Monday, January 7, 2008

lemon bars

lemon bars

January is always the time of year when most of us get caught up in the winter produce doldrums, fueled by the dearth of flavorful fruit and the overabundance of hard, starchy vegetables. But I find if I set my mind on citrus, I can carefully sidestep most bouts of Farmers Market Mourning. There are few things teeming with more promise of a sunnier tomorrow than sour-sweet piercing members of the rutaceae family, and I’ve got an archive full of margarita cookies, lemon bundts, orange chocolate chunks, grapefruit loaves and key lime tartlets that should assure you that you need not feel that you are missing out just because the peaches and berries have gone into hibernation.

scrubbedlemon zest

But I haven’t had a lemon bar in there before now, despite repeated requests and, heck, even pleading for one by various people inside my computer. You’d think it is because I’m stubborn but it actually that my bar (ha) for lemon bars has been set very high by my mother, who has an award-winning recipe somewhere in her files. Upon request, she sent it to me a couple years ago, but when they didn’t come out the way I had remembered, her response was “oh, I must have sent you the wrong one.” Tell me, if you had a recipe for lemon bars that you had won you a cooking contest, why would you have a second version in your box that wasn’t as good? Perhaps if you ask her, you’ll get further than I did.

lemon macroemptied lemon halves

This about brings us to New Years Eve, when I decided at the very last minute to make lemon bars, and with little time to get my mom to proffer up the correct recipe, went for Ina Garten’s widely-praised one instead. Guess what? They were almost as I remembered mom’s to be. “Almost.” The thing is, and this is really just me being really nit-picky, I have a personal taste for more of a 1:1 ratio between the shortbread base and quick lemon curd on top. The shortbread on these was just fine, but the topping a little… thick. (Also, soft, but I am certain that is because I should have baked it longer, or added an additional large egg.)

Nonetheless, with a few adjustments, I am certain my mother will approve of this recipe. It is tart, intense and deliciously contrasted with the cookie below, really the best of both worlds–and if you close your eyes and concentrate real hard, you might even forget that they’re calling for snow next week.

lemon bars

Related to exactly nothing: Why did it take me like five days to post about lemon bars? Because I bought a new computer this weekend and its hard to adjust to writing on a new machine. I’m not used to things being so … pretty. And running so quickly and not crashing a lot. I mean, what’s up with that?

One year ago: English Muffins, Everyday Pancakes and Salad Lyonnaise

Lemon Bars
Adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

These are bold and tart lemon bars, ones I feel are best in smaller doses than Ina Garten suggests. I’ve made a few changes to the recipe–increased the salt in the crust, reduced the sugar in the lemon filling and an encouragement to grease your pan, as mine were all but cemented into their non-stick pan. For those of you who like the 1:1 crust to lemon layer ratio, use the second option.

For the crust:
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For the full-size lemon layer:
6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (4 to 6 lemons)
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup flour

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

[Or] for a thinner lemon layer:

4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (3 to 4 lemons)
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2/3 cup flour

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet.

For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into the greased baking sheet, building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides. Chill.

Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.

For the lemon layer, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes (less if you are using the thinner topping), or about five minutes beyond the point where the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.

Cut into rectangles and dust with confectioners’ sugar.


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