Orange Zested Cranberry Bliss Bars

Knockoff versions of Starbuck’s popular cranberry bliss bars are nothing new. In fact, because recipes are widely available on the internet, I hesitated sharing my adaptations but after eating about 46 of these because I.just.couldn’t.stop, I realized others of you may benefit from this recipe also. I’m all about sharing caloric bliss (see what I did there?) and joy in this holiday season of giving.

I changed up quite a few ingredients here and there to lighten these bars ever so slightly as well as adjust the flavor profile just a bit. I made them in early November to serve to a bunch of families/kids at a church event – they were requested by my 8-year old who loves dried cranberries more than his own mother – and I was surprised at how well they were received, especially since they were sitting next to decadent brownies and peanut butter and oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. In my experience, desserts like this don’t stand a chance next to classic brownies, especially when faced with a bunch of youngsters. I’m pretty sure me, the other parents and my son enjoyed the vast majority of them which was clearly A-ok with the lot of us.

Orange Zested Cranberry Bliss Bars

If you haven’t tasted one of these fabulous bars or aren’t familiar, the base is a chewy, blondie bar studded with dried cranberries and white chocolate and topped with a decadent cream cheese frosting, more dried cranberries and a drizzle of white chocolate. The flavors are so delicious and seasonal, kind of like Christmas-in-a-pan, and the bars themselves are absolute beauty. Not to mention that it just feels right to bring something this pretty and unique to an event when you already know there’s going to be a plethora of traditional cookies and sweets there. Wow factor combined with absolute yumminess is a winning combo.

Because I think fresh orange zest belongs in the world, I added it both to the blondie batter and to the frosting; it definitely adds a lovely depth of flavor and along with the tart cranberries helps to balance the sweetness. Plus, I love the pop of color it gives to the bars. Don’t you?

If you haven’t jumped on the cranberry bliss bar train, I’m thinking there’s no better time than the present!

Orange Zested Cranberry Bliss Bars

One Year Ago: Butternut Squash Stuffed Shells with Sage Browned Butter
Two Years Ago: Cranberry-Jalapeno Cream Cheese Dip
Three Years Ago: Chocolate Orange Swirl Muffins

Orange Zested Cranberry White Chocolate Bliss Bars

Yield: Makes a 9X13-inch pan of bars

Orange Zested Cranberry White Chocolate Bliss Bars

I use 1/3 less fat cream cheese for the frosting - it makes the frosting slightly (very slightly) more runny than if using full fat cream cheese but the taste is the same, in my opinion, with fewer calories. Also, I get this question a lot when I post recipes that call for melted white chocolate - white baking bars melt a lot better than white chocolate chips which are notoriously bad melters (they have a tendency to seize very easily if even slightly overheated).


  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
  • 1 1/3 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
  • 2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped (this helps distribute them more evenly throughout the batter)
  • 4 ounces white baking chocolate, coarsely chopped or 1/2 - 2/3 cup white chocolate chips
  • Frosting and Topping:
  • 1 package (8 ounces) light cream cheese, softened
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest
  • 4 ounces white baking chocolate, melted
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and lightly grease a 9X13-inch pan with cooking spray.
  2. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter. Stir in the brown sugar until well-combined. Whisk in the eggs, vanilla extract and orange zest.
  3. Stir in the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon until well-combined then fold in the cranberries and white chocolate.
  4. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake for 18-22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with moist (not gooey) crumbs. Don't overbake. Let the bars cool completely in the pan.
  5. For the frosting, using an electric mixer (handheld or stand mixer), beat the softened cream cheese and powdered sugar together until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Mix in the vanilla and orange zest (alternately, you can save the orange zest and sprinkle it on the bars before drizzling the chocolate). Scoop in about half of the melted chocolate and mix until creamy and well-combined.
  6. Spread the frosting onto the cooled bars. Sprinkle with cranberries and drizzle the remaining white chocolate over the top. Refrigerate until the chocolate is set - these taste best chilled. Cut into triangles or squares to serve.

Recipe Source: adapted from Recipe Girl and The Girl Who Ate Everything (decreased butter, used light cream cheese in frosting, added orange zest to blondie batter and frosting, used slightly less sugar in the blondie batter, used less white chocolate in the batter and in the frosting, added vanilla to the frosting, etc.)

29 Responses to Orange Zested Cranberry White Chocolate Bliss Bars {A Slightly Lighter Version}

  1. Erika says:

    I crave these bars and many other goodies my friends have made of your recipes!!! Thank you!!!

  2. Stephanie Banner says:

    These are amazing! They are beyond good- one of the most delicious sweets I’ve made. And they’re so beautiful and festive. Perfection!

