There are certain baked goods that elicit a fierce loyalty amongst their fans. They bring out strong feelings about the way they should rightfully be prepared (often related to the childhood of said person, and their relationship to the person who used to bake the item for them), and they bring out perceptible shock and confusion when faced with any person who does not share their opinions and deep-seated affection for said item.
Lemon tarts, or lemon bars as they are also known, are such a baked good. People who love them, love them. I once spent a very long time making my grandfather a chocolate cake from a particularly famous recipe, and after he finished his slice he said to me, “You know what I like?” “What?” I said (expecting a compliment on the rich filling, the moist cake, something like that). “Lemon,” he said wistfully.
The filling in these squares, or bars, is a bit tart (I don’t see the point of too-sweet lemon squares), but not confrontational. Adding a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream offers a silkier texture to the filling, and a smoother citrus experience.
Sometimes lemon zest is added to the filling, and while I love the extra burst of citrus, I’m more in love with a super smooth filling, so I skip it, but you can add a teaspoon or so of zest if you like.
If you want to gild the lily, serve these with some sweetened whipped cream on the side. These can be stored at room temperature for a day, or in the refrigerator for several days, in a tightly covered container with a piece of wax or parchment paper in between each layer of squares. Don’t dust them with confectioners’ sugar until just before serving.
For the Crust
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher or coarse salt
- ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 ¾ sticks) cold unsalted butter cut into small pieces
For the Filling
- 5 large eggs
- 2 ½ cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar for dusting
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9 x 13-inch pan, or spray with nonstick cooking spray, and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper cut so that it fits cleanly on the bottom of the pan, but hangs over the two long sides (you will use this to lift out the squares once they are baked and cooled).
- In a food processor combine the flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse corneal (alternately you can cut in the butter into the flour mixture in a bowl using two knives, a pastry cutter, or your fingers). Transfer the mixture into the pan, and press the mixture evenly into the bottom. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes until golden and a bit firm to the touch.
- Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine the eggs and granulated sugar, and whisk or beat with an electric mixer until smooth. Beat in the lemon juice and cream, and then beat in the flour, until very smooth. When the crust is golden and set pour in the filling, return the pan to the oven and bake for 25 to 35 minutes., until it doesn’t jiggle at all when you gently shake the pan. Let cool completely on a wire rack to room temperature.
- Run a knife around the edge of the pan, and cut the bars into 15 (or more) squares. Remove the bars with a spatula, or carefully use the overhanging edges of the parchment to smoothly lift out the lemon bars.
- Place the ¼ cup confectioners’ sugar into a small sieve and dust it over the lemon bars just before serving.
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