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:
PERFECT LEMON BARS
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
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.