  3. adrienne says:

    Thumbs up on these Mel! Great texture in the blondie layer. Yum!

  4. Kari says:

    I just made these and they are fantastic. The only thing I did differently was to use clementine zest instead of orange zest since that is what I had. Just like Starbucks!

  5. Rebecca says:

    Is it too early in the season to make these again?!?! Totally a Labor Day dessert right?

  6. […] baked a slightly lightened version from Mel’s Kitchen Café, where the sugar and butter have been reduced and the full fat cream cheese has been swapped for […]

  7. Heidi says:

    Thank you for thus recipe. It was a delicious and unique addition to my holiday goodie plates. You are amazIng, Mel!

  8. Oh, Mel, Mel. Oh, my. I made these bars last night for a funeral this morning. I let them chill in the fridge overnight and cut up the bars this morning. The waft or orange drifting from the fridge was enough to let me know these were going to be awesome. After arranging them on the platter, I finally snitched. The first bite was great. But before I could get to the second bite, the aftertaste kicked in — these are my new favorite bars! I did cheat,, having never been to Starbucks before, and chopped up one small dark chocolate bar and sprinkled it on top. I hope you will forgive me, but I stayed true to the rest of the recipe. Thanks!

  9. Lauri says:

    I made these because I’ve had a package of cream cheese in my fridge for way too long. They are delicious & a hit with my in-laws. Thanks!!!

  10. Dina says:

    i love these bars. great job!

  11. Swirled and Springkled says:

    I saw this recipe last night and made 2 9×13 pans of these tonight. The only thing I had difficulty with was with the last step…the white baking chocolate (I used Almond Bark) was too thick to drizzle. I have them in the fridge now–can’t wait to try them tomorrow!

  12. Rebecca says:

    Thank you! Just made these and they are completely amazing! Better than the Starbucks version. I did use regular cream cheese, just because that’s what I had, but did everything else exactly as written. I am in love!

  13. Viktoriya says:

    How did you drizzle the white chocolate on top so perfectly? Did you use a fork or some other tool??

  14. Being a Starbuckian myself – (I work at the corporate offices in Seattle), I can tell you that a lighter version is sooooo needed! The full sugar variety actually hurt my teeth they are so sweet! I can’t wait to try this scaled down version! p.s. your pics are divine!

  15. Cammee says:

    I haven’t had These at Starbucks, probably because I am so in love with the lemon pound cake. These look divine! My MIL just told me to surprise her when I asked what to bring Christmas Eve. Surprise!

  16. Viktoriya says:

    Could I use lemon zest instead of orange zest possibly?:)

    • Mel says:

      Viktoriya – I don’t think the lemon zest would marry as well with the other flavors – I’d probably use orange zest if I had the choice between the two.

  17. Kim in MD says:

    I have not ever tried the Starbucks version, but I am going to make your recipe this weekend…it looks amazing and perfect for Christmas!

  18. Sheila says:

    Oh, this recipe is calling to me! But there is no room on my food prep list to include this right now. I am working on ten recipes this weekend in preparation for Christmas Eve and Day and all but one of them is Mels. 🙂 Maybe New Year’s Eve or Day? This is going to be such a delightful weekend preparing many gifts of love (i.e. food) for loved ones. And all thanks to you, Mel, for all your hard work behind the scenes and then your willingness to pass the delicious results, with skillful and helpful instructions, on to us so we can accomplish the same result. Now off to the kitchen carrying a grateful, excited heart!

  19. April says:

    I made these last year and froze them frosted with absolutely no problem!

  20. Nic says:

    I made a non-lightened up version of these just last night! I didn’t have an orange handy, so I added 2ish Tbsp of minced crystallized ginger. Yum! Can’t wait to try your version. Gotta compare & contrast, right??

  21. Katie says:

    Just made a batch using gluten free flour. Turned out amazing! Thanks so much for sharing all these fabulous recipes!

  22. I like the idea of it being a lighter version. This is the best reason to make it without a guilt.

  23. Teresa R. says:

    Last night we had the blueberry cream and angel dessert, and today my pants are way too tight! And now I’m tempted to make this today and totally ignore my expanding thighs. Anything with cream cheese icing gets my immediate attention. Once again, thank you for all of the wonderful recipes you’ve shared over the years.

  24. Rebecca says:

    I love these things! So happy this is the post I saw when I woke up! Could you freeze these? With or without the frosting? I’m cooking for Christmas and I need a little cranberry bliss in my life!

    • Mel says:

      Rebecca – hmm, that’s a good question on freezing. Most definitely the unfrosted bars will freeze great. Frosted? I’m inclined to think they’d be better frosted after they have thawed from the freezer. I’m afraid the cream cheese frosting may not like the freezer too much. Good luck!

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