The Cosmopolitan Older Cousin to the Lemon Curd Bar
I’ve been pretty obsessed with blood oranges for the past several years. I’m not sure if it’s the vivid hue, the sweet-tart flavor, or just their overall exotic nature that reminds me of my trip to Italy, but I love anything blood orange. My craving satisfiers are usually limited to Fage yogurts or Sanpellegrino sodas, but sometimes I’ll luck up on a random bag of fresh fruit at the grocery store. During my last find, I decided to try using them in a dessert to showcase their mild sweetness and bold color (instead of sitting on the couch and devouring them one by one).
These bars are definitely a play on the traditional lemon bar, which layers tangy lemon curd atop a crumbly shortbread crust. With my version, blood oranges obviously take center stage over lemons, but I also infuse the curd with fresh mint and pair it with a deep, rich, crispy brown sugar shortbread crust. The flavor combination of the mildly sour citrus + molasses-sweet sugar + bright, fragrant herb was absolutely beautiful.
I’ll have to be honest, though. The flavors worked from the start, but my original method was pretty much a fail; the filling decided to never set. After playing around with the method a bit, I decided to just use a modified version of the Cook’s Illustrated Perfect Lemon Bar recipe. In their method the crust and curd filling are made separately then combined and baked, which definitely helps set the filling. I’ve used the pre-cooked curd technique before on key lime cheesecakes and grapefruit bars, so I should have known it would work better. Either way, I did end up getting it right in the end.
The two elements of this dessert are both really simple to create. The curd thickens rather quickly over medium-low heat, so I feel better standing over it and stirring constantly. Don’t let babysitting scare you off, because as long as you watch out for steam and remove the pan before the mixture starts to boil, you’ll be just fine. The shortbread is an even easier process that can be handled in a food processor in one shot. The mixture will feel very course and crumbly, but the moisture from the butter allows it to easily be pressed in the pan. Try to time your crust baking so that it is still warm when you pour the curd on top of it.