These buttery cherry crumble bars are little slices of heaven, that's what they are.
The shortbread base is everything shortbread should be - rich, not too sweet, and so tender it melts in your mouth. Top the buttery shortbread with orange liquor-spiked cherry preserves and crispy, crunchy, sweet butter crumbs for bars that resemble cherry crumb pie in cookie form.
One of my all-time favorite things to make during cherry season is Cherry Crumb Pie. The pie uses sweet cherries and is covered in a crunchy buttery crumb topping that I could eat by the handful.
These cherry bars remind me of that pie, except there's no need to wait for cherry season to make them. Here's what we've got going on here:
- A tender, buttery, easy-to-make shortbread base
- Cherry jam spiked with a bit of orange zest and Cointreau
- The most delicious butter crumb topping that remains both crispy and tender even after baking
Ingredients Needed to Bake these Cherry Bars
- Butter! These cherry crumb bars include a lot of butter. Shortbread is mostly just butter and sugar and I don't call crumble topping "butter crumbs" for nothing! I use salted butter throughout the recipe in both the shortbread crust and the butter crumb topping because I feel that the extra salt helps balance out the rich, sweet flavor of these bars. But, if you're sensitive to salt, use unsalted butter so that you have total control over the amount of salt in your cherry crumble bars.
- Granulated sugar and Brown sugar. These bars include granulated sugar in the shortbread cookie base and brown sugar in the butter crumb topping.
- Pure vanilla extract. Imitation vanilla extract can leave a bitter aftertaste, so be sure to use the real thing in these cookies.
- All-purpose flour and Cake Flour. I like to use all-purpose flour to make the shortbread cookie base and cake flour to make the butter crumb topping. The lower protein content of cake flour makes the crumble topping so tender they practically melt in your mouth.
- Salt. In addition to using salted butter, I also like to add an extra ¼ teaspoon of salt to the butter crumb topping. To my taste buds, this creates flavorful, balanced, buttery crumbs. But, as always, if you're sensitive to salt, adjust the recipe to your preferences.
- A pinch of cinnamon and ginger. A touch of cinnamon and ginger in the butter crumb topping is the perfect compliment to the flavor of cherry preserves.
- Cherry jam or preserves. There are only 3 ingredients in the cherry layer in these bars - cherry preserves, orange zest, and Cointreau. Since there's nothing in there to cover up the flavor, it's pretty important to not skimp on the cherry preserves (or jam).
- If you're one of those wonderful people who made some homemade cherry jam last year then you're ahead of us all. And, don't be surprised if I show up to your house and beg for a jar. (I do live in a house on wheels, after all.) If you, like me, are not blessed with a jar of homemade preserves in your pantry, just make sure to purchase a jar of something high quality.
- Orange Zest. A couple of teaspoons of orange zest add a hit of bright, fresh flavor to the cherry filling in these bars that's positively delicious.
- Cointreau or another kind of orange liquor. In concert with the orange zest, a tablespoon of orange liquor adds some complexity and depth to the cherry filling without interfering with the flavor of the cherries.
Pro tip! It really is important to use high-quality cherry jam or preserves to make these cookies.
If you're one of those resourceful people who made some homemade cherry jam recently, this is a great way to showcase your hard work. And don't be surprised if I show up at your house and beg for a jar. I do live in a house on wheels after all. 😊
If you are not blessed with a jar of homemade preserves in your pantry, just purchase a jar of something that tastes good to you.
For the bars you see pictured here, I used Bonne Maman Cherry Preserves and can vouch for the quality and flavor. It doesn't really matter what kind of cherries the preserves are made from. The main thing you're looking for can be found in the ingredient list. There should be little to nothing else in there besides fruit, sugar, lemon juice, and pectin.
Variations and Substitutions
- For a "pure" cherry flavor: leave out the orange zest and orange liquor. A touch of orange zest and liquor adds an interesting complexity to these bars. But, you can leave them out if you prefer.
- Use orange extract instead of orange liquor: Replace the orange liquor with 1 teaspoon of orange extract.
- Use any other flavor of jam or preserves in place of cherry. I have made these with blueberry jam, strawberry rhubarb jam, peach preserves and apricot jam. It's ALL good.
- Instead of orange zest and orange liquor: Replace the orange zest with lemon zest and the orange liquor with limoncello. This is particularly delicious if using blueberry or apricot jam instead of cherry jam.
How to Prepare the Pan so the Bars Won't Stick
These cherry bars are baked as a cake and then cut into individual bars once cool. So, important to have a game plan for how to get the bars out of the pan so you can cut them with ease.
Flipping it upside down will mean losing some of those precious crumbs. Cutting the cake into bars inside the pan is an option... but it's difficult to get the first couple of bars out without breaking them.
The easiest way to get the whole cake out of the pan is to simply line your baking dish with parchment paper that comes up and over the sides of the pan. This allows you to lift the whole cake out of the pan at once, so you can set it on a cutting board and cut it into bars.
