Friday, August 29, 2008

sunshine in a bar

Summer is coming to an end. Even though I hate hot weather, I do enjoy the summer. Everyone's more laid back, no one wants to work too hard. It's a time for outdoor concerts and patio brunches. This last week before Labor Day is depressing. Somehow I can feel that going-back-to-school anxiety even though I haven't be in school for ages.

So I need a little pick-me-up, a little sunshine to try to keep the days nice and long. Sunshine in a buttery, custardy, tart, sweet form. Lemon Bars.

I have never made lemon bars before, but I really don't know why. I've made several types of lemon tarts and pies, and I think almost all of them have been at least slightly flawed. Because of my spotted lemon dessert past, I expected something to go wrong with these, but to my surprise, nothing did.

I thought for sure that the crust would be too hard, or the custard wouldn't set, or it would be too tart or too sweet, or it would fall apart when I tried to unmold it, or I'd screw it up when trying to cut it, or something, anything. But either I was blessed, or this recipe is actually idiot proof. Recipe after the jump:

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated, May 1998

For the crust
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup confectioners' sugar, plus extra to decorate finished bars
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks), at very cool room temperature, cut into
1-inch pieces, plus extra for greasing pan

Lemon filling
4 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest from 2 large lemons
2/3 cup lemon juice from 3 to 4 large lemons, strained
1/3 cup whole milk
1/8 teaspoon table salt

For the crust: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 13-by-9-inch baking dish and line with one sheet parchment or wax paper. Grease the paper, then lay second sheet crosswise over it. Make sure the paper comes up to the top of the pan's side so that you can grab hold of them to unmold the bars.

Pulse flour, confectioners' sugar, cornstarch, and salt in food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add butter and process to blend, 8 to 10 seconds, then pulse until mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal, about three 1-second bursts. Sprinkle mixture into lined pan and press firmly with fingers into even, 1/4-inch layer over entire pan bottom and about 1/2-inch up sides. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, then bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

For the filling: Meanwhile, whisk eggs, sugar, and flour in medium bowl, then stir in lemon zest, juice, milk, and salt to blend well.

To finish the bars: Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Stir filling mixture well, then pour into warm crust. Bake until filling feels firm when touched lightly, about 20 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack; cool to near room temperature, at least 30 minutes. Grab hold of the edges of the parchment paper to gently transfer to cutting board, fold paper down, and cut into serving-size bars, wiping knife or pizza cutter clean between cuts, as necessary. Sieve confectioners' sugar over bars, if desired.


Matin said...

I have never tried lemon bars before but yours look fantastic:-)

Leah said...


I hate labor day weekend. Ella starts school Monday, and we're both having back-to-school anxiety!

aprilbapryll said...

I made these last night, and they were delicious (I brought them to work and the guys ate 3 each) but it felt like way too much crust for the amount of lemon. Did yours come out almost half and half?

aprilbapryll said...

And that was a typo ... they ate 4!

faycat said...

I'm glad these were a hit!

I'd say my crust was a little more than 1/3 of the height of the bar, the custard about 2/3. You really have to press the crust down hard into the dish to get it as flat as possible. I've seen recipes with way more custard, but I actually prefer closer to a 50/50 balance. Since this crust is not as hard and dense, I think it puffs slightly compared to other bars I've eaten.

jenn said...

I'm going to have to try this. We have a gajillion lemons on our tree in the back yard, and Lina's favorite thing to do is pick them. We use lemon in EVERYTHING now!