Friday, May 16, 2008
Lemon Lovers' Lemon Bars
These are the lemon bars I’ve been craving! I always loved my mom’s recipe, which is virtually identical to the one in my red Betty Crocker cookbook. However, as my tastes and preferences have changed, I outgrew the classic. The shortbread crust is delicious, but it loses its crisp, flaky texture so quickly. There wasn’t much I could do about that, but mostly I just wanted more lemon.
Some people like the shortbread layer and the lemon curd layer of a lemon bar to be roughly equal in size. I have no objection to that, but I personally want a thick, soft lemon layer and just enough shortbread to provide a sturdy base. Two weeks ago, I made a version that contained more lemon than the classic version, but it still wasn’t quite enough. I also used Meyer lemons, which were surprisingly bad for this particular recipe. Their signature lack of tartness takes away that tangy acidic quality that I feel is essential to a good lemon bar.
Looking for a method for lemon bars with a thicker lemon layer, I stumbled on Smitten Kitchen’s version of Ina Garten’s lemon bars. Ina packs her bars with sugar, but the woman created an impressive lemon layer that you can see in Deb’s great photos. Ina’s version, however, used too much flour for my personal comfort. I didn’t want anything remotely cakey, but I knew the flour definitely contributed to the bars’ great height.
I also used this recipe on Cookie Madness for inspiration, which uses comparatively little sugar and must make a wonderfully tart bar. I took ideas from both recipes, as well as the classic Betty Crocker version and came up with something I really love. These bars still have plenty of buttery shortbread, but they have more filling than the average bar and are very lemony. One key to the flavor is lemon sugar. It’s an extra step that you have to do one day ahead, but it’s ridiculously easy and so totally worth it. It also requires you to finely chop the zest in a food processor, so you won’t end up chewing on any stringy bits of zest in the finished bars. And if you love lemon, the fragrance of the sugar (not to mention a fabulous dessert) will be your reward.
I’m sending this post to Helen of Tartelette, who is hosting Sugar High Friday this month. The theme is citrus sweets, so if you’re in the mood to make something a bit more exotic than lemon bars, you’ll find tons of inspiration when she posts the round up toward the end of the month.
Lemon Lovers’ Lemon BarsThe lemon sugar must be made one day ahead--see step one of the recipe. If you don't have time, just use one cup of plain sugar and 1 to 2 tbs. zest when you mix up the filling--I've done it this way a couple times since developing the recipe, and it's still great. Also, note that you must lower the oven temperature after baking the crust.
Makes 12 or 16
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks and chilled
1 cup granulated sugar
zest of 3 lemons
1/4 cup plus 2 tbs. all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 1 tbs. lemon juice (3 to 4 lemons)
1. Make the lemon sugar: In a food processor, combine the granulated sugar and lemon zest; pulse several times, until zest is very fine. Transfer to a shallow container or baking sheet and let sugar dry out at room temperature for several hours. Cover and chill overnight.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8 x 8 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray or line with nonstick foil. In a food processor, combine flour, powdered sugar and salt; pulse a few times to blend. Add the butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some pea-size chunks of butter still visible. Transfer the crumbly mixture to the baking dish and press into the bottom and sides of the dish with your hands. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, or until lightly golden around the edges. Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees.
3. Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon sugar, flour and salt. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then whisk in the lemon juice. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until thoroughly combined. Pour the lemon mixture over the hot crust, return to oven and bake for 25 to 28 minutes. The center should be set, but still quite gooey when poked with a toothpick (it will continue to set as it cools). Within a minute or two of taking the lemon bars out of the oven, run a thin knife along the edges to loosen; this allows bars to contract as they cool without cracking. Cool completely on a rack, at least two hours. Sift powdered sugar over the dish, cut into 12 or 16 bars and serve. To store, cover and chill.