run high when I make these for Christmas!

  18. karen says:

    Need a quick recipe to make some goodies for a meeting. This should work prefect.

  19. Calvin says:

    Could be a good snack, wholesome kick of energy when you need a quick bite.

  20. Debbie Yoder says:

    These sound so good! My Mom used to make a date oatmeal bar that was one of my favorites!

  21. Tina Woo says:

    These look delicious! I will make extra cranberry sauce at Christmas to try with this, but in the meantime I have some pear-fig jam I’m going to use.

  22. Deborah Waddell says:

    Perfect to take to our Christmas potluck party.

  23. Judy B Hill says:

    Delicious! I used my cranberry sauce from Whole Foods which is very tart and it was the best. Thanks for the recipe and I will try my Apricot jam next. So easy and everyone loved it. I put mine in a round cake pan and halved the recipe. They looked great in triangles when I plated them. Mmmm!

  24. Cindy Cotter says:

    I’m gonna try this recipe today. I have exactly the right amount of leftover cranberry sauce. Also loved the suggestions for fruity alternatives to the sauce. I have some jars of homemade green tomato marmalade languishing in my freezer that I can try another day. Thanks!

  25. Elaine says:

    Can you freeze the cranberry squares?

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Yes Elaine, you can freeze them. Wrap square individually, or a few in a single layer together, in aluminum foil. Then put them in an airtight freezer-safe container or ziptop bag and freeze for up to 3 months.

  26. Susan Smith says:

    These look delicious! This is a great recipe to use leftover cranberry sauce and we usually have some left over.

  27. Amanda B. says:

    My kids would LOVE these!

  28. Paddy Bateman says:

    So easy to put together.  Like other comment, could not wait for them to cool completely, husband and I ate 2 squares and these are delicious!  Very nice flavour, love the tartness  of the cranberries.  Definitely a keeper and will be making this one for our next aquafit coffee hour!  Thank you for sharing other comments, gives newbies confidence in attempting new recipes and ideas to change it up.  I added sliced almonds into the topping, and left in oven another 8 minutes to brown the edges.  Sending this one to my sister!!  We love date squares, but this is an excellent change up! 

  29. Char says:

    I’ve made these & not a cranberry person but these were very good so my question is, I’m going to Florida Thursday Mar 21st to visit my grandson & would like to make these to take down there which will be a 3hr flight.. would that be ok beings their not refiigerated? Thank you

  30. Lynn says:

    Great recipe to use up the leftover cranberry sauce!  Delicious!!!

  31. DAVID says:

    Followed the recipe for the cranberry oatmeal bars and they turned out delicious. I left it in electric oven for 30 minutes at 350.

  32. Jefe says:

    Cranberry sauce has never been a huge thing with the family, so no one missed it when I forgot to put it out for Thanksgiving.  I never thought I would search “leftover cranberry sauce ideas”…glad I did. These are spectacular. Now next year when I make the cranberry sauce, I won’t have to think, “no one ever eats this”…lol
    Thanks for this keeper.

  33. Mary Crawford says:

    These are wonderful! My husband does not like cranberry sauce but he loved these bars! (said they are “addictive”). I followed the recipe except I cut the recipe in half and used a 8X8 pan. I had a cup of homemade cranberry sauce and it was just the right amount for the smaller pan. I also added 1/3 cup of chopped pecans to the topping. This little recipe has a lot of versatility so I am looking forward to trying it again with other types of fruit fillings – maybe cherry pie filling or rhubarb? Yum

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Mary, Yessss! I love the pecan idea and the other pie fillings. Pumpkin with pumpkin pie spice would also work, I bet. And probably any kind of jam that you have going uneaten on the door of your fridge. Maybe melt it a bit in the microwave first to make it more spreadable. So happy you liked the recipe!

  34. Ellen says:

    These came out great! I didn’t let them set/cool because they smelled so too and I lack self control. I’m sure they would have held form better if I had let them set, however they were like a warm cobbler. Absolutely delicious! I’m saving some for my family so they will get to eat ones that have set. But really even straight from the oven they were wonderful and didn’t really have any issues other than they weren’t has firm as they would be if I had let them set.

  35. jim says:

    The first time I made these, I didn’t have enough cran sauce, so I substituted the last 1/4 C of filling with Three Fruit Marmalade. Everyone loves them, so I’m sticking with this version!

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Jim, That sounds fantastic. I bet the tang and extra stickiness of the marmalade was really amazing. I’m going to try it too!

  36. Pauline says:

    Christine… I just made these cranberry oatmeal bars this morning and they are DELICIOUS! I did add an additional 1/4 cup of butter; but it’s very moist and an awesome use of leftover cranberry sauce! I used my own home made cranberry sauce. I did bake it for an additional 10 minutes on the bottom rack and then moved it to the top rack for approximately 6-8 minutes and the top was lightly browned! Thank you very much for sharing this!! I look forward to seeing more of your recipes~! happy new year and happy baking!

