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.