3.14.2009

the best part

lemon bars on table

If you ask me, lemon meringue pie is kind of a tease.

I first made its acquaintance back in 1986, shortly after we moved from New York to Ohio. There it sat on my grandmother's kitchen table: a pie almost as regal and well-coiffed as my grandmother herself. This pie was sporting the frothiest, creamiest cap I had ever seen. I couldn't wait to sink my spoon deep into that billowy white cushion, to sweep through it with a gentle whoosh. Imagine my dismay when my spoon was met instead with a rude jiggle, and a stubborn boing.

That hovering, cloud-like froth had drawn me in. I was expecting something smooth and creamy on my tongue, but what I got was a mouthful of squeaky, spongy foam. This was highly disconcerting. Were it not for what lay a few inches beneath that disappointing surface, I may never have given lemon meringue pie a second glance. One bite of lemony curd was all it took to unfurrow my young brow. From then on, whenever lemon meringue pie would show up on Grandma's table, I knew what to do: I would roll up my sleeves and carefully amputate the meringue from the lemon before dipping into the tangy yellow. If only I had known back then that the best part of lemon meringue pie could be pumped up into its very own dessert!

lemon bar on white

Pumped up, indeed. I give you fair warning: These lemon bars are tongue curlingly tart. They mean business. I will even go so far as to say that if there's someone you've been meaning to kiss, this dessert can help get you half way there. Quite a claim, I know, but it's true. After a lick of zesty curd, you'll have no choice but to pucker up. Then, simply sit back and wait for someone to lay one on you.

And if the prospect of lemony kisses doesn't do it for you, how's this for an endorsement: Eli, our resident dessert snob, pronounced his lemon bar "One of the best things ever to come out of our kitchen." Then, for emphasis, he bellowed out a falsetto, "Eveeer!"

That's what happens, I guess, when you take the very best part of a dessert and turn it into a dessert all its own. With these lemon bars, what you see is what you get: A lacy slip of powdered sugar. A full-bodied lemon curd reclining on a bed of sweet butter and vanilla. Second to a set of warm lips on mine, I can think of no better reason to pucker up.

single lemon bar on table

Lemon Bars
Adapted from Ina Garten's The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

These are the lemoniest lemon bars I've ever tasted. I like it that way. In fact, I cut back on the sugar, and upped the amount of zest in the filling. I also tweaked the crust just a bit; I increased the salt and added some vanilla. Before you run off to the kitchen, a brief note about baking time: I baked my bars for a mere 30 minutes, since I was aiming for a lemon custard-like consistency. If you prefer a firmer bar, simply leave them in the oven for up to an additional five minutes. There is also the question of warm versus chilled. These bars are no doubt special warm out of the oven. But I think when all is said an done, I prefer to eat mine somewhere between chilled and room temperature. A colder bar will be firmer than a less-cold bar. Oh, and one last thing (I mean it this time): These things are rich. Next time I would cut them into smaller bars.

For the crust:
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 c. flour
1/4 t. salt
1 t. vanilla

For the filling:
6 extra-large eggs (I used 7 large eggs, instead)
2 1/2 c. granulated sugar
2 heaping tablespoons grated lemon zest (4 to 6 lemons)
1 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 c. flour
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Make the crust: Cream together the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix in the vanilla. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until the dough just comes together. Using floured hands, gather the dough into a ball and scoop it into the center of the greased baking pan. Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the pan, and chill.

Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.

Make the filling: Whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour the filling over the cooled crust. It is important that the crust cool, somewhat, before you introduce the filling, or else little bits of the crust might flake off. Having said that, the crust need not cool all the way to room temperature. Warm, but not hot, works just fine.

Bake for 30-35 minutes (see note, above) until the filling is set.

Let cool, cut into bars or triangles, and dust with powdered sugar.

Enjoy warm, room temperature, or chilled. Prepare to pucker.

lemon bars on quilt

6 comments:

EEJ said...

Those sound insanely good.

Jess said...

Why yes, EEJ, they were!

Kevin said...

Amazing looking lemon bars!

Jess said...

Thanks, Kevin. They were the thickest, lemoniest little buggers I've ever made.

Amy said...

Ok, so it's almost 2 years, what can I say. I just got around to making these and they are fantastic. What took me so long?

Jess said...

I'm so glad you liked them! They're Eli's favorite. He asks for them for his birthday every year.