Here’s an orange take on one of my favorite treats, lemon bars. The Aperol is optional but it adds just the right New Year cheer to this vibrant sweet treat.
As I mentioned in my last post this is part of a trio of desserts I served over the holidays and I’m squeezing them in the blog before the year closes.
Dessert Number Two is an orange version of one of my favorite treats–lemon bars but with a boozy twist. Remember the Three-Bean Miso Chili I found in one of my old issues of Cooking Light? Well, that November 2017 issue has been such a gem. Three recipes carried me through the holidays and they will be making regular appearances from now on.
The original recipe in the magazine was for Grapefruit-Campari bars so it wasn’t much of a stretch to convert the recipe to oranges and Aperol (Aperol Spritz was my cocktail of choice this summer and I was curious about using the apéritif in a dessert).
Because oranges don’t have the edginess of grapefruit and I was afraid my version might end up too sweet, I added lemon to the mix and it turned out well. Oranges are still the dominant flavor, the lemon lending a bright note to keep the sweetness down.
I’ll admit that after taking a quick taste of the custard I thought the Aperol might have not have been the best idea. Even a small amount of the apéritif seemed to dominate the custard. I poured it into the pre-baked crust anyway and kept my fingers crossed my efforts wouldn’t be wasted.
Thankfully, the dessert fairies must have worked their magic overnight because by the time I cut the square into bite-sized bars the next day the Aperol flavor had mellowed and blended into the background giving the oranges their moment to shine. The shortbread crust was buttery and crumbly, such a pleasant contrast to the sweet-tart smoothness of the custard.
Consider these Orange-Aperol bars a grown-up take on lemon bars. If you’re looking for a sweet treat fit for celebrating the new year, this recipe is easy and would add just the right holiday cheer to your party.
*If you’re looking for the best lemon bar recipe this one is my go-to. There’s no need to cook the custard on the stove. Just whisk together, pour into the partially-baked crust and bake. Even better, the recipe uses a 9×13 pan so it makes a lot of lemon bars!
For the Crust
- 4 ounces whole wheat pastry flour (one cup;see note for substitutions)
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons corn starch
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- cooking spray
For the Topping
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup fresh orange and lemon juice (2 grapefruits; 1 lemon; See Note)
- 3 tablespoons corn starch
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Aperol (See Note)
- Powdered Sugar for dusting
Prepare the Crust
Preheat your oven to 350ºF. Pulse the flour, powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons corn starch and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a food processor just until combined. Add the butter pieces and pulse until the mixture is the texture of coarse meal, 7-8 pulses. Drizzle the canola oil and pulse again until the flour mixture is moistened and crumbly, about 5-7 pulses.
Coat an 8×8 inch baking pan with cooking spray and press the flour mixture into an even layer on the bottom of the pan. Avoid pressing the mixture too hard into the pan to avoid a dense, tough crust.
Bake at 350ºF until the crust is just lightly browned all over, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature.
Prepare the Topping
Combine the granulated sugar, orange-lemon juice, 3 tablespoons corn starch and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook until thickened, about 2-4 minutes, depending on your heat.
Place the egg yolks in a medium bowl and carefully whisk in the orange-lemon liquid. Add this mixture back to the remaining orange-lemon liquid in the sauce pan and whisk to combine. Bring to a boil over medium heat making sure to whisk constantly. This may take a few minutes depending on your heat.
Remove from heat, whisk in the Aperol and pour the liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl (discard the solids). Pour the orange-lemon mixture into the cooled shortbread crust and chill until set, three to four hours. (See Note) Dust with powdered sugar and cut into 16 squares before serving.
- Recipe inspired by Cooking Light Grapefruit-Campari Bars (November 2017)
- Substitution for Whole Wheat Pastry Flour: 2 ounces each (1/2 cup each) whole wheat flour and cake flour. For the cake flour I used 1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour plus 1 tablespoon corn starch.
- The recipe calls for 3/4 cup citrus. I used 2 oranges and 1 lemon for the right balance of sweet and tart. I yielded one cup of juice and just discarded the remaining 1/4 cup.
- My topping didn’t set in the allotted 3-4 hours per the recipe so I may not have brought it to a proper boil. If this happens to you, it’s not a problem. I put the pan in the oven at 350ºF until the topping set. It may have taken 15 minutes for mine to set. If yours takes longer, it won’t hurt the finished product.