Sunday, July 7, 2013

Whole lemon bars


When I think of summertime, one of the first things that pops into my head are lemon-flavored desserts.  There is just something about this citrus that makes adore this time of year. My mind fills with hues of yellows, oranges and greens. Happy times.

As summer is in full tilt, I wanted to make sure that I baked something lemon-y. Although I have made lemon bars on this blog before, the recipe I used previously was not my favorite. There wasn't enough lemon flavor in them, so I needed to find another recipe to try.

Lo and behold, my trusty smitten kitchen cookbook contained a recipe for whole lemon bars. I wasn't quite sure what "whole" lemon bars meant, and I found out after reading the instructions that the adjective was referring to the use of the entire fruit. Yes, friends, this recipe uses the entire lemon - rind, juice, interiors and all.  Just not the seeds, of course.

Deb's recipe was very easy to follow and even easier to make. I made these on a whim and was so glad I did. What was lacking in the previous lemon bar recipe was made up for in this version. The crust is shortbread-like, and the dense and super juicy lemon-y filling is what makes my tastebuds sing. It's sweet, but perfectly balanced with oodles of lemon. I think that these are honestly the best lemon bars I've ever eaten. That's saying something, since I don't like to say that something is "the best" unless it truly is.

If you were searching for a lemon bar recipe, look no further. This is it.

Whole lemon bars
Crust
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter (cold), cut into chunks
Filling
  • 1 small or medium sized lemon
  • 1 and 1/3 cups sugar
  • 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter (cold), cut into chunks
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
Directions
Place a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Line an 8x8 inch baking pan with parchment paper and make sure you leave a 2-inch overhang on both sides (you'll want to use two sheets of parchment paper - one going up and down and the other going side-to-side so they overlap and form an "X" in the middle). Grease the parchment paper with cooking spray or butter.

Make the crust: In a food processor (or a blender if you don't own a food processor), blend together the flour, sugar and salt. Add the chunks of butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse sand and will hold its shape when pinched together.

Transfer the crumbs to your prepared 8x8 inch baking pan. Press down firmly so the bottom is even and you have about a 1/2 inch wall of crust going up on the sides. Gently prick the bottom of the dough with a fork and bake for 20 minutes or until the crust is a light golden color.

Make the filling: Cut your lemon in half and take a look at the white part under the rind. If the white part is thicker than 1/4 inch, then you will need to remove part of it (read on). If the rind is less than 1/4 inch thick, move on to the next step. To remove the thick white part, place half of the lemon, cut side down, on a cutting board. Using downward cuts, slice away at the lemon like you are slicing cheese. You'll want to try your best to save the interior bits of the lemon and only slice the exterior skin if possible. You can use the other half of the lemon as-is... no need to remove the white bits from that half.

Slice your lemon halves into very thin strips and make sure to discard the seeds. Add the lemon slices to your food processor (or blender if you don't have a food processor).  Then add the sugar and mix until you get a gritty lemon-sugar mixture. The lemon should be fully pureed at this point. Stop the food processor and add the chunks of butter and mix until the batter is smooth. You may need to stop the machine to scrape down the sides. Then add the eggs, cornstarch and salt and pulse in quick bursts until the mixture is fully incorporated.

Remove the crust from the oven when it is baked and evenly pour the filling on top. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top is a light brown color. The pan will jiggle slightly when the bars are fully baked.

Remove the pan from the oven and turn it off. Set it on the countertop or in the refrigerator and allow it to cool completely. Use the parchment overhangs to lift the bars out and transfer to a cutting board. Slice into 16 squares and serve. You may garnish the tops with powdered sugar if desired.

Bars will store in an airtight container at room temperature for about a week, if they even last that long.

Yield: About 16 lemon bars (or more, if you decide to cut them smaller)

Source: The smitten kitchen cookbook, pages 217-218

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