  37. Jenny says:

    These were perfect! So easy, too. I made great cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving, and I was feeling bad about wasting it. This used up my leftover cranberry sauce, just the right amount. I have some more jams in the fridge than I can ever use on toast or sandwiches, so I’ll try those next. Thanks! 

  38. Kim says:

    Made these today with my leftover homemade cran sauce that had oranges in it, so doubley yummy for this recipe. Topping came out crumblier than I expected but still good. I ended up lining the pan with parchment so I could get them out of the pan easier for cutting. Definitely a keeper.

  39. Ryann Laky says:

    I made these last night, and they turned out awesome. I used homemade cranberry sauce, just simple with sugar, water, and fresh cranberries. Then I followed this recipe to the exact measurement and instruction, and they turned out so well! They taste delicious. But I think next time I will use a bit more cranberry, and/or make some kind of frosting or glaze to gloss over the top. Just something to bring up the moisture of the dessert.

  40. Ed says:

    Will quick oats affect how the butter melts? 

  41. Kayla says:

    I made these with about roughly 1/4 cup extra butter and they turned out amazing! Served them at work and everyone loved them. Such a simple and yummy recipe.

  42. Rachel T says:

    Thanks for the tips! I’ll try it again. I may have goofed up a measurement somewhere! These bars just look so good, I hope I can get them right next time.

  43. Rachel T says:

    This recipe didn’t work out for me. Despite my best efforts to “moisten” the oat mixture with butter, it was too dry so I ended up with a powdery, raw flour topping. I read over the instructions many times and did everything right but was still left with less than desirable bars that look very different from the photo. Maybe melted butter would have pulled the topping together?

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Rachel, I’m not sure what went wrong. The idea is that your rub the butter and oats between your finger. It’s called “to crumb”. Here’s a video on youtube showing how to do it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_Yxd_sMYdo Except that one just has flour, no oats. You’re essentially coating all of the dry ingredients in a bit of butter. It will look dry but everything is slightly coated. When the bars cook, the butter melts evenly over everything so that it evenly cooks the topping.

  44. Mary says:

    Love them. The sweet but tart flavour of the cranberry sauce was delicious.  I found the oat mixture a bit dry. I wonder if decreasing the flour would help?  Will definitely make again with leftover cranberry sauce!

  45. Zoe says:

    When I made this recipe, I did 2 cranberry sauces!!

  46. Paula says:

    Am looking for a recipe for date nut bars. They were cut into bars and rolled in powered sugar. My mother made them but I lost all my recipes.

  47. Lauren says:

    Re: setting up overnight — they were just very delicate before all the fat resolidified once it fully cooled. (Sorry, couldn’t figure out how to continue nesting replies. :)

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Lauren, I understand. Yes, they definitely need to cool. I should perhaps state that more forcefully in the recipe. Thanks for your feedback.

  48. Lauren says:

    This was solid! Definitely needed to set up overnight, but it was tasty in my lunch box today.

    Would love to see flour and sugar measured by weight. (Yeah, there are conversion tables, but I don’t know if they’re true to the amounts used to develop the recipe.) Thanks for this recipe that finally used up the last of my Thanksgiving cranberry sauce!

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Lauren,
      Glad you liked them. I’m concerned about their need to set up overnight. I’ve never encountered this. Can you explain more?

  49. Barbara Clark says:

    do you grease the pan?

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Barbara, I don’t since the butter in the crust seems to stop it from sticking. But there would be no harm in greasing it.

  50. Jerri says:

    Just made them (look delicious), but would like to keep them for Christmas. Can you freeze them for a week or 2?

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Jerri, I’ve actually never tried but I think they’ll be fine. All of the ingredients hold up well to freezing. My only concern is that they could get mushy. If they do, I wonder if a bit of time back in the oven would help.

  51. JoEllyn Martin says:

    I made these as gifts for the holidays and it is a very good recipe! I had leftover fresh cranberry sauce from Thanksgiving but it was just shy of the 1-1/2 cups needed so I added a pint jar of sour cherry jam I canned over the summer. The combination of the two flavors was wonderful! Thank you for the recipe.

  52. Annie says:

    I also had the problem with the top browning. I baked for 35 minutes and it still didn’t brown. I followed the recipe and I know how to use my oven.

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Annie, They don’t actually have to brown to be done. I’ve discovered that different brands of oats brown at different rates. If you bake them for 28 minutes, they’ll be done even if not browned. I just edited the recipe to remove the bit about them browning so that others don’t have this problem.

