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the sunny side

Some days, I contemplate grabbing my things and moving to a different place. My heart starts to race at the thought. Where to go? What to see? I could live in Seattle, Chicago, Boston, New York City… The possibilities are endless! But, then I wake up to 70 degree weather in the middle of January, and I know I could never permanently leave California. Sorry New York City and Seattle, you guys are stuck in a some frigid temperatures and my poor, whiny body wouldn’t deal. While Sacramento is notorious for some pretty chilly winters (damp days, foggy mornings), we have been blessed (or cursed, depending on how you see things) with blue skies and sun-filled days.

As I get older, my love for California grows, especially Northern California. Where else can I visit both the snow and the beach in less than 2 hours? Where else would there be acres upon acres of greenery and room to breathe? Where else would I find a deeply diverse community that continues to teach me each day about culture and history? I don’t know if I could survive anywhere else. You could say that California has spoiled me.

Another major reason why I love California is its vast array of produce. Did you know that California has 88,000 farms and ranches throughout the state, or that our agriculture industry brings in at least 100 billion dollars in economic activity? Damn. We’ve got it made… If only our budget woes could get solved

We are lucky enough to have a plentiful selection of fruits and vegetables at any given time, and during winter, the citrus fruits make their presence known. Wandering through the aisles, I was happily greeted by piles and piles of lemons, clementines, etc. It was a welcome sight, especially to me, a fruit addict. I grabbed some of the best looking limes and lemons, knowing that they’d make a delicious treat.

I knew I wanted to make some kind of lemon bars but I had trouble zeroing in on the perfect recipe. Should I try Elise’s Gingered Lemon Bars or Deb’s Lemon Bars? Decisions, decisions… It seems like everyone and their mom has a lemon bar recipe! In the end, I choose a recipe from the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking Book. I settled on these Sunny Citrus Squares because while sweet and tangy, it would have just enough whole grains to rid you of any diet guilt you may experience after devouring 2 or 3 more helpings of dessert. 

Do I even need to tell you how good these babies were? I mean, look at them. They are practically flirting with you! The smooth custard-like filling gives way to the crunchy and firm crust. It packs just enough citrus punch to perk your  spirits right up too. After inspecting my pantry, I had to make some changes. Instead of spelt flour, I used whole wheat flour and old fashioned oats, which worked wonderfully in this recipe because they gave the bars a better crunch. If you use the spelt flour in this recipe, drop me a line and let me know how it goes- I’m pretty curious as I have never baked with spelt flour before. I will warn you, the chill time on these squares is a must. The minute they come out of the oven, they are piping hot and don’t even look that appealing. Let them hang out in the fridge, and I swear you will thank me in the morning.

As a sweet parting gift, I brought these squares in to my office on my last days and everybody loved them. While they were sad I was leaving, they seemed more than willing to devour these citrus squares. One coworker exclaimed, ” Wait! You can’t leave! Who else will bake for us?” Good ole coworkers, thinking only about themselves :) I was sad to have polished off the last of these squares a couple of days ago, as they have been my go-to dessert, especially when I get back home after my late afternoon runs. But I savored the last piece, kicking off my running shoes and stretched out on my front lawn, listening to the kids play on the street while I licked my fingers clean. Sometimes, you just got to take a moment to enjoy your surroundings and to acknowledge that you are exactly where you need to be. And right now, California is where my heart is.

Sunny Citrus Squares
Adapted from: King Arthur Whole Grain Baking Book
Yield: 16 (2-inch) squares
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 45 minutes
Inactive Prep Time: chill overnight

● 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
● 1 1/2 cups whole spelt flour, (I used 1 cup of whole wheat flour & 1/2 cup of old fashioned oats)
● 1/4 tsp salt
● 6 tbsp unsalted butter
● 3 tbsp orange juice

● 4 large eggs
● 1 1/4 cups sugar
● 1/2 cup citrus juice, (lemon, lime, or a combination; grate the fruit’s zest before juicing)
● 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
● 2 tbsp grated citrus zest, (the rinds of 1 large lemon and 2 medium limes)
● 1/2 tsp salt
● confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease a 9-inch square pan.

For the crust:
Whisk the flour, sugar, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Cut the butter into pats and work it into the dry ingredients until the mixture is evenly crumbly. Add the orange juice and mix until large clumps form, then stop mixing. Press the mixture into the prepared pan, covering the bottom completely.
Bake the crust until it is beginning to brown, 20 minutes. Remove from the oven.

