Move over, lemon bars, there’s a new sweet-tart Sheriff in town! These Blood Orange Bars have the perfect combination of a silky, creamy, tart, custardy top and a buttery, cake-like shortbread crust. These easy orange squares require just 8 simple ingredients and 15 minutes of active prep time, making them the ideal impromptu dessert baking project.
Update: This article was originally published in February 2016. I made updates to the post below to include more information about this recipe for blood orange bars.
About these orange bars
These blood orange squares are every bit as tantalizing as the original lemon recipe and then some. Also known as blood orange dream bars, these portable mini dessert cookie pies are packed with a delightfully citrusy flavor that is seriously addicting. One bite, and you’ll be in dessert heaven!
The blood orange curd on top is silky, creamy, tart, sweet, slightly sour, and gorgeously flecked with specks of bourbon vanilla bean. The shortbread crust is beautifully buttery and perfectly short, with a crumbly, just-holds-together consistency that melts on your tongue.
Why you’ll love this orange dessert
If you’ve considered what baking with oranges would look like, this is the recipe to try. Aside from being an extraordinarily delicious way to use the crown jewel of the citrus world, this blood orange square recipe is also:
- Quick & Easy – You only need 15 minutes of active prep time to prepare the homemade blood orange curd and the crumbly shortbread base before popping them in the oven.
- Made With Only 8 Ingredients – It might seem like you’d need more to create this stunning two-layer orange dessert, but in reality, it’s just so stinkin’ simple!
- Versatile – While I love the combination of sweet-tart blood orange and bourbon vanilla bean, you can easily make these bars using any type of citrus you prefer. Read on below for more ideas!
- Allergen-Friendly – Naturally soy-free, nut-free, and chocolate-free (yay for me!), these blood orange curd bars can also be easily made dairy-free and/or gluten-free.
What are blood oranges?
While the name of these beautiful citrus fruits might *sound* a little macabre, I can promise you they are anything but. They’re bright, sweet, and acidic, just like you hope fresh oranges to be!
What do they look like when you cut them open?
With a close relation to other favorites like naval oranges, cara cara oranges, and tangelos, blood oranges look like slightly smaller oranges with deeply pitted skin. While the skin itself may or may not have hints of what lies underneath, the ruby-red flesh of these beauties is what truly sets them apart.
A blood orange slice will look like a regular orange slice in every way — the segmentation, the texture of the fruit, and the orange peel — except that the flesh ranges from lined or streaked with red to being completely garnet-hued through and through.
What does a blood orange taste like?
Blood oranges have the signature sweet acidity of citrus fruits, but with a tinge of tart raspberry flavor that is simply ravishing. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can make any orange recipe with blood oranges instead for a bright pop of color.
Ingredients for orange squares
As promised, you only need 8 simple ingredients to make these beautiful blood orange dessert bars. Here’s your shopping list:
- Unsalted Butter – For making the orange curd rich and silky and for making the shortbread crust rich and buttery.
- Substitutions: You’re welcome to swap in salted butter if that’s all you have on hand, but you’ll likely need to omit the added salt if you do. You can also use your favorite vegan butter alternative if needed.
- Granulated Sugar – You’ll use neutral-flavored white sugar in both the curd and the shortbread crust to add sweetness.
- Substitution: Feel free to use organic cane sugar or your preferred cup-for-cup sugar alternative (e.g. Swerve).
- Eggs – For thickening the curd into jiggly, custardy perfection. As a bonus, unlike other fruit curd recipes, you don’t have to separate the egg yolks from the whites them first!
- Blood Oranges – These oranges are in prime season from December-April, so you should be able to find them at well-stocked grocery stores like Publix, Trader Joe’s, or Whole Foods. You’ll need both the fresh orange juice and zest of the fruit.
- Substitutions: Feel free to swap in your favorite citrus fruit here. You can use classic lemons, regular oranges, tangerines, mandarins, pomelos, tangelos, key limes, or even grapefruit.
- Bourbon Vanilla Bean – Contrary to what you might think, these rich and flavorful beans aren’t alcoholic in any way. They are actually harvested and cured on Ile de Bourbon, a French colony in Madagascar that is world-renowned for vanilla production.
