Thursday, June 23, 2011

Lemon Bars

There’s a lot going on in the next couple of weeks.

Just about all of it has to do with a family wedding happening; dresses to be bought, hair to be touched up, nails to be done, family coming into town.  In my family, or at least for Samantha and I, an event of this magnitude means baking.  

Two kinds of brownies, chocolate drop cookies, blueberry-peach crisp, pumpkin cookies, two kinds of chocolate chip cookies, lemon bars.  

We have 3 teenage boys coming to stay, which, combined with my own brothers means that this amount of baking may be JUST enough to keep everyone in treats for four or five days.  Hopefully.

I’ve already told you about the brownies I made so today let’s discuss lemon bars.  I had my heart set on lemon bars, and spent a good day going through my recipe books and various food websites for a recipe that met my expectations; mostly, a thin shortbread crust with no almonds (we have nut allergies in the fam), a puckery lemon layer, with plenty of zest.  I chose the Barefoot Contessa’s lemon bars, via Deb at the Smitten Kitchen.  I like it for a couple reasons; it doesn’t include the almond extract a lot of recipes have (I know, I could just leave it out if it’s called for, but the stubborn part of me would rather just not have it there in the first place), it has a double-thick lemon layer, and everyone knows the lemon layer is one of the best parts of a lemon bar!  Lastly, since I’d found the recipe on Smitten Kitchen, it meant a blogger I trust had tested it for me!  Deb upped the salt in the shortbread and reduced the sugar in the lemon layer.  Ina also doesn’t recommend you to grease your pan in the original recipe, but Deb suggests you do. 
I followed Deb’s version closely, but made some adaptations of my own; first, I used 7 large eggs instead of the 6 extra-large eggs that are always called for in Barefoot Contessa recipes.  I love Ina Garten, I really do, but who buys extra-large eggs?  NO ONE else calls for them!  It’s one of those things that’s kept me from really trying out some of her recipes.

In order to figure out how to substitute large for extra-large eggs, I did some fooling around with Google, I found a chart that sort of answered my question (sort of).  In the end, I just added an extra egg, and that seemed to work out just fine.  Another change is that I split the recipe between two 8x8” pans, instead of using one 9x13” one.  I also did what I always do when baking, and that’s line my pans with aluminum foil, since it’s just easier than messing around trying to get the grease into the corners, and wrestling with the bars getting them out of the pan once they were done.

Oh, you want to know if they were good?  Oh my Christ, yes.  I’m trying out a batch using key limes next.  I’ll let you know how it goes.


Lemon Bars

A few last words about this recipe; first, don’t you DARE make them with bottled lemon juice.  Lemons are dirt cheap, buy a few and squeeze them yourself.  I bought a bag of ridiculously huge (and delicious!) lemons from Superstore; two of them gave me more than enough zest, and four of them gave me a whole cup of juice.  I have a cute little hand-juicer from Ikea that does the job great.

For the shortbread: 

1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 cups flour

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

For the lemon layer: 

6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar

2 tablespoons grated lemon zest

1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup flour
Icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a 9x13” baking pan (or two 8x8” pans) with aluminum foil.
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. Chill. Press the crust into the prepared pan, and 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 2”-squares and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

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