Friday, March 12, 2010

Lemon Bars

Lemon bars - the staple of bake sales, church functions and cookie exchanges... unless you're me. Gasp! I know. Several of my friends looked at me with wide eyes when I said I'd never, ever had a lemon bar before making these. Somehow these sweet and tangy treats managed to elude me for 20 years. Luckily, my friend Trent (I swear, I have other friends too.) asked if I could whip some up, thereby ending the two decade drought of lemony goodness.

So I turned to Tastespotting, and again was brought to the perfect recipe by the perfect picture. Smitten Kitchen's reworking of Ina Garten's lemon bars looked and sounded amazing. You should take a look- her pics blow mine out of the water. Granted, I didn't have any powdered sugar on hand to prettify the bars... but her photo skills are still light-years ahead of mine. And beyond all that, she even came up with an option for increasing the "lemoniness" of the bars. Great success. I needed to recreate these to fix this gaping hole in my life.

Lemon Bars
From Smitten Kitchen, adapted from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
For the crust:
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
For the full-size lemon layer:
6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (4 to 6 lemons)
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup flour
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
[Or] for a thinner lemon layer:
4 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (3 to 4 lemons)
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2/3 cup flour
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet.
For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into the greased baking sheet, building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides. Chill.
Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.
For the lemon layer, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes (less if you are using the thinner topping), or about five minutes beyond the point where the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.
Cut into triangles and dust with confectioners’ sugar.Cutting these into triangles is key. Especially with the larger filling, these bars are nice and tart, and just right in smaller bites. And, as my friends pointed out, you don't feel as bad going back for another.

My friends, being the troupers that they are, didn't mind that the bars lacked a dusting of confectioner's sugar. It didn't stop any of us from going back for more. I was finally able to understand the reasons behind the lemon bar's tenure at events featuring baked goods. In the words of my budding inner food writer (everyone has one of those, right?)... the bars are a balanced meeting of sweetness and tanginess wrapped in the smooth, bright flavors of lemon and butter.

Or, they're sweet, tart, lemony, buttery and delicious, and that's all this classic needs to describe itself.


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