- Substitutions: You are welcome to use about a tablespoon of vanilla paste in place of the true vanilla bean. You can also use an equal amount of vanilla extract or vanilla powder, but you’ll miss out on the gorgeous black flecks. You can also swap in ½ tablespoon of ground vanilla instead.
- Confectioner’s Sugar – Also known as “icing sugar” or “powdered sugar,” this is an essential ingredient in creating the perfect shortbread consistency.
- Substitution: If you’re fresh out, feel free to make your own confectioner’s sugar with plain white sugar and cornstarch.
- All-Purpose Flour – Plain white flour is all you need to make the tastiest shortbread base for these blood orange juice bars.
- Substitutions: You’re welcome to trade in cake flour or your favorite cup-for-cup gluten-free all-purpose flour blend instead.
- Kosher Salt – For something to balance out all the sweetness.
- Substitution: If you’re using another variety, please refer to this salt conversion chart for proper measurement.
Variations: dessert bars
While I think this blood orange recipe has all the simplicity and elegance of a box of Harry & David lemon bars, there is always room for you to customize any recipe to fit your needs and preferences. Here are a few variations to consider:
- Gluten-Free – Simply substitute your favorite measure-for-measure GF all-purpose baking blend (e.g. Bob’s Red Mill or Arrowhead Mills).
- Dairy-Free – Use vegan butter to make this recipe work for your lac-tarded friends.
- Diabetic-Friendly – Swap in your favorite sugar substitute (e.g. Swerve, Lakanto) to lighten the sugar load.
- Different Citrus – As I mentioned above, you can make these bars with lemons, regular oranges, tangerines, mandarins, pomelos, tangelos, key limes, or even grapefruit. You can also mix and match to your heart’s content — orange lemon bars or mandarin lime bars? YUM! Just note that if you use a more tart option, you may want to bump up the sugar in the curd to compensate.
- Budget Version – Swap out the specialty blood oranges for regular navel oranges (or any other cheaper citrus) and use vanilla powder or extract in place of the vanilla bean.
How to make blood orange dream bars
These dreamy orange squares are straightforward to prepare. Here’s what you’ll do:
- Make the orange curd: Add sugar and eggs to a small saucepan and whisk until smooth. Then, stir in the orange zest and orange juice. Place the pan over medium heat on the stove and cook until the mixture is thick and resembles pudding, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Add the cubed butter to the curd mixture in batches, stirring between each addition until smooth. Cover the homemade curd and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.
- Make shortbread crust: In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugars until combined. Add in the flour and kosher salt. Then, beat on low to incorporate. Transfer shortbread dough to a parchment-lined baking pan. Use your hands to press the crust into the bottom of the pan.
- Blind bake crust: Transfer the blood orange dessert crust to a 325-degree oven and bake until lightly golden, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.
- Add orange curd to crust: Once the crust is cool, carefully pour the orange curd into the crust.
- Bake again: Transfer the orange dessert to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, or until the edges are set but the center is slightly jiggly.
- Cool completely: Remove the pan from the oven and transfer to a wire cooling rack. Set aside and allow to cool to room temperature. Once cool, cover the pan of orange squares and transfer to the refrigerator. Let chill until completely firm.
- Slice and serve: Use a sharp knife to cut the pan of orange dessert into squares, bars, or thin slices. Dust with powdered sugar (confectioner sugar) and enjoy!
Expert tips for the best blood orange dessert
- Food coloring: While entirely optional, I typically 3 drops of pink food coloring to slightly enhance color. You can add more for a more vibrant color, or none depending on preference.
- Silky smooth curd: You can strain the orange curd through a fine mesh strainer for a smoother consistency. I did not do this.
- Zesting oranges: Make sure to only zest the brightly colored part of the rind, as the white pith is very bitter.
FAQs: baking with oranges
Are blood oranges injected with dye?
NOPE! That ruby-red hue comes from a class of compounds known as anthocyanins (also responsible for making purple cabbage, brightly colored berries, or red grapes).
