These poppy seed blood orange bars were a real labor of love…or probably more accurately, a testament to my stubbornness. What you see above is a bar comprised of juicy, tangy orange curd and a buttery crust replete with tiny pop(py seed)s of crunch, whose vibrant color is cheery enough to brighten any cold, dreary winter day.
This was not the case with batches one and two. The filling of batch one had a liquid ratio of two parts orange juice to one part milk, and sadly, the opaqueness of the milk all but negated the beautiful color of the blood oranges. To compare, batch one is on the left and batch three is on the right:
The bigger problem, however, was the taste: it was a major disappointment. I had adapted the filling recipe from a recipe for lemon bars, replacing the lemon juice with orange juice, but I had failed to take into account that oranges are not merely sweeter versions of lemons. Lemons pack a much more powerful flavor punch, which meant that my orange bars were just kind of faintly citrus-flavored.
For batch two, I replaced the milk with lemon juice, using a liquid ratio of two parts orange juice to one part lemon juice. The transparency of lemon juice relative to milk solved the color problem, and the flavor was much improved! But unfortunately, I poured the filling into the crust a bit too quickly/carelessly, and the force from the stream of liquid caused little pieces of the crust to break free and swim around in the filling. It tasted great, but looked like some kind of petri dish experiment gone disgustingly wrong. I also found the amount of filling a little on the skimpy side for the amount of crust, so in batch three, I increased the filling by 50% and poured it into the crust very carefully…and at last: success!
So here you have it: a recipe for poppy seed blood orange bars whose bright appearance and flavor will dazzle your eyes and taste buds alike!
On a completely unrelated note, Happy Chinese New Year! May the year of the monkey be happy, healthy, and prosperous for you! Do you know the animal of the year in which you were born?
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup flour
- 4 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon blood orange zest
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs
- 3/4 cup + 3 tablespoons sugar (= 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons flour
- 1 1/2 tablespoons blood orange zest
- 1/2 cup blood orange juice (about 2 oranges)
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- powdered sugar
- Grease or spray an 8x8 baking pan with baking spray. Optional: line with parchment paper in addition, for even easier removal.
- Cream together the butter and sugar until smooth and light. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, poppy seeds, and orange zest, and then add them to the butter and sugar mixture. Mix until a crumbly dough forms. After coating your hands with flour, press the dough into the baking pan. Refrigerate the pan for 20 minutes.
- While the dough is in the refrigerator, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the dough for 15-20 minutes (or until very lightly browned).
- While the crust is baking in the oven, prepare the filling: whisk together the eggs, sugar, and flour. Stir in the blood orange zest and juice. As soon as the crust is out of the oven, lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees, carefully pour the filling over the crust, and bake for 20 minutes (or until the filling is just set).
- Cool completely before cutting into squares. Optional: dust with powdered sugar before serving.
- The color of the bars can fade over time, so I recommend eating them within 3 days of baking.
- I have tried this recipe with dairy-free margarine and with butter in the crust. I slightly prefer the taste of the one made with butter, but you can easily make the bars dairy-free by using dairy-free margarine.
- Filling recipe adapted from Cook's Illustrated.
- Crust recipe adapted from Foxes Love Lemons.