These Creamy Calamansi Bars are a burst of sweet and creamy citrus flavour on a melt-in-your-mouth buttery shortbread base. These bars are delicious as an afternoon treat or dessert, and would also be perfect for packing in your picnic basket. If you know me, you’ll know that this dessert is so up my alley. I love anything citrus flavoured and if there’s a lemon dessert on the menu, you bet I am ordering it.
But have you ever heard of Calamansi?
They are a small citrus fruit that is most widely used in Filipino cooking, and can be found all over South East Asia. You’ll see it commonly used in marinades, fresh juices, and as a condiment or garnish. I think it’s probably the most delicious of all the citrus fruits – a little tart, a little sweet, and it has this incredible floral citrus scent that I wish I could wear as a perfume.
I loved drinking glasses of refreshing calamansi and sour plum juice on steamy evenings at the hawker markets in Malaysia. In Manila, I squeezed fresh calamansi over grilled meats the way you’d squeeze lemon over fish and chips. My boyfriend’s mum made me a warm calamansi and honey drink when I had bronchitis – delicious and super high in Vitamin C. I also highly recommend a calamansi margarita! And you just wait until I finally share my calamansi and soy glazed Christmas ham later this year. I promise, it is epic.
When we moved house last year and I started my garden, I knew I must get a calamansi tree. In the last several months, it was magical to see my tree covered in flowers, and then so many tiny fruit. Their skin went from green to orange as they ripened. You often see them picked green when they have a more tart flavour. ho I let mine fully ripen and the taste was sweeter. The skin is so thin and delicate that zesting these little fruits was slightly challenging, but worth it for the amazing flavour it gives these bars.
I should have counted exactly how many fruits were needed to get 1 cup of fresh juice for this recipe but my guess is between 25-30. They are very small but absolutely packed with flavour! If you don’t have access to a calamansi tree (or a friendly Filipino neighbour who has one) try a blend of freshly squeezed orange or mandarin and lime juice (equal to 1 cup) to get a similar flavour. You could also try looking in your local Asian grocery, as I have occasionally seen them in the fresh produce section.
As a newbie gardener, it is so satisfying cooking with fruits and vegetables that I have grown in the garden. These Calamansi Bars are one of the most delicious things I’ve come up with so far. I also love that this recipe is versatile! I think any citrus juice and zest would work in place of the calamansi here. So when I have an abundance of Meyer lemons or limes from my trees (or if they are in season at the market) I could use them instead!
These Creamy Calamansi Bars have a crumbly shortbread base, from the famous Tartine Bakery lemon bars. It has just the right amount of buttery sweetness and the texture is sublime. A lot of other recipes use rice flour or cornflour to get that light crisp texture for the base. This one uses only plain flour and somehow manages stay light and crisp for several days after it was baked. The secret is to bake it just a tiny bit darker, which improves both the flavour and the texture. It also stands up structurally against the creamy topping.
The filling is a mixture of sweetened condensed milk, calamansi juice and zest, an egg and egg yolks and vanilla. I also added a little calamansi liqueur that was gifted to me from friends in Manila. If you don’t have this, you could leave it out or use Cointreau or another citrus infused liqueur instead. All the ingredients are simply whisked together and poured over the prepared shortbread crust. It is baked until just set in the oven and then refrigerated. Make sure the bars are completely cooled and set before you cut them up.
If you wanted to get fancy, you could make or buy mini meringue kisses or crumble on top. Candied or dehydrated calamansi slices would also be lovely to garnish. Even a simple dusting of icing sugar takes these to the next level. I made this in a square tin and served it in bars. For a different presentation, you could also make this in a fluted tart tin and serve it in slices. I think this would make it look really pretty and more like a fancy dessert.
One final note on these before I get to what you’re all waiting for – the recipe, of course! Every single one of my friends and family who tried these Calamansi Bars absolutely loved them, whether they were familiar with the flavour of calamansi or not. I hope that if you come across these delicious citrus fruits that you’ll try this delicious recipe!
Related Post: Blueberry Loaf Cake with Lemon and Thyme Glaze
Creamy Calamansi Bars
These Creamy Calamansi Bars are a burst of sweet and creamy citrus flavour on a melt-in-your-mouth buttery shortbread base. These bars are delicious as an afternoon treat or dessert, and would also be perfect for packing in your picnic basket.
- 1/2 cup icing sugar
- 1 1/2 cups plain flour
- 170 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
Creamy Calamansi Filling
- 1 large egg, plus 2 egg yolks
- 2 teaspoons calamansi zest
- 1 cup freshly squeezed calamansi juice
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon Calamansi liqueur or Cointreau
- Big pinch of salt
- Icing sugar, mini meringue kisses, fresh, candied or dehydrated calamansi slices, to serve
Preheat the oven to 180°F (350°F) and line a 21 x 21cm (8 inch) square baking tin with non-stick baking paper.
To make the shortbread crust, sift the icing sugar and flour into a bowl and beat in butter on a low speed with a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer until a smooth dough forms. Transfer the dough to the prepared baking tin.
Press evenly into the bottom and sides of the pan. Use the back of a spoon or the flat bottom of a jar to press down firmly and evenly. Line the crust with a sheet of non-stick baking paper and fill with pie weights. Bake for 25-35 minutes until it is an even deep golden brown, making sure to rotate the pan after about 15 minutes to ensure it bakes evenly.
While the crust is baking, make the filling. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolks together. Add the calamansi zest and juice, sweetened condensed milk, vanilla, liqueur if using and salt and whisk until fully combined.
Pour the mixture over the cooked shortbread crust and return to the oven for 15-20 minutes or until just set. Allow to cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes and then place in the fridge to cool completely, for at least 2 hours but preferably overnight.
Cut evenly into bars and serve with a generous dusting of icing sugar, or mini meringue kisses, fresh, candied or dehydrated calamansi slices. Keep refrigerated to up to 4 days but garnish just before serving.