Thursday, February 6, 2014

Blood Orange Bars: A ray of sunshine in the dead of winter


As I sit here writing this, we are 35 days away from daylight savings time and 44 days away from spring. Yes, I'm counting. But not because I'm tired of the cold and wet. On the contrary, California is in the middle of a drought - the worst since the mid-70s - so at this point a little wet weather is welcomed. No, my reason for the countdown is much more selfish - I hate the short days. Leaving work at 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. and it's already pitch black out depresses the hell out of me.

I am not a morning person. In fact, I'm the kind of person who has good intentions of getting up early to try and squeeze more into daylight hours but winds up hitting snooze for an hour and then resorts to resetting the alarm for a mere hour before work. Nope. Mornings are not for me. I prefer evenings. I especially prefer summer evenings when I get home and can take the pup out for a walk well before sunset. Or come home and have enough beautiful light left in the day to take some photos for this here blog. I'm aware that it's mostly psychological but I feel more productive when I leave work and the sun is still shining and I know I have a good two hours of light left in my day. 


As it stands now, I feel like I don't have time to get everything done that needs doing. This overwhelming feeling often has the opposite affect, bringing out the worst in me instead of forcing me to buckle down and get stuff done. I become Sybil with multiple Ani's fighting for control of a losing situation: Ani the procrastinator; Ani with a bad case of the lazies; Ani who would rather come home and nap because it's dark out; Ani who makes lists of shit that needs doing but never gets done. It's a struggle, people. Truly. So I'm counting the days until I can get my daylight back. 




Until then, I take comfort in the fact that the winter season is also citrus season. It's a taste of summer: bright, refreshing, juicy, sunshine in a bite. More over, we are in blood orange season: the tangy, more red fleshed Moro is available now until March and the sweeter, juicier Tarocco (and much less red fleshed) is available now until May.

This is the first blood orange season that I have taken an interest in. Point of fact, until just a month ago, I had never had one. Just one bite of the juicy, deep red fleshed Moro on a recent trip to the farmers market and I knew I had to buy some to experiment with. 



Flashback to last year: one of my freelance assignments was to make and photograph Pistachio Pavlovas with Raspberries and Lemon Curd. Never having made meringue or curd before, I was up for the challenge. I've had jarred curd and had not been a fan but I was totally blown away by the creamy lemony goodness of this luscious  homemade lemon curd. After the shoot, I was left with an abundance of the bright yellow curd which I combined with an adaption of my shortbread recipe and made into lemon bars. They were delicious and a huge hit amongst my co-workers (I have a reputation at work for bringing in my successes as well as my not so successful experiments much to their delight either way). It got me thinking then about the possibilities of making other flavors of curd such as tangerine, orange, grapefruit, etc. 

So with my bag of fresh from the farmers market blood oranges in hand, I walked back to my car and knew what I wanted to do with them before I had my keys out: blood orange curd bars. I went home and immediately dove into making these yummy treats.



The blood orange curd was mild, light, silky and absolutely gorgeous. I took leftovers to work. One co-worker loved them so much she ordered a tray's worth for a get together the following weekend. Now that's a great endorsement in my book!

Get yourself to the produce aisle or farmers market this weekend and make these. 

Trust me, you'll love them! 

The color of your bars will depend on how red the blood oranges are. Your curd might range from a burnt orange to a burnt umber to mauve to red (think Big Stick Popsicle).


Blood Orange Bars

This recipe is super simple. No need to pull out mixers. Just a wooden spoon, a whisk, a rubber spatula and some elbow grease. 