  53. Angelica says:

    Just made the recipe with some canned cranberry sauce that my mother of law gave me. She did’t know what to do with them,  neither I at first. I’m glad that i find your recipe.  Is great,  yummy.  My husband love it too.  Maybe I’ll start to store cans of cranberry sauce this year.  

  54. Ami says:

    Great little recipe and so easy to make! I always make my own whole cranberry sauce spiced up a bit with cinnamon — don’t know why anyone would ever eat the canned stuff — but I often have a little bit leftover. This recipe was an ideal use for it.

  55. […] we have too much of this Thanksgiving? Cranberry sauce and with the help of a recipe from Cook The Story, we’re turning it into a yummy Cranberry Oatmeal Bar that will make a perfect after school […]

  56. Thanks for the great recipe! We used it on our Kids In The Kitchen series on YouTube and wanted to let you know that it was a great recipe that is also very kid friendly.
    If you would like to check out the video you can see it at: https://youtu.be/2VWi2P3T_U8

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Hey Amanda,
      Love the video! How fun. I’m delighted that you like the recipe too. (And always so nice to stumble on a fellow Canadian blogger).

  57. […] Or, check out these other ideas for what to do with leftover cranberry sauce. My favorite is this recipe for cranberry oatmeal bars. […]

  58. Michelle says:

    I love these!!!!! I’ve made them twice now and the first time had an oops but I must say, came out better than the second time which I followed the recipe. The first time, I only had 1 stick of unsalted butter, so I added a lactose free stick for the second half and they were so moist and amazing. This time I used 2 sticks of unsalted butter and they were not as moist. The top was very crumbly, but still very delicious!

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Michelle, Thanks for letting me know! How interesting that they were better with half lactose-free butter. I might have to try the recipe using all lactose-free to see what effect that has. Have a great day!

  59. S A Martin says:

    These were a huge hit with the volunteers at my local food pantry. I made a pan of them for the distribution day prior to Thanksgiving.
    Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  60. alan says:

    I can’t wait to try them… FYI, my mom “invented” the same thing about 50 years ago — but I’m pretty sure it was either suggested on a product container or came from Betty Crocker somewhere… :)

  61. courtney says:

    I’m not sure if you are aware but the recipe calls for brown sugar but never tells you when to add it. Wow! Just wasted money on these.

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Courtney, I am so so very sorry. It is added when you add the flour. I’ve edited the recipe to reflect this change.

  62. Renee says:

    Made these today and they are awesome! I sprinkled 2 tablespoons of white sugar on top before I baked them to give them a shiny look so the kids would eat them. It worked!

  63. Nikki says:

    Delighted to find this recipe, the end produce seems right up my street.. But there is a flaw in the instructions. Sugar listed in the ingredients but no instruction as to when this should be added to the mixture. I added it after rubbing in. The mixture is in the oven cooking so not sure how they will turn out. Have rated the recipe based on a successful outcome.

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Nikki,
      So sorry for missing the sugar in the instructions. It’s added when you add the flour. I’ve edited the recipe to reflect this. I hope they turned out good with adding the sugar when you did.

  64. Ginnie says:

    I made these today and I think they taste wonderful! Mine never really “browned”. I cooked them on 325 because my oven cooks at a higher temperature and I left them in for probably 35 minutes, just watching them carefully. Great way to use left over cranberry sauce, which I always have after Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thank you for sharing!!

  65. […] Number 13: Cranberry Oatmeal Bars […]

  66. Jane says:

    I have made this recipe three times now and will not be making it again. It is impossible to get the top of the bars to brown. The last time I made it I baked it for 35 minutes and the top still didn’t brown. In desperation, I drizzled some melted butter over the top and place it under the broiler. Despite only being under the broiler for approximately 30 seconds, the top burned. In one last attempt to save the dish, I topped it with chopped nuts, but it still didn’t mask the burned taste. Oh, well, it’s only money, right? Money for the butter, sugar, flour, cranberry sauce, etc. etc. etc. I am a gourmet cook and rarely come across a recipe that I can’t make work, but this is one of them. I would have given it one star, but am giving it two because of the creativity of using cranberry sauce.

    • Nadia says:

      I can’t say I blame anyone but you for burning the bars. This is a pretty simple and straight forward recipe; maybe you should consider learning how to use your oven properly.

  67. Christine: These bars look amazing! I have always bought the raspberry oatmeal bars from Whole Food Market, but I’ll try to make my own using your recipe… Thanks a lot!

  68. Love these bars! Cranberries are now a total favourite in our house. Can’t seem to get enough of that tart flavour. Hope the flight to the UK was smooth C:

  69. phyllis says:

    Thanks for the kind words, but you are my inspiration. These cranberry bars are truly delicious.

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