One of my favorite treats when I was a kid was lemon bars. Loved them. Couldn't get enough of them. I didn't get to eat them very often, however, because I grew up in a very small town where there were no lemon bars to be had. The only time I ever got a lemon bar was when we were out of town and I happened upon them in a bakery or restaurant. Deprived, I was. If I had known then what I know now, things would have been very different I tell you. Very, very different. Want to know the secret? Lemon bars are so easy to make. So insanely, ridiculously easy. I was quite the baker as a young one, and I would have been baking these all the time had I only known...
This recipe comes from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich. My baking book collection has grown quite substantially in the last year, but this is by far one of my favorites. I baked these along with a few friends, so keep your eye on Nancy, Di and Wendy's blogs for their versions of these bars.
The crust is a basic shortbread. It worried me a little, because before it was baked it was incredibly greasy. The oven worked its magic, however, and the crust came out golden and perfect after 25 minutes. The filling is a simple mixture of eggs, lemon juice, lemon zest, vanilla, salt, a little flour and sugar. All you do is stir it all together, pour it in the crust, pop it back in the oven, and voila! Lemon bars!
The filling is gorgeous in flavor and texture. It is smooth, silky, tart. The most amazing thing about these lemon bars is what happens to the crust in the very center, right next to the filling. The top of the crust caramelizes and becomes crispy and crunchy and like nothing I have ever had. It is like there are three layers to these bars instead of two. I imagine this happens because you pour the filling in when the crust is hot from the initial baking, so a little soaks into the pre-baked crust. These are so simple, yet so exquisite.
Very Tangy Lemon Bars
from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich
For the Crust
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour
For the Topping
1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons unbleached white flour
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice, strained
Preheat oven to 350. Line the inside of an 8x8 baking pan with foil or parchment, or butter the inside of a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.
To make the crust: In a medium-sized bowl, combine melted butter, sugar, vanilla and salt. Add the flour and mix until just incorporated. Spread the dough (it will be quite liquid) evenly in the bottom of the pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the crust is evenly browned.
While the crust is baking, make the topping: Stir together sugar and flour. Whisk in the eggs. Add lemon juice and zest and stir until combined.
When the crust is baked (and still hot), pour in filling, turn oven down to 300, and bake for 20-20 minutes or until center no longer jiggles. Let cool completely in pan before slicing. Don't worry if the top comes out looking a little frothy. Gently blot it to reveal the zest. If you wish, dust with powdered sugar.