When a recipe is this simple, the quality of the ingredients is front and center so buy the best that you can afford. What made these bars particularly delicious was the quality of the butter, flour and eggs. I used Plugra European-style butter. Why? Because when I've made shortbread back to back using regular American butter and then European-style butter, the batch with the European-style has always been lighter, crisper with a better crumb. The key is the water content: European-style butter squeezes more of the water from the butter leaving a higher butterfat content which produces more consistent results in baked goods. Cookies are crispier and lighter, pie crust is flakier, cakes have a more tender crumb. The comment most made when people eat my bars is how deliciously light and buttery the shortbread is. Another reason for the shortbread's success: King Arthur flour. It's so fine and ridiculously soft to the touch and produces the best, most tender baked goods. It's become the only flour I use now. I also used farm fresh eggs bought at the farmers market the morning I baked these. Now, if you're on a budget, of course you can use the all-purpose flour already in your pantry. Ditto the butter and eggs. If you can only splurge on one ingredient, opt for the butter. But if you can indulge once in a while, try using these items. I know you'll love the results. (Stock up on good European-style butter such as Plugra, Kerrygold and Strauss, when they are on sale. They freeze well.)

For the curd, you're going to need a stainless steel bowl that can fit snugly over a stockpot or saucepan with a about two inches of water in the pot. The bowl cannot touch the water so if it does, use less water or a deeper pot. This will be our double-boiler. A candy thermometer will also help (the first time I made curd, I didn't have one but I had a thermometer from Starbucks that I used to measure the temp of the milk for lattes and it worked perfectly fine).

Yield: 8 inches x 8 inches baking pan; 9 bars

For the shortbread
12 tablespoons European-style unsalted butter, cubed, room temperature
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1½ cups King Arthur all-purpose flour 

For the curd
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt (decrease to ¼ teaspoon if using regular table salt)
3 large eggs, room temperature
½ cup freshly squeezed blood orange juice (about 3-4 oranges depending on size)
4 tablespoons European-style unsalted butter, cubed, room temperature


¼ cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit (300 degrees if you're using a glass pan). Butter an 8 inches x 8 inches square pan. Cut a piece of baking parchment 8 inches x 16 inches and place into the pan, centering the overflow. These will be the "handles" to lift out the squares after they're baked and chilled. Smooth out the parchment and butter the bottom and sides (alternately, you can use baking spray if you prefer).

Using a wooden spoon, cream the butter with the sugars in a medium bowl. Add the flour and combine well. Dough will be very crumbly. Turn the dough out into the baking pan and use your fingers to evenly spread and press down the dough. Poke several holes in the dough with a fork. Bake for 15 minutes. Shortbread will be pale and just barely, if any, color around the very edges. It is still slightly underdone but exactly what you want.

While the shortbread bakes, make the curd.

Place a pot on the stove on medium high heat and add about 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil. 

Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch and salt in a stainless steel bowl. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Pour in the juice and whisk well to incorporate. Set the bowl over the pot of boiling water and reduce heat to keep a good simmer and not a rolling boil. Whisk the mixture continuously (you can stop long enough to remove the shortbread from the oven - it will be done before the curd is ready). Curd will stay loose for a while but as it gets closer to final temperature, it will thicken up. Once an inserted candy thermometer reads 180 degrees Fahrenheit (after about 15 to 20 minutes), remove from heat and whisk in the butter, one piece at a time until smooth. Immediately pour the curd into the pan with the shortbread, leveling it out with a rubber spatula then bake for 15 to 20 minutes; center will be a little jiggly. If it's really jiggly, bake for an additional 2 to 4 minutes. 

Cool on a wire rack. Chill at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. When ready to cut, run a butter knife around the non-parchment covered sides to loosen then use handles to lift the shortbread out of the pan. Place on a cutting board. Add powdered sugar to a small sieve and shake over the bars. The powdered sugar will dissolve into the curd making the tops of the bars glossy. Cut into nine equal portions. 

Cutting tip: Before cutting, fill a tall glass with hot water and let the knife sit in it a few minutes before making first cut. After each cut, return knife to water, drying before making next cut.

Can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for 2 days or up to week in the refrigerator.



Until next time … 
Sweet eats!
Ani

1 comment:

Colette Joseph said...

Ani, these are just so pretty. I love the brilliant salmon-red colour and it's all natural!

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