OK, anyone can put sugar, butter and flour together, but if you give yourself carte blanche to invent new local variations on old-time favorites you can come up with some winners, especially for special winter occasions. Tia Marta here to share what I did with traditional lemon bars for a totally Southwest flair:
Try this delicious locally-inspired RECIPE for HOLIDAY CITRUS BARS:
You will need a 9×13″ baking dish and mixing bowls
Ingredients for crust:
1 and 1/2 cups flour mix (I used 1 cup organic fine whole wheat and 1/2 cup white Sonora wheat flour*)
1/2 cup mesquite meal (in place of crushed graham crackers used in other recipes)
3/4 cup butter, softened room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
Ingredients for top layer:
2 cups regular sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice (lime juice or tangerine juice also are delish)
1-2 Tbsp lemon-zest (I used minced Meyer lemon rind; lime- or tangerine-zest would be great)
4 lg. eggs
optional wild desert fruits (I used saguaro fruit; prickly pear or hackberries would work great)
!/4 cup flour (added separately for this top-layer mixture)
Directions follow with pictures:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
To begin crust, sift flour mixture, mesquite meal, and and powdered sugar together.
(Since the crust is not leavened, you can make it gluten-free by using tapioca flour as your binder and amaranth flour with the mesquite flour.)
Mix crust ingredients–flours, confectioners’ sugar, and softened butter– to make a “dough”.
Press “dough” into the bottom of the 9×13″ baking pan, relatively evenly (maybe 3/4-1/2″ thick. Be sure to crimp down the edges with a clean knife so the thickness of dough is not tapered thin.
Bake crust at 350F until light brown, about 20-25 minutes. Keep oven on….
Grate 1-2 tablespoons lemon, lime or tangerine zest.
We have Meyer lemons which have such a mild sweet rind that I experimented by mincing, instead of zesting them. I had juiced the fruits previously, and had frozen the rinds for zesting and for making limoncello (that’s another fantastic blog by SavorSisterCarolyn!) . For the top-layer mixture I used 3 tablespoons of minced Meyer lemon rind.
While crust is baking, beat together the top-layer ingredients: sugar, citrus juice, minced or zested rind, 4 eggs, and 1/4 cup flour as thickener. (If you are using a pyrex bake pan, make sure this mixture is warm enough so as not to shock the hot pyrex when poured on crust.)
When crust is light brown and done, bring out of the oven. Pour top-layer mixture onto the crust.
To provide festive decoration and texture, I garnished the top with saguaro fruit collected last June, frozen and now thawed.
Return the now double-layered pan back into oven. Continue baking for another 20-25 or until top layer “sets” firmly.
When done, place on raised rack to cool evenly. Dust the top with powdered sugar.
When cool, separate crust from edge with sharp knife to make removal easier. Slice into small squares. These bars are so deliciously RICH –small is better!
Good and gooey –with that wonderful mesquite flavor, the crunch of saguaro seed,
…and the internalized hope that–with this–we can let the desert plants know how important they are to us!
Enjoy a cold-weather tea-time, a citrus harvest with purpose, or a Thanksgiving dessert made with your own variation on this Citrus Bar treat!
As winter festivities draw near, for more great ideas….check out our earlier blog post Southwest Style Holiday Buffets.
A joyous holiday to all from Tia Marta!
[Mesquite flour or saguaro fruit are special tastes of what makes Tucson an International City of Gastronomy! But these desert foods are not available just anywhere. Plan ahead–the way traditional Tohono O’odham harvesters have always known to do– future culinary opportunities will open to you if ye desert goodies while ye may, that is, when they are in season. Here’s a word of encouragemen from Tia Marta: Put it on your 2023 calendar now. Set aside time in mid-late June, tho’ it is super hot, to collect saguaro fruit, peel and freeze it in sealed container. Also mid-late June before the rains, gather brittle dry mesquite pods for community milling, and freeze the meal in sealed containers. In mid-late August, gather whole prickly pear tunas to freeze in paper and plastic, for juicing later. YOU WILL BE SO GLAD LATER THAT YOU SET ASIDE THESE DESERT FRUITS. Use the SEARCH box on this blog for instructions about harvesting a cornacopia of desert delicacies and staples.]