To me December means lemons. I’ve kept Meyer Lemon trees for years. The first one was planted in my parent’s yard, the second one, in a pot that has moved from place to place with me for over a decade. The tree explodes with growth in the summer, flowering a couple of times over the season. The tiny fruits that form suddenly seem to go through a growth spurt by fall; quadrupling in size and then ripening by December. This humble tree who looks so beat up and seems to be on the verge of giving up on me year after year, manages to hang on and rewards my lackadaisical care with one to two dozen delicious fruits annually.
Meyer lemons are a cross between either an orange or a mandarin and a lemon. The fruit is extremely juicy with few seeds. The juice is less acidic than a standard lemon. The thin-skinned rind is different from normal lemon rind. There is a hint of pine mixed in with the normal lemony bite. It is a lovely fruit which lends a slightly more mellow flavor to dishes than a regular lemon would.
I love this fruit in baked goods. Combined with sugar, you get the flavor of old-fashioned lemon candy without the acidic pucker. In breads and cakes and cookies, it is divine! One thing I love are lemon bars made with my Meyers. This year, I still had leftover cranberry sauce from my belated Thanksgiving. The leftover cranberry sauce is wonderful mixed in yogurt, but really, how much yogurt could we eat? I decided the cranberries would need to be used for something else (and soon!). Those remaining berries would come to make a wonderful addition to my lemon bars. I was able to use them in the filling and replace the milk in the icing with the syrup.
So… today, I am giving up my super secret well-loved cranberry sauce recipe. Although you could make the bars with the chunky canned whole cranberry sauce and make the icing with milk instead, I encourage you to make my sauce for these bars. In fact, there are still excuses for Turkey dinners. Make my Turkey au jus or bake some turkey cutlets and have the sauce as a side. Make it for festive holiday style fruit on the bottom yogurt (plain yogurt mixed with homemade cranberry sauce) or just add it to a sandwich made with deli turkey. You’ll be happy you took advantage of the season’s fresh cranberries.
Citrusy sweet n’ sour cranberry sauce
2 cups water
2 cups evaporated cane juice or granulated sugar
4 cups cranberries, rinsed and picked over (discard any mushy or moldy berries)
The juice and zest of 1 orange
1 piece of Canela (Mexican cinnamon stick) or 1 Cinnamon stick
2 peeled slices of fresh ginger
1 – 2 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Allspice
A couple of liberal splashes of Grand Marnier, Brandy or Cassis Liquor
Combine sugar and water in a large non-reactive skillet. Stir well so that the sugar dissolves and then bring to a boil. Boil 5 minutes. Add the canela or cinnamon and ginger slices then the cranberries, bring back to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. Allow the cranberries to simmer undisturbed for about 5 minutes or until all of the cranberries have cracked open. With a slotted spoon, move the berries to a large bowl being careful to keep the cinnamon stick and ginger in the syrup. Pour a couple of generous splashes of Grand Marnier (or the alternate alcoholic beverage of your choice) into the bowl with the berries. Allow the berries to macerate while you keep cooking the syrup. Add the orange zest, orange juice, ground cinnamon and allspice to the syrup. Raise the heat to medium and continue to cook the syrup until it is reduced by half being careful not to let it become candied. You still want it to be syrup but thicker. Pour the hot syrup over the berry mixture. Cool. Remove the cinnamon stick and ginger slices and then refrigerate for at least three hours before serving.
The cranberry sauce will keep for a couple of weeks to be enjoyed with all of the wonderful things I suggested. Make sure you save a little over half a cup of the sauce to make sure you have plenty of berries and syrup for the festive holiday lemon bars below.
Meyer Lemon and Cranberry Bars
1 cup unbleached white flour
¼ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 stick cold unsalted butter cut into pieces
A pinch of salt
A little over ½ cup Citrusy sweet n’ sour cranberry sauce drained (syrup reserved for icing) or ½ cup canned whole berry cranberry sauce
Zest from 1 Meyer lemon (about 2 tsp)
2 tbsp Meyer lemon juice
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup evaporated cane juice or granulated sugar
2 tbsp unbleached white flour
½ tsp baking powder
¾ cup confectioner’s sugar
½ tsp vanilla
1 tbsp softened butter
3 tbsp cranberry syrup reserved from drained homemade cranberry sauce*
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, F.
Whisk together flour, confectioner’s sugar and salt. Using a pastry cutter, cut in the cold butter until it resembles coarse corn meal. Butter a 9” x 9” square baking dish. Press the crust mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan. Bake the crust for 15 – 17 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly while you proceed with the recipe.
In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon zest, lemon juice, eggs, flour and baking powder. Set aside. Spoon the drained cranberries onto the crust, making sure they are evenly spread over the crust. Carefully pour the lemon mixture over the berries. Bake the bars in the oven for twenty five minutes. Let the bars cool on a rack and then refrigerate.
* The glaze is optional but makes the bars pretty. If you used canned berries instead of making my recipe for homemade cranberries, make the glaze with a tablespoon of milk instead of the cranberry syrup: In a bowl, beat the confectioner’s sugar, vanilla and butter with a mixer. Add the cranberry syrup or milk and beat until smooth. Transfer the glaze to a pastry bag fitted with a round tip. When the bars are cold, use the glaze to decorate the bars, I usually do a cross hatch pattern. Cut bars into small 1” or 2” squares to serve.