Sunday, September 14, 2008

Afternoon Tea, Part II - Lemon Bars

Lemon bars are my favorite dessert. There is something about the creamy, tart filling combined with a thin layer of crisp, sweet shortbread that just makes my mouth water, and even as I'm typing now, I have the biggest urge to just leave the keyboard and run to the kitchen to make another batch. But I promised you the recipe, and I wouldn't disappoint my *cough* adoring public (as A. says, I'm the queen of shameless plugs). I can tell you that this is now my favorite, go-to recipe, and I've made it twice, and twice it's disappeared faster than I could say "all-purpose flour." In fact, about 5 minutes after I gave these out at work, I heard loud moans coming from my co-worker's office, and as I crept by quietly (hoping not to catch anyone in flagrante delicto), I heard, "I LOVE YOU IRENE!" Ok, maybe that should have been a PRIVATE moment between the guy and his lemon bar, but it's always nice to know that someone loves you, even if only because you feed them. The point is, these lemon bars are GOOD and you should make them right away so that I can feel the love!

The recipe comes from my favorite dessert cookbook, that I've mentioned a bunch of times before, called Tartine. It simply rules. If I didn't already have a copy, I would go out and buy one immediately. Everything sounds delectable and everything I've made from it has been A+. There are also great hints and tips about technique that are really useful to have. Anyway, enough of my gushing, it's just that this book has really come through for me and I wanted to recommend it without reservations.

Lemon Bars on Brown Butter Shortbread (Tartine)

(yields 12 3x3 1/4-in bars, or one 9x13 baking pan)

1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (for pareve, replace with margarine or vegetable shortening)
1/2 cup pine nuts (optional) - I never use these

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 1/4 cups sugar (I cut this down to 2 cups, because, wow, lots of sugar)
1 cup + 2 tbsp lemon juice
Lemon zest, grated, from 1 small lemon
6 large whole eggs
1 large egg yolk
pinch of salt

Confectioner's sugar for topping (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 9x13-inch baking pan.

To make the crust, sift the confectioner's 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 until just a smooth dough forms.

Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and press evenly into the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of the pan. 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. (Irene's note: I find pie weights to be a hassle, so I usually freeze the crust for 1/2 hour and line with a piece of buttered foil, buttered side down, for 1/2 of the baking time). Bake the crust until it colors evenly to a deep golden brown, 25-35 min. Rotate the pan 180 degrees if the crust appears to be baking unevenly.

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 easier 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's hot when the custard is poured. Reduce the temperature to 300F and bake just until the center of the custard is no longer wobbly, 30-40 minutes.

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 confectioner's sugar. They will keep in an airtight container or well covered in the baking dish in the refrigerator for up to 4 days (Irene's note - yeah, right, not a chance; good luck keeping them for more than 4 minutes).


ChichaJo said...

I love afternoon tea! I'm such a fan :) The mini sandwiches and tarts, scones and tea, the whole ritual of it it! :) Your's looks gorgeous...the whole set up is lovely and those lemon bars sound delicious!

Peg said...

Mention 'shortbread' and I'm there! I'm going to visit the kids next week-end -- a good guest brings a gift, right? Your lemon bars sound just right.

Anonymous said...

Tartine has always been at the top of my dessert books. It's too funny that we made the same recipe from the same book. And you know I have the same plate that you used and nearly used for the lemon bar too. I actually used the longer version of the plate to serve the lemon bar to my guests. Yours look gorgeous!

Cannelle Et Vanille said...

what a beautiful display! i saw Veron made these too. i love this recipe and i love Tartine! gorgeous!

Helene said...

Love the lemon bars from that book too! Can you hear me "I love you Irene" :)?!!! Truly delicious!

Anonymous said...

My favorite recipe for lemon bars comes from the South, it uses less sugar, and the ingredients are slightly different:

1.5 cups sugar
4 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
4 eggs
1/3 cup lemon juice
5 tbsps unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 partially baked pie shell. (you can use a pate brisse recipe or the one that you are using for crust, use a rectangular pie dish, obviously)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Combine sugar and starch in a large bowl and mix, pressing out any lumps. Stir in lemon peel. Beat in eggs one at a time. Stir in lemon juice, blend in butter. Pour filling into the pie shell. Bake until puffed and golden brown, about 50-60 min. Cool to room temp before slicing, as filling will thicken, fall somewhat and acquire jellylike texture when cool.

I find this desert to be especially welcome after a heavy meal such as leg of lamb a la Francaise, for example :)