The first time I attempted to make lemon bars was several years ago, and while I don't recall the recipe or how they looked, I distinctly recall tasting cooked egg. Ugh! I think I must have been trying to make lemon curd and then spread that on top of a pastry crust. Truthfully I don't think I made it past the curd. It has taken years for me to even attempt anything that hints at lemon curd again. But this recipe kept calling my name, and the neighbors lemon tree seems to have an endless supply, reminding me each time I walk out my front door how much I love the flavor of fresh sweet lemon bars.
This week I finally took the plunge. Picking my lemon's, mixing the crust, and whisking those eggs and sugar as hard as possible I was determined not to have the same experience again. Turns out I had nothing to worry about, well at least very little. This time they turned out excellent, and I think I actually gasped with delight when I took that first bite. They are like lemon wonder bars, an excellent curd atop a shortbread crust that melt in my mouth.
Recipe for Lemon Bars on Brown Butter Shortbread
Adapted from Tartine, by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson
1/2 cup confectioners' or powdered sugar
1 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup pine nuts (optional)*
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 and 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup + 2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 7 medium lemons)
lemon zest, grated from one small lemon
6 large whole eggs
1 large egg yolk
pinch of salt
confectioners' sugar for sprinkling on top (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and butter a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
To make the crust, sift the confectioners' sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the flour and stir to mix. Add the butter and pine nuts (if using) and beat on low speed just until a smooth dough forms, approximately 5-7 minutes.
Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and press evenly into the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides (this was hard to do - so I did a couple sides and then left the others alone). The crust should be about 1/4 inch thick on the bottom. I used a smooth glass cup to help roll out and evenly distribute the crust. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights**(see note below). Bake the crust until in colors evenly to a deep golden brown, about 25-35 minutes. During the baking be sure to rotate the pan 180 degrees at least once to ensure even baking.
While the crust is baking, make the filling. Sift the flour into a mixing bowl and add the sugar, whisk until blended. Add the lemon juice and zest and whisk until the sugar has dissolved. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the whole eggs and the egg yolk together with the salt, until they are smooth. Add the eggs to the lemon juice mixture and whisk until all are well mixed.
When the crust is ready, pull out the oven rack and pour the filling directly into the hot pan. If the crust has come out of the oven and cooled before you have finished making the filling, put it back in the oven for a few minutes to that it is hot when the custard is poured in. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake just until the center of the custard is no longer wobbly, 30 to 40 minutes.
Let cool completely on a wire rack, then cover and chill well before cutting. Using a sharp knife, cut into squares. When ready to serve dust the tops with confectioners' sugar (to get a light dusting I sprinkled a little of the sugar into my sifter and shook it lightly over the custard). These will keep in an airtight container or well covered in the baking dish in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
*I used the pine nuts for my crust and was pleased with the results. The recipe recommends the pine nuts for their earthy flavor and as one of few nuts that won't be overwhelmed by the strong flavor of the lemon.
**I have yet to purchase a set of these, though it is on my list. I the mean time I use a trick I learned from my mom, instead of using pie weights I use dried beans or grains, this time I used lentils. The only trick is that the legumes don't have as much weight, obviously, so you must gently press down on the paper a couple times while baking to let the air out.
(photography by: alison clayshulte)