Lemon Bars

This is the part of winter I hate the most, the wasteland between late February and the end of March where spring seems so close and so far away. Each sunny day feels like hope, only to be followed by another 6-inches of snow. It can be discouraging. I think at times like this we should all be grateful for citrus—a little orange or lemon to brighten the day. The blood orange tart did wonders to lift my spirits and I hoped the remedy would continue to work with these classic lemon bars that Faith Durand made over at The Kitchn.

I’m generally not a fan of lemon bars. They can be the stuff of boxed-lunch nightmares, a mediocre crust topped by way too much overly sweet and artificial tasting lemon…curd? But these are not that kind of lemon bar. Faith accurately points out that they require slightly more effort than your average bars, but the results are well worth the extra work. A hearty shortbread is topped with just the right amount of tangy fresh lemon curd and then dusted with confectioner’s sugar. They are as bright as a spring day and so much more satisfying than any you have had before.

The Ultimate Lemon Butter Bar by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Shortbread

10 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold) (5 ounces = 142 grams)
2 tablespoons powdered sugar (0.5 ounce = 14 grams)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar (0.75 ounce = 25 grams)
1 1/4 cups bleached all-purpose flour (dip and sweep method) (6.25 ounces = 180 grams)

Lemon Curd

4 large egg yolks (2 full fluid ounces = 2.5 ounces = 74 grams)
3/4 cup sugar (5.25 ounces = 150 grams)
3 fluid ounces (use a liquid measuring cup) lemon juice, freshly squeezed (about 2 1/2 large lemons) (3.25 ounces = 94 grams)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened) (2 ounces = 57 grams)
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons lemon zest (finely grated) (4 grams)
2 tablespoons powdered sugar for dusting (0.5 ounce = 14 grams)

EQUIPMENT:
8-inch by 8-inch by 2-inch baking pan, preferably metal (if using a glass pan, lower the oven temperature 25°F), bottom and 2 sides lined with an 8-inch by 16-inch strip of heavy-duty aluminum foil.

FOOD PROCESSOR METHOD
Cut the butter into 1-inch cubes, wrap it, and refrigerate.

In a food processor with the metal blade, process the sugars for 1 minute or so, until the sugar is very fine. Add the butter and pulse in until the sugar disappears. Add the flour and pulse in until there are a lot of little moist crumbly pieces and no dry flour particles remain.

Dump the mixture into a plastic bag and press it together. Remove the dough from the plastic bag and knead it lightly, until it holds together.

ELECTRIC MIXER METHOD OR BY HAND
In Scotland, it is said that the best shortbread is mixed with the fingers and that each woman’s fingers lend something distinctive and special to the finished cookie. I find that the texture is more delicate when the dough is mixed with the fingers rather than in a machine. For either method, use superfine sugar for the best texture and be sure to soften the butter.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugars. In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy. With your fingers or with the electric mixer, mix in the flour until incorporated. If using the mixer, add the flour in 2 parts.

FOR BOTH METHODS:
Place 1 oven rack in the middle of the oven.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Pat the dough into the prepared pan. Use a fork to prick the dough all over.

Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned and the top is pale golden (do not brown).

While the shortbread is baking, prepare the Lemon Curd Topping.

LEMON CURD TOPPING
Have a strainer, suspended over a bowl, ready near the range.

In a heavy noncorrodible saucepan, beat the egg yolks and sugar with a wooden spoon until well blended. Stir in the lemon juice, butter, and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for about 6 minutes, until thickened and resembling hollandaise sauce, which thickly coats a wooden spoon but is still liquid enough to pour. (A candy thermometer will read 196°F.) The mixture will change from translucent to opaque and begin to take on a yellow color on the back of a wooden spoon. It must not be allowed to boil or it will curdle. (It will steam above 140°F. Whenever steaming occurs, remove the pan briefly from the heat, stirring constantly to prevent boiling.)

When the curd has thickened, pour it at once into the strainer. Press it with the back of a spoon until only the coarse residue remains. Discard the residue. Stir in the lemon zest.

When the shortbread is baked, remove it from the oven, lower the temperature to 300°F., pour the lemon curd on top of the shortbread, and return it to the oven for 10 minutes.

Cool the lemon curd–topped shortbread completely in the pan on a wire rack. Refrigerate the pan for 30 minutes to set the lemon curd completely before cutting into bars. Place the powdered sugar in a strainer and tap the strainer with a spoon to sprinkle a thick, even coating, entirely covering the lemon.

Run a small metal spatula between the sides of the pan and the pastry on the 2 sides without the aluminum foil. Use the foil to lift out the lemon curd–covered shortbread onto a cutting surface. Use a long, sharp knife to cut the shortbread first in thirds, then in half the other way, and then each half in thirds. Wipe the blade after each cut.

The powdered sugar will start to be absorbed into the lemon curd after several hours, but it can be reapplied before serving.

STORE:
In an airtight container at room temperature, or in the refrigerator or freezer.

KEEPS:
3 days at room temperature, 3 weeks refrigerated (individually wrapped in plastic wrap to prevent drying), or 3 months frozen.

55 comments to “Lemon Bars”

  1. Hi Tim!

    Recently moved across the pond to live with my british boyfriend…and just found out he’s never had lemon bars (as a Midwesterner, I obviously find this to be an absolute travesty). Just wondering, do you think anything horrible would happen if I made these in an 8 or 9 inch round loose-bottomed cake tin? The guy only ever used to make chocolate cake and victoria sponges, so he has several different round loose-bottomed cake tins, but doesn’t have a square baking dish larger than six inches.

  2. Hi Haley- You’ll be fine. The 9-inch is better than the 8-inch. But if you google it, there are people who have converted surface area of different pans so you can make sure it holds the same amount, or at least something close.

  3. We made these last night as a tart (in a 9 inch tart tin with removable bottom), and I have beaten the 4 egg whites with a cup of sugar, put on top, and put under the broiler – made for a great dessert. Thank you, wonderful recipe. The shortbread comes out really well, and the curd is easy and always comes out wonderful. The bit of a merengue gave it a cake-y appearance. Second New Year in a row I am making these, a tradition for us now.

What do you think?