Zesty Lemon Bars
The following “Chew This!” column has been reprinted from “The Courier-Times”, Sunday, March 6th 2016 edition. By: Blaise Doubman
Lemon bars bring brightness to winter days…
We are entering the final weeks of winter, and lots of people online are pulling up their “spring inspiration” recipes for some much needed solace from the cold, snow and rain. I have been looking over my recipe files, and whenever I have the “winter blues”, I always head straight to one of my favorite dessert ingredients – lemon. Growing up, I hated lemon. My Grandpa Max and Grandma Deloris would always keep a small crystal bowl filled with lemon drops in their living room, and I would always just shrug them away. I would, however, occasionally suck on one long enough for the sugar that was dusted on the outer shell of the candy, to be dissolved in my mouth, but after that the candy went straight into the garbage. I didn’t start loving lemon until I found out I loved lemon bars. I had my first lemon bar in “Sweden” at Disneyworld’s Epcot. I loved the taste, the texture, the brightness and the zing I got from each bite. I don’t remember why I agreed to try the dessert, since lemon wasn’t my favorite flavor, but at the moment, I was so glad that I did. From them on out, I’ve loved lemon. Lemon brownies, lemon candy, lemon cupcakes, lemon scent, lemon lip balm… I’m addicted.
When developing this recipe, I wanted to stay close to home with simple tastes and textures. I had already gone “outside of the box” on my Blaise the Baker blog when awhile back, I developed a recipe for crunchy lemon bars, which incorporated saltine crackers. They’re delicious, but not what I was looking for here. I was looking for something bright, familiar and flavorful. Something that would take me back to the first time I had ever had lemon bars. After experimenting with several different variations of lemons and how to get the certain taste I was looking for, I finally did it. I found that, of course, using fresh lemon juice and lemon zest was the answer. Whenever I would mix in the lemon extract, the taste wasn’t as pure as I knew it could be. This recipe for my zesty lemon bars are a lemon dessert staple in my family that I make again and again.
Zesty Lemon Bars
This recipe has been perfected over the course of experimentation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t put your own twist on things. How delicious would these be with a cup of white chocolate chips stirred in before baking, or perhaps some lime juice and zest added to the mix? For a more tropical theme, incorporate a little pineapple juice, and top with chopped cherries once cooled. To get the one cup of lemon juice, as well as the four tablespoons of zest, you will need about 6-8 large lemons. Also always remember to zest the lemon first, before squeezing. Gently microwave your lemons for 10 seconds to get the maximum amount of juice from each lemon.
2 ½ cups white all-purpose flour
¾ cup powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, cubed
6 large eggs
2 ¼ cups white granulated sugar
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 tablespoons grated lemon zest
Start by preheating your oven to 350-degrees F. Lightly spray a 9-inch square pan with non-stick cooking spray and cut a square of parchment paper to fit easily on the inside of the pan. This will help you “lift” the bars out once they’re baked. Press the parchment down inside the pan, allowing for a little overhang of the parchment.
To make the crust, combine 2 cups of the white all-purpose flour (leaving aside the remaining ½ cup), powdered sugar and fine sea salt in a large bowl. Next, add in the cubed butter and using a pastry butter, fork, or your fingers, gently blend everything together until the mixture resembles course sand. This is almost like making pie pastry.
Once coarse sand is achieved, press this mixture, gently, into the prepared pan. Be sure to evenly press in the crust, taking some of the crust up the sides of the pan. This is important in holding the bars together, as well as how they will bake in the oven.
Place the crust into the preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
Once baked, remove from oven and sit aside to cool slightly.
Reduce the oven temperature to 300-degrees F.
In a large bowl, whisk together the large eggs and granulated sugar until smooth and light in colored. Next, add in the lemon juice and lemon extract and combine.
Finally, stir in the remaining ½ cup white all-purpose flour and pour into the crust.
Place back into the oven for 45 minutes, or until the lemon filling no longer jiggles.
Once baked, remove from oven and allow to cool at room temperature before lifting out of the pan. Dust with powdered sugar, cut and serve.