It is that time of year - lemon harvest! I am fortunate to have a lemon tree in the back yard that produces really nice lemons that are aromatic, flavorful and the zest is wonderful. As I am always looking for new ways to use my lemons, lemon bars came to mind after my sister told me about a cookie exchange she participated in and made lemon bars. Sadly, I cannot remember if I ever tried one her lemon bars as we live far apart. Lemons were not a big part of my childhood diet – summer time meant powdered lemonade mix and sometimes my Mom made lemon meringue pie with meringue a mile high. I loved watching her whip up those egg whites to perfect stiffness. Ironically, I did not like my Mom’s pie until I was an adult that I attribute to the high acidity and lack of lemon flavor of the grocery store plastic lemon juice she used being too strong for my small child palette. I can remember my aunt making lemonade during the summer and using the plastic lemon juice and remember it tasting skunky. Always use fresh lemon juice!! I juice and freeze mine so I always have some on hand.
These bars offer a combination of creamy tartness perfectly balanced on an unobtrusive buttery and delicious crusty platform. These are quick and easy to make and are perfect for Christmas cookie trays – they add a nice counterpoint to all the sweet cookies on a tray. They are great at room temperature but equally as good icy cold.
Zesty Lemon Bars
Makes 20 bars
½ cup plus 3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces, plus more for pan
1½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 3/4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon milk
¼ teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center of oven.
Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
To make crust: In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, confectioners' sugar, cornstarch, and salt; process to combine.
Add butter to processor and process until mixture is pale yellow and resembles a coarse meal, about 10 seconds. If you don't have a food processor, whisk together flour, confectioners' sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a large bowl.
Add butter and work into flour mixture using a pastry blender or your fingers.
Pour crust mixture into prepared baking dish, pressing down with your fingers to create a ¼ inch thick layer along the bottom and ½ inch up the sides, pressing firmly at the edges to seal.
Transfer pan to freezer and freeze for 30 minutes.
Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, eggs, and flour; stir in lemon juice, milk, and salt until well combined.
Remove crust from oven.
Stir topping and pour into warm crust.
Return pan to oven and continue baking until topping is just set but not browned, about 20 minutes.
Transfer baking pan to a wire rack to cool completely.
Cut into squares.
Serve immediately or refrigerate covered until ready to serve.