Whole lemon bars

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Earlier this month, I was in a major cooking rut. I didn’t cook much over the holidays, and it was tough to get back to normal. There were loads of sweets in my house (if you can resist 70% off Christmas candy, then you are a stronger person than I), and I wanted the stash to be whittled down a bit before I began to add onto it with homemade goodies. I enjoy baking much more than cooking, and since I wasn’t doing that, I didn’t really want to do any of the food preparation thing. I did, though, and I’ve made it to the top of the hill. The Rolos are also mostly hidden in the depths of the pantry now; hopefully, they’ll be a happy surprise in a couple of months. So straightaway, it’s back into the kitchen, and especially back to baking.

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What to bake first, though? The main idea that popped into my head was something that would bring some freshness and a bit of excitement to the post-holiday blues, something that hints of warmer places. I decided on a lemon bar that would make me pucker– nothing that only had a sweet lemon flavor. I kept imagining a tartness that would transport you through dreary weather to a temporary beach or 4th of July sidewalk or breezy back porch. I’d read about whole lemon bars (exactly what it sounds like), I’d seen Smitten Kitchen’s recipe, and I knew that Deb’s sweet tooth isn’t as sweet as mine. I expected that her recipe would fit the bill.

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Although this recipe for whole lemon bars is great, it isn’t exactly what I imagined. It’s certainly lemony, but it isn’t as bracingly lemony as I hoped for. In fact, my first impression of the lemon bars was a huge disappointment. Once they had cooled, I powdered them, cut them and tried one, but all I tasted was sugar and butter, no lemon at all. Of course, I had to have a second square immediately afterward to make sure, but it still fell short. I tasted another bar later in the day, and it improved enormously. The bars still were sweeter than I was hoping for, but the flavors blended together after a few hours, allowing the lemon to come through and the blatant butter to subdue. A slight tartness even came out, and I decided that even if they weren’t exactly what I imagined, the lemon bars were really good.

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Whole lemon bars
from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
makes 16 squares
three-stars

Notes: If using a food processor, there’s no need to clean your food processor or beaters/mixing bowl after making the crust to prepare the filling.

 

Crust:

1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon table salt
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut in chunks

 

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Make a parchment sling in an 8 or 9 inch square pan.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, in a food processor, or in a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar and salt to combine. Add the butter chunks, and mix at low (1) until the mixture resembles wet sand. It might look powdery, but it should stick together when you squish a pinch together. (If using a food processor, pulse until it’s powdery. If working my hand, use a pastry cutter until you get the right consistency.)

3. Dump the mixture into the parchment-lined pan, and pat it evenly across the bottom of the pan and ½ inch up the sides. Bake for 20 minutes. After 10 minutes, check the crust– it will probably have puffed up some. Using a fork, prick the crust in a few places, which will make it deflate. Once the crust is lightly browned, remove it from the oven. Leave the oven on.

 

Filling:

1 medium-sized lemon, about 3 inches long
1 ½ cups sugar
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut in chunks
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon table salt
powdered sugar, for dusting

 

While the crust cooks, prepare the filling:

4. Cut the lemon in half. If the pith is ¼ inch wide or smaller, continue to the next step. If the pith is thicker than ¼ inch, zest half of the lemon, saving the zest, and peel the pith from the now naked lemon half. Discard the removed pith.

5. Thinly slice the lemon halves in rings. Remove the seeds. Add the lemon rings and sugar to the bowl of a food processor or mini-chopper, and pulse until completely pureed. Add the butter, and pulse until well combined. You’ll be able to see tiny flecks of butter– that’s fine.

6. If you are using a full-sized food processor, add the eggs, cornstarch and salt, and pulse until well combined. If you are using a mini-chopper, transfer the lemon mixture to the bowl you used to make the filling. Run the handheld mixer or the stand mixer, on medium-low (3) until well combined.

7. Pour the lemon mixture into the baked crust and bake about 35 minutes at 350F, until the filling is set. When you bump the pan, it will jiggle slightly. (The top may be getting some light brown spots at this point.) Cool the bars in the pan on a rack. Once cool, gently pick up the sling to remove the lemon bars.

8. Sift powdered sugar over the bars, just to lightly coat them. Cut into squares, and enjoy!

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