Friday, June 9, 2017

If It's Summer, It Must Be Lemon Bars

I know that I usually start my recipe posts with a photo of the recipe and ingredients, but I wanted to start with a photo of the end product, just so you know what goodness you're in for:

Honestly. Flaky crust, sweet/tart filling. All done in about an hour. SO good.
The version I make comes from The Joy of Cooking.
As you can probably tell, this has been around for a few years and is well-loved.
I have some friends and relatives who may call foul when they see the next photos. You see, I've been known to give these to people for their birthdays - and I think most people think I'm putting in lots of time and effort. But these are so easy - and all done in one bowl, so there's not even much clean up.

Yes, the page is dog-eared. It's also coated in splatterings of lemon and melted butter.
The two stacks are the two layers: crust on the left, filling on the right.
Lately, I've taken to using more sprays for greasing my pans, but for this one, you've already got the "butter paper" so it just seems easier to grease it the old-fashioned way.
Part of me feels like I should flip this photo (because it does kind of seem like the pan is floating, right?), but considering what came next, I figure this is fine.
This recipe is for an 8"x8" square pan. If you're not sure how big your pan is, it's best to err on the side of "too small" instead of "too large" because... well... you'll see.

The crust comes together so quickly, it's kind of ridiculous. Flour. Powdered sugar. Melted butter or margarine. Done.
OOhh... action shot!

Once you've got your ball of dough, you just mash it into the bottom of the greased pan. If possible, you push a little extra up the sides of the pan to form a kind of lip, so that the filling doesn't automatically overflow.

Unless you're in the Witness Protection Agency, I highly recommend using your fingers for this (though you will be prone to leave fingerprints everywhere after you're done, because... well... grease).
At this point, you pop the crust into the oven for 20 minutes at 350 degrees. This gives you time to do things like take the dog for a quick walk and/or start the sprinkler on the front yard (for example).

With about 5 minutes left on the bake, I typically start the filling. (I could do it later, but I like the chemistry too much - you'll see what I mean in a moment.)
Please note: That lovely lemony color comes from the eggs, not from the lemon. (You can see the lemon peel still on top of the whisk.)
When you've whisked it all together, you get a glorious (though maybe slightly grainy) liquid lemon curd.
Yep. That's the same bowl I made the crust in. Why would I dirty a second one?
At this point, you pull the oven rack out just enough to pour the filling into the crust.

Unless... well... you open the oven and see this:
It was so bad, I even forgot to change the photo from rectangular to square.
This is where the whole "know your pan size" comes in. Apparently that's a 9"x9" pan. Which (quick math, anyone?) has a bottom surface that is about 17 square inches (not quite 25%) larger than that of an 8"x8" pan.

You know what happens when you spread the same amount of crust on that much larger a pan? It gets really thin. And it pulls and shrinks when it bakes, leaving you with massive fissures.*

This is bad, since it means that the filling will just flow straight through to the bottom of the pan. So... Well... If you look closely at the top of that photo, you'll see more margarine being melted.

Take two:
Ironically, I usually use these disposable pans, because usually these bars go to other people. I honestly never even thought about the size...

I should mention that a few small cracks are fine. As is the crust pulling from the sides of the pan. (This, of course, is assuming you've greased the pan well.)

Now that the crust is ready, it's time to give the filling another good stir and then pour it over the crust. But, first, take a moment to check out what happens when you mix lemon juice and baking powder:
Our creamy curd done got foamy, all on it's own!
I really wish I had a photo of me tipping that bowl of goodness over the warm crust (which was still on the rack in the oven), but I don't have enough hands for that kind of photography.
Here's what it looks like once the pouring is completed and I have an extra hand for the camera, again.
About 25 minutes later (after doing all of the dishes and moving the sprinkler), the bars will have puffed up just a bit and gotten a bit golden on top.

No, this isn't what they usually look like when you serve them. But some cooling has to take place, first. (If your kitchen isn't too warm, another half hour or so - basically one more rotation of the sprinkler - is usually enough.)

Again, we come to a point where I needed a third hand to get an action shot, so here is the basic idea of how you can get an even sprinkling of powdered sugar over the top of the bars:
When I was growing up, my mom would actually make these with a very thin layer of powdered-sugar glaze on top instead of the powdered sugar. Either way, that little bit of sweet is really nice.

Of course, I couldn't end this post without showing you a cut piece, so I had to cut into them (even though I'm supposed to be taking the pan to a dinner tonight). All in the name of journalism, folks.

The recipe says you can cut this into 16 pieces. Even in the enlarged photo, a 2"x2" bar still seems kind of small.
Seriously. How could you not agree that one (pan) of those would be perfect with some chilled white wine or maybe beside a Coke (mmm... lemon Coke) on a hot day?

*Don't worry. That fissured pan of crust didn't go to waste. Why would you throw away a lightly sweet, buttery (okay, margarine-y) crust, when you could eat it right out of the pan? So good.

Have a recipe that you've always wanted to try but aren't brave enough? A family recipe that you're not sure still works? Or maybe a recipe you've heard of but never found? Let me know and I'll see if I can whip it up and feature it in a future post!

1 comment:

Robin said...

The whole time I was reading...I had a "yum, lemon bars" refrain going through my I'm hungry!