Do blood oranges have actual blood in them?
Ew, gross! NO! Not unless you accidentally cut yourself while you’re slicing them.
What two fruits make a blood orange?
Blood oranges originate from Sicily, Italy, where pomelos and tangerines were naturally cross-bred in the 1600s.
Serving this blood orange recipe
Since blood oranges are in season from December – April, I think these tasty orange bars are the perfect thing to make for Christmas cookie platters, Valentine’s Day, or Easter. They’re also a lovely treat for bake sales, afternoon teas, or just because.
Also, this blood orange dessert pairs beautifully with friends and loved ones and a mug of herbal tea.
Storing orange squares
- Blood orange curd can be made up to 5 days in advance of making the bars.
- Leftover baked blood orange bars will keep in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3-5 days.
- I do not recommend storing your blood orange dream bars in the freezer.
Alright, my darling readers. Orange you glad I shared this delicious blood orange dessert recipe with you? I hope you squeeze the day and make a big ol’ batch. If you do, you’re sure to peel the show!
More delicious dessert recipes with fruit!
The Best Blood Orange Bars Recipe 👇
Blood Orange Bars Recipe
- 1 2-Quart Saucepan
- 1 8x8-inch Baking Pan
For the Orange Curd
- 6 TBS Unsalted Butter – cubed and chilled
- 1 Cup Granulated Sugar
- 3 large Eggs
- 2 whole Blood Oranges – zest and juice (about ½ Cup of juice)
- 1 whole Bourbon Vanilla Bean OR Regular Vanilla Bean – split and seeded
For the Shortbread Crust
- 1 ½ Sticks Unsalted Butter – softened (12 TBS)
- 2 ½ TBS Granulated Sugar
- 2 ½ TBS Confectioner’s Sugar – plus more for dusting
- 1 1/3 Cup All Purpose Flour
- ¼ tsp Kosher Salt
- Make the Blood Orange Curd: Add the butter and sugar to a 1 ½ to 2-quart saucepan. Whisk well until the mixture is smooth and combined. Add in the orange zest and orange juice. Whisk to combine. Place the saucepan on the stovetop over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 12-15 minutes. (Tip: The curd mixture should be similar in consistency to thin pudding). Remove from heat and add vanilla, then butter: Remove the orange curd from the heat. Add the vanilla bean seeds and stir until combined. Then, add the butter to the saucepan in batches, working with a few cubes at a time and stirring the curd until smooth in between each addition. Chill: Transfer the orange curd to a bowl or airtight storage container, cover with plastic wrap and or the lid. Place in the fridge and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
- Preheat an oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line an 8x8’-inch baking pan with parchment paper and set aside.
- Make the Shortbread Crust: In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl with a hand-held mixer) add the butter and both sugars. Beat on medium-high speed until well creamed and completely combined. Stop and scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as necessary. Add in the flour and salt. Beat on low speed until all the flour is just incorporated and the mixtures JUST comes together. Transfer the shortbread dough to the prepared baking pan. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan to form a crust. (Tip: Spray your hands with non-stick cooking spray to prevent the dough from sticking to you.)
- Bake crust: Transfer to the oven and bake until the top of the dessert is lightly golden and crust is set, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and place the pan on a wire cooling rack.Cool slightly, then add curd: Let the crust cool slightly, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees. Pour the orange curd over the crust. Bake again: Return the orange dessert to the oven and continue to bake until the edges are set, but the center is still slightly jiggly, about 18-25 minutes.
- Cool completely: Remove the pan from the oven and place on a wire cooling rack. Set aside and let cool completely to room temperature. Once cool, cover with plastic wrap and transfer to refrigerator. Chill until the dessert is completely firm.
- Slice and serve: Cut the orange dessert into squares, bars, or long slices and generously dust with confectioner’s sugar. Enjoy!
- Food Coloring: I added 3 drops of pink food coloring to slightly enhance color. You can add more or none depending on preference.
- Orange Curd: You can strain the orange curd through a fine mesh strainer for a smoother consistency. I did not do this.
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