No-bake treats are the unsung hero of the holidays. With turkeys, casseroles, cookies, and muffins flying in and out of the oven in one continuous rotation, no-bake goodies free up precious oven space…and you can’t burn them!
I made these No-Bake Cocoa Cranberry Layer Bars the week before Thanksgiving and they were a hit. It’s such a delight to open the freezer and find a sweet treat ready and waiting to be gobbled up by guests and drop-in visitors around the holidays. Rich with the flavors of cocoa, tangy cranberries, and buttery walnuts, these bars bring together a few of the season’s most beloved ingredients.
Using soaked cashews as the base for the cocoa layer provides that creamy quality without the need for dairy-based cream cheese or yogurt. Because the texture is similar to cheesecake, no one will ever suspect that these bars are dairy-free.
I’m not a juice drinker (unless it’s freshly prepared and packed full of greens), but I like to keep a bottle of organic apple juice in the fridge around this time of year for using in treats like these…and in savory cooking, too. It adds fruitiness and sweetness without refined sugar. If you’d like to give these bars an orange spin, I think orange juice would work well as a swap here and pair deliciously with the cranberries and cocoa.
Layered recipes always look complicated and long because of the different components, but they’re actually super simple to make. Don’t be afraid of the detailed directions for these bars. They come together without much effort and once you put them in the freezer for their final chill, your work is done.
No-Bake Cocoa Cranberry Layer Bars
Makes 16 bars
1 cup raw cashews
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, divided
1/2 cup unsweetened organic apple juice, divided
4 tablespoons maple syrup (preferably Grade B), divided
Pinch of cinnamon
1 1/2 cups raw walnuts, divided
1 cup gluten-free rolled oats (see grain-free option below)
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup (packed) pitted Medjool dates, divided
2 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
2 tablespoons virgin coconut oil
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Line an 8×8-inch baking dish with parchment paper, leaving an overhang of an inch or two on the sides (you’ll grab this to pull the bars out of the pan later).
Place the cashews in a heat-safe bowl and cover completely with boiling water. Set aside.
Place 1 cup of the cranberries, 1/4 cup of the apple juice, 2 tablespoons of the maple syrup, and the cinnamon in a small pot set over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and let the sauce bubble for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries burst and begin to break down. Use the back of a large spoon to mash the cranberries against the side of the pot to yield a thick sauce. Set aside.
In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, combine 1 cup of walnuts, oats, and salt. Process until finely ground, about 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup (packed) of the dates. Process until incorporated. Add the applesauce and process just until a dough forms. Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the lined baking dish. Spread the cranberry sauce evenly over the crust. Place the dish in the freezer.
Wipe out the food processor and return it to the base. Drain the cashews and add them to the food processor with the remaining 1/2 cup of cranberries, 1/4 cup of apple juice, 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, 1/4 cup (packed) of dates, and the coconut oil. Process until thick and fairly creamy, about 1 minute, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice. Add the cocoa powder and continue to process until smooth, again stopping to scrape the down the sides of the bowl a few times.
Remove the crust from the freezer. Spread the chocolate mixture evenly over the cranberry layer. Chop the remaining 1/2 cup walnuts and sprinkle them over the top. Return the pan to the freezer for at least 2 hours. Remove the bar “slab” from the pan using the parchment paper overhang. Cut into 16 bars. Store the bars in an airtight container in the freezer. Thaw for 5 minutes before serving.
*Grain-Free Option: Use unsweetened shredded coconut in place of the rolled oats.