Friday, September 7, 2012

Lemon bars

If you invite us over and ask us to bring a dessert, chances are we'll show up with a pan of lemon bars — my husband's specialty. He's still searching for the perfect recipe, so each batch is a little different. Sometimes the custard is a little more creamy, sometimes a little firmer, but they're always knock-you-on-your-ass lemony, laced with plenty of zest, and just enough sugar to perfectly balance the tartness.

Conveniently, we have our own lemon tree in the back yard. I think it's a Meyer lemon, but more important than its variety is its fecundity. We never, ever run out of lemons. This is good, because the current version uses about a dozen lemons.

Recipe and more photos after the jump.

Even if you like your lemon bars a little less zesty, go ahead and zest all your lemons. You can freeze the extra zest in a plastic bag, or stir it into a small jar of sugar (or salt, for that matter). 


for the crust:

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter

for the custard:

6 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups lemon juice
1/2 cup flour
zest from all the lemons (at least 3 tablespoons, more if you like)


Preheat oven to 350°
Grease a 9x13 pan

Make the crust:

Combine 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 tsp salt in a bowl; whisk to blend.
Add 1 cup cold butter and use a pastry blender (or 2 knives) to blend until crumbly.
Pat the dough into the pan, bringing it up the sides an inch or so.
Prick the dough all over with a fork.
Pre-bake the crust at 350° for about 20 minutes, or until it's just starting to brown.
Remove the crust from the oven and reduce the oven to 315°.

Make the custard:

Zest the lemons, then squeeze the juice until you have 1 1/2 cups, and set aside.

In another bowl, whisk 6 eggs and 2 cups sugar together (this will be tart — use more sugar if you like it sweeter).
Add the 1 1/2 cups of lemon juice, and whisk to blend.
Stir in the lemon zest. 
Whisk in 1/2 cup flour until smooth. 

Pour the custard into the pre-baked crust.
Bake at 315° until the custard is set, 30-45 minutes. It will become a bit more solid as it cools. 
Let cool and dust with powdered sugar. 

Makes 20 small but very intense lemon bars.

Adapted from:

Maciek uses 1 1/2 cups of lemon juice. From our tree, that's about a dozen lemons. Also, this squeezer is awesome.

The shortbread crust is critical. It should be light, crumbly, and just thick enough to support the custard. Use a pastry blender, two knives, your fingers, or a food processor; just make sure you use cold butter and don't overhandle the dough. 

Pre-baking the crust before adding the custard keeps it crispy. 

It's best to let the bars cool before sprinkling them the powdered sugar, or it will dissolve. I keep forgetting to buy powdered sugar, so my husband just grinds sugar in the blender. Don't try making icing with it, but it's just fine for sprinkling.