Magical Lemon Bars

lemon-barsOver the weekend, I visited some friends. They are a lovely couple and wonderful cooks. Lunch included some Shanghai favorites, like 梅菜扣肉(mei cai kou rou) which is steamed pork belly with preserved vegetables. There was also steamed fish, shrimp with bell peppers, and it was absolutely delicious.

steamed-fish
After the scrumptious lunch finished with a lovely pear-almond tart (if I do say so myself), we enjoyed hot lemon and honey, I was sent home with over a dozen of beautiful lemons.  You can see them through the window in the first picture above.

The lemons were fragrant, bright yellow, thin skinned, and very very juicy. I dreamed of things to make with them. Lemon curd, lemon cookies, lemonade, and finally settled on lemon bars. I reached for my old favorite, Smitten Kitchen, and a few tweaks later, pure sunshine on a cookie bar. In Deb from Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, she creams the butter and sugar first before incorporating the flour. I wanted more of a short crust texture, so I combined all the ingredients at once. Or maybe I was just being lazy. The result was a very light, crumbly crust.

lemon-tree

I cut a bit of the sugar out of the recipe, because the lemons were not overly sour and I wanted a very bright tartness. I didn’t want the sugar to compete with the lemon. And not to brag, but it was delicious! There is something magical about fresh lemons, but I think regular lemons would be pretty good as well.

It was so good that I didn’t get any pictures. The lemon bars did have a slightly bubbly looking surface, but the powdered sugar obscured it.

juiced-lemons

Amazing Lemon Bars

NOTES: Do not be alarmed if the lemon topping comes out a bit crater-y or cloudy. You can easily cover that with a healthy helping of powdered sugar. Joe Pastry writes, “Note the dull yellow-white color of the very top of the lemon bars after they’re baked. This is caused by small air bubbles rising to the surface as the curd heats.”

ADAPTED from Smitten Kitchen

CRUST INGREDIENTS
1/2 pound or 2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

LEMON LAYER INGREDIENTS:
3 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (about 4 lemons)
3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup flour

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

DIRECTIONS
Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet.

For the crust, cut the butter into 1/2 inch chunks. Combine with the sugar, flour, salt, and one teaspoon of lemon zest in a food processor and pulse until the dough comes together. If you don’t have a food processor, mix the sugar, flour, and zest together and use your fingers, a knife, or fork to cut the butter into the flour mixture. 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 in the freezer.

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, rest of the lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 20 minutes, or about five minutes beyond the point where the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.

Cut into rectangles and dust with confectioners’ sugar.

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