To prepare the filling and bake the bars:
Beat the eggs, sugar, and juice in a medium bowl. Whisk the flour, zest, and salt. Pour the filling over the baked crust.
Return the bars to the oven and bake until they look set all over, 25 minutes. Remove form the oven and let cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
One hour before serving, remove the bars from the refrigerator, allowing them to rest at room temperature. Just before serving, cover them with a drift of confectioners’ sugar, shaken through a sieve. Cut into squares and serve immediately. Refrigerate any leftovers; don’t worry when the sugar disappears- it has simple melted into the filling. Sift more sugar over the top, if desired.

Printable Recipe here.

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January 21, 2009 - 5:03 am

Caitlin - With how cold it is in Wisconsin, I’m incredibly jealous of California right now. I totally picked the wrong state. And I absolutely love that KAF book too – so many wonderful things in it!

January 21, 2009 - 5:43 am

Gretchen Noelle - Sounds delicious! Can’t wait to be back in Northern Cal! These bars look great.

January 21, 2009 - 8:21 am

whitneyinchicago - The best part about living in a place with winter…is enjoying Spring and Summer so much more! I am originally from TX and I am now living my 3rd Chicago winter, believe me. Its not that bad.

I am jealous of the fresh produce…the only things I can get fresh are also from CA but took a WHOLE LOT more petrol to reach me….dried beans it is!

January 21, 2009 - 10:22 am

kickpleat - oooh, these look so good! perfect sunshine for foggy pacific northwest days.

January 21, 2009 - 12:09 pm

snooky doodle - These bars look fantastic and though usually I m not a big fan of lemon bars These with their rustic base are tempting me :)

January 21, 2009 - 1:51 pm

pickyeatings - I have similar feelings all the time…but I happen to live in the super cold and snowy Boston, and want to live somewhere warm for a change! Although I do love our falls, with foliage and apple picking…

January 21, 2009 - 1:56 pm

Jennifer - They sound so fresh! :)

January 22, 2009 - 6:47 am

steph (whisk/spoon) - it’s been such a cold, snowy winter in NYC, but i think i have turned soft after the last couple of sydney winters! (my husband and i secretly think of moving to san francisco, but who knows.) these bars look great, and your new co-workers will be lucky to have you baking (and of course working, too) for them!

January 22, 2009 - 10:09 am

Lindsay - I live here too…was just thinking how nice it was to have a sunny break in the winter weather…we do have it made! :)

January 22, 2009 - 4:52 pm

Robin - No need to tell, the looks said it all!

I always think I couldn’t leave the East Coast and our dramatic season shifts, but you really make California sound tempting.

January 22, 2009 - 9:02 pm

Amanda - Robin, if anything, come visit! And when you do, you have a couple of drinks with your name on it :)

January 23, 2009 - 11:35 am

Megan - Yum, lemon bars sound so crisp and refreshing right now. And I appreciate the use of whole flour, definitely will make me feel better while making these :) I am ridiculously jealous of your fruit and veggie supply, I bet all the colors lined up together are just stunning!

January 24, 2009 - 8:22 am

stephen - it’s Saturday at 8 AM- San Francisco.
I’m off the the farmers market to get some chiogga beets, forelle pears, kale and some blood oranges. I’ve cooked here professionally for the past 15 years am feel damn lucky!

January 25, 2009 - 12:49 am

Anna at Mediocre Chocolate - I always get jealous of those that have colorful autumns and snowy winters…then I remember I can plant my strawberries in December and my tomatoes in March. I’m torn..we may move North someday, but for now, I’ll take the Southern California Spring in January!

January 26, 2009 - 1:07 pm

Mary G. - I’ve made this filling recipe on top of a spelt crust and it’s fantastic. I used the recipe from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion book and substituted spelt flour for the all-purpose. Wonderful and nutty. And, yes, there’s nothing like Southern California any time of the year. I’m a transplanted New Englander.

January 26, 2009 - 8:29 pm

Amanda - Glad you enjoyed it, Mary!

January 27, 2009 - 9:37 am

eurydice - i love california too! (i visited last summer) and i detest frigid temperatures. it’s freezing right now. so cold that it’s rare to actually feel warm, unless you are sitting in a steaming bath.

January 27, 2009 - 8:35 pm

Maris - You are right not to want to leave CA – I was there this weekend and now am back in NY and it was an instant depression when I stepped off the plane into the frigidity! (If that is even a word)

January 28, 2009 - 1:15 pm

Maria - These will cheer anyone up!

January 30, 2009 - 11:13 am

Bites from other Blogs | PC Secrets | Laptops - [...] a little bored with them over time even though you love them in general. Slow Like Honey’s Sunny Citrus Squares are a great take on the traditional recipe. The bars have a whole grain crust that is spiked with [...]

January 30, 2009 - 3:39 pm

Mary G. - Did I tell you all that I ate the whole pan of these lemon squares myself in 3 days and didn’t gain a pound?! Really!

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