strawberry lemonade bars
I'll make this brief, because Memorial Day has passed and I'm officially declaring it summer, a.k.a. the season of bliss a.k.a. I'm flitting around in the sunshine just trying to cram in as much magic as possible in this new city I've landed in while simultaneously trying to dig myself out of the late-spring rut of transition and unknown futures and physical and mental relocation. Can I still say uff-da?!
Long story short: I'm in California now, there are palm trees growing on the boulevards, you can wear shorts and sandals in the winters here (sometimes), and my neighbor has a giant lemon tree. I can just casually stroll, barefoot, across the driveway, reach my arm out, and pluck one off anytime I please–to squeeze into ice water or tea, make into an easy dressing for farmers market greens, or transform into something summery and sweet. Like these bars! They are just the right amount of tart and harken back to my midwestern roots of potluck summer picnics with jello salads and pink lemonade and bars of all sorts. Because who doesn't love a portable dessert in square form?
for the crust:
• 1 cup salted roasted cashews
• 1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
• 1.5 cups loosely packed dates (about 14 large, juicy ones)
• 1/2 tsp. kosher / sea salt
for the lemon-ey layer:
• 2 cups raw cashew pieces, soaked in filtered water for 6-10 hours
• 1/4 cup coconut milk
• 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp. honey
• 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
• 2 tbsp. lemon zest
• 1 tsp. vanilla extract
• 1-2 pinches sea salt
• 1 tbsp. gelatin
• 1/4 cup coconut butter, melted until liquid
for the strawberry layer:
• 1 tbsp. gelatin
• 2 tbsp. water
• 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (see NOTE)
• 2 cups chopped strawberries, plus more for decorating
• 2 tbsp. honey
• 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Line an 8" x 8" (or 9" x 9") square pan with foil or parchment paper, leaving enough extra so that the ends stick above 2 sides of the pan. This is important! These will be your handles for lifting the bars out later. Lightly grease the pan and parchment/foil, and set aside.
Make the crust: In a food processor, pulse the cashews until they are finely chopped and resemble the texture of coarse sand. Add the coconut flakes and pulse a few times to combine. Add the pitted dates and sea salt, and continue to pulse until mixture becomes slightly sticky and holds its shape when pressed together between your fingers. Press the crust evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan, using the smooth bottom of a glass or measuring cup to pack it down well. Pop the pan in the freezer while you make the lemon layer.
Make the creamy lemon layer: Drain and rinse the soaked cashews and add them to the pitcher of a high-speed blender (a food processor works too). Add the coconut milk, honey, lemon juice, zest, vanilla extract, and sea salt. Blend on maximum speed until mixture starts to come together and get smooth. With the blender running, add the gelatin and melted coconut butter, and continue to blend until mixture is thick and very smooth, stopping to scrap down the sides as needed. Pour mixture evenly over the chilled crust, and working quickly, smooth it out with a rubber spatula. Gently tap the bottom of the pan onto the counter to get rid of any bubbles in the filling, and refrigerate for at least one hour or until starting to get firm. You can do this ahead of time and add the strawberry layer the next day too, if that's easier!
Make the strawberry layer: In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over 2 tbsp. of room temperature water, and set aside to allow the gelatin to bloom. In a high speed blender or food processor, combine 2 cups of the strawberries and the lemon juice, and blend until completely smooth. Pour mixture into a small saucepan, and add the honey, vanilla extract, and bloomed gelatin. Heat gently over medium-low heat until honey and gelatin have liquified and mixture is smooth. Allow to cool slightly, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to lukewarm or room temperature.
Pour cooled strawberry mixture over chilled lemon filling, and smooth out with a spatula. Sprinkle additional chopped strawberries over the top, or arrange in a pretty pattern. Chill bars until strawberry layer is completely set, at least 2 hours. You can pop them in the freezer for 30 minutes or so too, to speed the cooling process.
To serve, use a small sharp knife to loosen the edges of the bars from the sides of the pan, and lift the whole thing out onto a cutting board. Cut into even squares using a serrated knife for cleanest results. Take a bite and taste summer. It's here!
NOTE: You can substitute some of the lemon juice for water in the strawberry layer, if you want it to be slightly less tart and more neutral tasting.