Sunday, June 13, 2010

Luscious Lemon Bars

May I, just for a moment, sing the praises of the lemon bar?  Gosh, I love those things.  Breakfast, snack, dessert, whenever.  I will never tire of them.  I love all sorts of lemon desserts, but I think the humble yet delicious lemon bar is my favorite.  

I had occasion to ponder these bars of wonder last weekend, for the final Armchair Theatre of the season.  I can't remember if I've written about Armchair on this blog before or not, and I'm entirely too lazy to look through the archives, so I may be repeating myself.  Feel free to skip ahead if I am.  Armchair Theatre is organized under the auspices of Nantucket Theatre Workshop.  Once a month from January to June a kind person volunteers their home for a play reading, done from chairs, hence the "armchair" part of the theatre.  Anyone who wants to attend may do so, the only entrance "fee" is a dish for the potluck that precedes the play reading.  Inevitably there is too much of one kind of food at the potluck, and it will switch from month to month.  In February the AT fell on Valentine's Day, and about half the the attendees brought brownies, in heart shapes or otherwise.  May also had lots of dessert, so I knew June would be lacking in the dessert department.  I also knew I didn't want to go to the store, so I had to make a dessert that could be thrown together from things I already had around.  Luckily, lemon bars fit the bill.  All you need is one real lemon, which I had, and then you can use bottled lemon juice for the rest, which I always have on hand.  And it was a good thing I did: only one other person brought dessert, just as I guessed.  Needless to say, the squares were a big success!

Before making lemon bars for the first time I assumed that they were complicated, that achieving that perfect sweet-sour lemony filling on top of the crumbly, buttery crust was difficult.  As it turns out, it's not one bit difficult.  These bars have what I consider to be the optimal crust to filling ratio, about 1:2.  I know this is a matter of personal preference, but I think these are pretty darn perfect.  Before I had a lasagna pan I tried fussing with the quantities so that it would fit other sized pans, but I never quite got it right.  This recipe is perfectly suited for the lasagna pan, so if you have one, use it, and if not, it is a worthwhile purchase, if only so you can have perfect lemon bars every time.

Lemon Bars (From the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook)
Makes about 30 bars

* 2 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
* 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 3/4 cup cold butter, cut into squares (1 1/2 sticks)
* 4 eggs, slightly beaten
* 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
* 3 Tablespoons flour
* 3/4 cup of lemon juice
* Zest of 1 lemon
* 1/4 cup milk, cream, or half & half
* Additional powdered sugar, for dusting

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a lasagna pan (9" x 13") with foil, then grease the foil.

2. Combine the 2 cups flour, 1/2 cup powdered sugar, cornstarch and salt in a large mixing bowl.  Add butter pieces, and cut into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter or two knives, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.  

This is what the crust will look like when the butter is sufficiently incorporated

3. Pour the mixture into the baking pan and press the crumbs evenly around the pan with your fingertips.  Bake for 18-20 minutes, until the edges are golden brown.

3. While the crust bakes, make the filling.  Combine the eggs, granulated sugar, 3 TBS flour, lemon juice, lemon zest, and milk in a bowl.  Pour the filling over the hot crust and put it back in the oven for an additional 15-20 minutes, until the center is set.  

 The foil makes the bars easy to lift out and cut

4.  Cool on a wire rack.  Dust the top with additional powdered sugar and cut into bars.  If any of the edges are particularly uneven or over-browned, cut them off (and sneak them while no one is looking :)  Store in fridge until ready to serve. 

 Serving them in cupcake papers makes for a nice & neat presentation


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