Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Lemon Bars

We're 3 days out from the official start of Fall, but, apparently, nobody gave L.A. the memo.  The sun's still blazing away out there while we puny humans huddle around our fans and air-conditioning vents in the shade of the indoors.  Well, if summer's going to overstay its welcome, then I'm going to make the most of it.  Make lemons into lemonade, if you will.  Or, in this case, lemon bars.  

I have a very distinct memory from my younger days when I would make up a batch of lemon bars from one of the box mixes.  They made about 9 square bars, so in a family of 4, I'd usually get 2 before they were all gone.  I remember promising myself that one day, when I was an adult living on my own, I'd make up a pan of lemon bars and eat every last one by myself.

Now that I am an adult (well, kind of), I worry about things like sugar and calories and stomach aches.  How boring I've become.  Needless to say, I shared these with some friends while we watched E.T. the other night.  Sorry, younger me.  Maybe next time.

The recipe I used is from Tartine Bakery in San Francisco.  I've never been, but I might have to make a road trip some day just to eat there.  The recipe stood out to me because of the use of pine nuts in the shortbread crust.  I just happened to have some pine nuts on hand, but if you don't, or don't want to go out to buy some, they are considered an optional ingredient.  The rest of the bar might be the best I've ever had - perfectly tart and sweet.  If you like lemon bars, give this one a try.

Tartine Bakery Lemon Bars (adapted from Tartine)


For the crust:
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup pine nuts (optional)

For the filling:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup plus 2 tbsp lemon juice (about 6 lemons)
lemon zest, grated from 1 small lemon
6 large whole eggs
1 large egg yolk
salt pinch
confectioners’ sugar for topping

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

To make the crust:
Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a bowl. Add the flour and stir to mix. Add the butter and pine nuts (if using) and mix until a smooth dough forms.  You can use a mixer set on low or just mix by hand with a little elbow grease.

Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and press evenly into the bottom. It should be about 1/4 inch thick. To help even out the crust, use the flat bottom of any type of cup, pressing down firmly. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights.
Bake the crust until it colors evenly to a deep golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes.  If the crust doesn't seem to be browning, remove the pie weights for the last 5-10 minutes.

While the crust is baking, make the filling: 
Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Add the sugar and whisk until blended, Add the lemon juice and zest and stir to dissolve the sugar. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the whole eggs and egg yolk with the salt. Add the eggs to the lemon juice mixture and whisk until well mixed.

When the crust is ready pull out the oven rack holding the crust and pour the filling directly into the hot pan. (It is easiest to pour the custard into the pan if the pan is in the oven.) If the crust has come out of the oven and cooled before you have finished making the filling, put it back in for a few minutes so that it is hot when the custard is poured into it. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F and bake just until the center of the custard is no longer wobbly, 30 to 40 minutes (mine was 30 minutes exactly).

Let cool completely on a wire rack, then cover and chill well before cutting. Using a sharp knife, cut into 12 squares, or as desired. If you like, dust the tops of the squares with confectioners’ sugar. They will keep in an airtight container or well covered in the baking dish in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

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