- Start by spraying your baking dish with a bit of non-stick spray. Alternatively, you can smear around a bit of vegetable shortening or butter. The grease acts as a kind of glue that conforms to the inside of the pan and sticks in place.
- Then simply cut two pieces of parchment paper so that two of the sides fit inside the pan and the long sides stretch up and over the sides of the pan.
- Press one into the pan, spray it with a bit more non-stick spray, then press the other into the pan, laying it perpendicular to the first.
- Spray the second piece with a bit more non-stick spray to help ensure that the cookies themselves will not stick.
Step-by-Step Photos and Instructions
To make the shortbread crust for these cherry bars, start by beating butter and sugar until the mixture is light in color and fluffy looking.
Add the vanilla and beat for a few more seconds to combine.
Add the flour and salt and beat on the lowest speed just until incorporated. For the most tender shortbread bars, be careful to not overbeat.
Press the shortbread into the baking dish with your fingers and then bake the crust for 35 minutes.
While the shortbread cools, make the butter crumb topping by dumping all the ingredients into a bowl and using your fingers to mix until the dry ingredients are moistened with butter.
Transfer the crumbs to a baking sheet, squeezing them together with your fingers to create some clumps.
Bake the crumbs for 15 minutes. This pre-baking will help them hold their shape while the bars bake.
Mix the cherry preserves with the orange zest and Cointreau and spread them over the shortbread.
Spread the butter crumbs over the jam and bake for another 35 minutes.
Let the cherry bars rest in the pan until completely cool, then use the parchment to lift them out of the pan. Cut them into bars and they are ready to eat!
Make Ahead and Storage Tips
The butter crumbs for these cherry bars can be prepared up to a week before you plan to make the cookies. After baking them for 15 minutes, dump them into a zip-top bag or other air-tight container and store them in the refrigerator until you're ready to use them.
The shortbread crust can be prepared in advance. Follow the recipe instructions to mix the shortbread dough, press it into the prepared baking dish and bake for 35 minutes. Allow the shortbread to cool, then cover and store at room temperature for up to 3 days.
Baked cherry crumble bars will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If preparing the bars in advance, leave them in the baking dish, cover the pan, and store them in the refrigerator until you're ready to cut them into bars and serve.
Leftover, cut bars can also be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
More Recipes for Cherry Lovers:
How about a cherry cocktail to go with your cherry crumble bars? Cherry Citrus Prosecco Spritzer
If you give this recipe a try, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, or take a picture and tag it #ofbatteranddough on Instagram.
Cherry Shortbread Crumble Bars
Every bite of these cherry and crumb covered shortbread bars is soft and buttery, fruity, and crispy. A little like cherry crumb pie in cookie form. And making them couldn't be simpler.
For the Shortbread Base:
- 1 ½ cups (12 ounces/ 339 grams) salted butter, at room temperature
- ¼ cup + 2 tablespoons (75 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons (9 grams) pure vanilla extract
- 1 ½ cups (180 grams) all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon (3 grams) table salt, OR ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
For the Crumble Topping:
- 3 tablespoons (42 grams/ 1.5 ounces) salted butter, at room temperature
- ¾ cup (90 grams) cake flour
- ¼ cup (53 grams) light or dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon salt
For the cherry filling:
- 1 cup (12 ounces/ 340 grams) cherry jam or preserves
- 2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
- 1 tablespoon Cointreau or another orange liquor (*Optional - see note.)
Bake the shortbread base:
- Heat the oven to 350° F (176 ° C). Lightly spray an 8 or 9-inch square baking dish with non-stick spray. Cut a strip of parchment paper to fit inside the pan on two sides and come up and over the sides of the pan on the other two sides. Spray the parchment paper lightly with non-stick spray. Cut a second piece of parchment paper the same size as the first and fit it perpendicular to the first so that you have parchment paper coming up and over the sides of the pan on all four sides. (*See image above.)
- Beat the softened butter and sugar with an electric mixer until lightened in color and fluffy in texture, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla.
- Add the flour and salt and beat on low just until the flour is incorporated.
- Press the shortbread into the baking dish, pressing it into the corners and across the base of the pan in an even layer Bake for 35 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and let cool slightly while you prepare the crumb topping.
Prepare the Crumb Topping:
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil.
- Add all the crumb topping ingredients to a bowl and mix until all the dry ingredients are moistened with the butter. I like to do this with my fingers, gently rubbing the butter into the dry ingredients until fully incorporated.
- Use your hands to transfer the crumb topping to the baking sheet, squeezing it together as you do to create some clumps.
- Bake the crumbs in a 350° F (176° C) oven for 15 minutes, reversing the pan in the oven halfway through baking.
Prepare the cherry filling, and assemble and bake the bars:
- In a small bowl, mix the cherry preserves, orange zest, and Cointreau. Spread the filling over the shortbread, smoothing it into an even layer. Sprinkle the crumbs evenly over the top of the jam.
- Bake the bars in a 350° F (176°C) oven for 35 minutes, until the jam is bubbling all around the edges of the pan.
- Remove the pan from the oven and let cool completely. Use the parchment to lift the cake out of the pan and cut it into 12 bars.
