Friday, March 27, 2009

Spring Is Just Around the Corner

When I walked out the back door this morning I took a deep breath. It's spring here, which means it won't be long until it makes its way to your corner of the world too. I know I've got it easier out here in California than a lot of folks, but still it's a welcome treat to see asparagus and the season's first strawberries at the market after a winter of greens, turnips, greens, more greens and, just to keep things interesting, daikon radish. All things I don't mind, not at all, but as the weeks turn to months even San Franciscans long for spring. And so it arrives, just like that, when you think you can't stand another cold morning, another stir-fry.

For some reason, lemon bars seem to be an appropriate way to celebrate this season. Citrus is still plentiful, but the sunshine requires something a little fresher. I object to some lemon bars that have an aroma I can only describe as "wet dog" and a bland, underbaked crust (I suspect I'm not alone in this ... does that description sound delicious to anyone?). These, a hybrid of two recipes, have a shortbread-like crust and a tart, smooth filling. I like to cut them into tiny fingers and eat them ice cold, straight from the fridge, which extends the life of a 9x13-inch pan for many, many days.
Lemon Bars
Most lemon bars are overly sweet or otherwise disappointing. These combine a shortbread-like crust with a tart lemon custard. They take a bit more time than other cookies to make, but the big pan is perfect for a crowd.

Crust:
1 ¾ cup flour
2/3 cup confectionary sugar, plus more for dusting on top
¼ cup cornstarch
½ tsp. salt
12 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 egg yolk

Filling:
½ cup flour
2 ¼ cups sugar
1 cup lemon juice (from 7 lemons)
Zest of 1 lemon
6 whole eggs
1 egg yolk
Pinch salt


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-in by 13-in. pan and line with one sheet parchment, then lay a second sheet of parchment crosswise, allowing for enough overhang to make it easy to lift finished bars out of pan.
Make crust: combine flour, confectionary sugar, cornstarch and salt in bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Cut butter into small pieces and add to flour; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg yolk and pulse until mixture comes to together in large, moist crumbs. Turn crumbs out into prepared baking pan and, with your fingertips, press into an even ¼ inch thick layer. Put pan in freezer and chill 15 minutes before baking.
Bake on middle rack, rotating pan halfway through, until crust is lightly browned, 20 minutes.
While crust is baking, make filling. In a large bowl combine flour and sugar. Add lemon juice and zest and stir until sugar is dissolved. In a second bowl, whisk whole eggs, egg yolk and salt. Add eggs to sugar mixture and whisk until well combined.
Remove crust from oven and, while still warm, pour lemon mixture over. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees, return pan to oven and bake until custard is just set in the center, 30 minutes.
Let cool completely on a wire rack, then cover and refrigerate until cold, at least one hour. Lift bars from pan by pulling up on parchment “handles” and transfer to a cutting board. Dust generously with confectionary sugar and cut into small squares.

3 comments:

Robert J. said...

I love lemon bars, & I understand the "wet dog" aroma that you described. Thanks for the recipe. I will try these out since I will have more time at home to bake. I will keep you posted.

Clay said...

I am so glad others share my strange observation about most lemon bars... Wondering if I was crazy, I googled lemon squares and wet dog and your blog came up.... helped me gain some credibility with my wife. Maybe we will try your recipe sometime.

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