Store the bars in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.
Can I leave the orange liquor out of this recipe?
Just 1 tablespoon of Cointreau, or any other kind of orange liquor, adds complexity to these cherry crumble bars and intensifies the interplay between the orange and cherry flavors. Having said that, these are perfectly delicious without it.
If you don't want to use orange liquor but want to play up the orange flavor, you could also increase the amount of orange zest and/ or add a bit of orange extract.
How to make these cherry crumble bars without any orange flavor:
If you want the flavor of these cherry crumble bars to be purely cherry, feel free to leave out the orange zest and cointreau entirely.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1 bar
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 423Total Fat: 26gSaturated Fat: 16gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 69mgSodium: 361mgCarbohydrates: 45gFiber: 1gSugar: 21gProtein: 3g
I just made these and used the exact measurements. I used Kerry Gold butter. After baking, the bottom was just a greasy mess. Butter kept bubbling up to the top even after baking it first. Any ideas what went wrong?
Rebecca Blackwell says
Hi Sharon! What a bummer... It's so frustrating when things don't turn out as expected. 😞 There are a few reasons why some of the butter might have leaked out of your dough, most of which have to do with temperature. Out of curiosity, what kind of pan were you using - metal, glass, or ceramic?
Oven temperature might be a factor here. Most ovens are not accurate. If your oven runs hot, that might be the culprit, especially if the butter was pretty warm. When beating the butter and sugar, the butter should be room temperature soft, but not so warm that it's beginning to melt. If the butter was overly warm it might not have fully incorporated into the sugar. Then, if the cookies were baked in a metal pan in an oven that runs a bit hot, you might have had a perfect storm of factors that combined to create the problem.
Do any of these reasons sound like they might be the culprit?
These bars are so yummy. I’m not typically a fan of shortbread, but the combination with the cherry and crumbles was amazing. I didn’t have any orange liquor so I used orange extract instead and it was perfect. They were a definite crowd pleaser. Thank you so much for this recipe!!
Rebecca Blackwell says
I am so happy to hear that you liked this recipe Keiki! Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment for me. I truly appreciate it! Thank you for participating in the Bake Club! xo
As I was making these bars, I realized that I didn’t have orange liquor or oranges! I decided to zest a little clementine and then squeezed the juice into the cherry jam and it was delicious! Second day after making them we had them with our morning coffee! Absolutely delicious! Thanks for another great recipe!
Rebecca Blackwell says
I am so happy to hear that this recipe worked out well for you! My favorite time of day to eat these is for breakfast. I love how they taste with coffee. 🙂 Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment for me! And, thank you for participating in the Bake Club! xo
Loved this easy dessert recipe! I never considered pre-baking the crumb topping, but your right it, helps keep it crispy and prevents it from sinking into the filling. I’m going to try this trick the next time I make an apple crisp 🙂
I just made these and even though I baked them according to the instructions it does not seem like my shortbread was cooked all the way through. Is this the norm because there is so much butter in it? Is it supposed to be soft or be a little crispy? Everything else about it is delicious.
Rebecca Blackwell says
Hi Melanie! The base for these cookies is a soft shortbread... similar to what you'd find in a Thumbprint Cookie. If you baked them twice, 35 minutes before adding the jam and crumbs and then 35 minutes after adding the jam and crumbs, and the jam was hot and bubbly when you removed them from the oven, I'm sure the shortbread was baked through. I can see how, if you're expecting the base to be crispy, it might have seemed like they weren't baked all the way. But these cookies are supposed to be a variety of textures - soft and buttery base, thick jam, and crispy crumb topping. I hope that answers your question! Please let me know if you have any others! xo
Nikki P says
These sound great. I just happened to pick up some Raspberry Amaretto Jam I think that is going to sub in for the Cherry.
Thank you for a great starting point for what I think is going to be a great bar cookie. (thinking the next might have to be Apricot!)
Rebecca Blackwell says
Oh man... Raspberry amaretto jam sounds fantastic! Please let me know how it works out for you! I think apricot would be fabulous especially if you added in some almond extract or amaretto. There's something about apricots and almonds that is meant to be. 🙂
Nikki P says
I will add Amaretto to just about anything! And you are right Apricot and Amaretto and or almonds pair beautifully. (kind of all in the same family..."what grows together goes together" theory)
Do you think these are too crumbly to cut into heart shaped for Valentine’s Day?
Rebecca Blackwell says
Good question, Ellen. And good idea. I think they could be cut into heart shapes... but, I think what would be easier is to shape them from the start in heart shaped molds. If you laid heart shaped cookie cutters (like these cookie cutters) onto a baking sheet and then baked the cookies in them. I think you could just press the shortbread right into the cookie cutters, adding the jam and crumble topping later just as you would if you were baking these in a baking dish. Does that make sense?
Nikki P says
Personal opinion here but I would think if you pressed the crumbs a bit so that they are not "loose" they would hold together cutting them. I would make sure the cutter you are using is tall enough so that the top does not get disturbed when cutting them.