I love lemons. I love their scent, their taste and their bright, sunny yellow colour, so it's definitely one of my favourite ingredients to cook with. It's even better if a recipe calls for zesting lemons - then the entire kitchen smells heavenly!
I've never made lemon bars before and I've also never made shortbread before (although Paul makes amazing shortbread cookies), so this recipe was definitely something new for me on all levels. It was a fairly simple recipe to follow (I've tweaked it a bit based on my experience with it) but it does take a while to finish the bars and there's a lot of waiting involved, so make sure you have an afternoon set aside to make these.
Now, my own personal test for any recipe is alwaysPaul's reaction. He's brutally honest when it comes to tasting my cooking/baking, and I can usually tell within 10 seconds if a recipe is a success or not. So, when he tried these lemon bars for the first time and didn't say anything at first, I feared the worst. I anxiously asked him how they were and he said (and I quote), "You can't serve these to people. If they taste them, they'll keep asking for more." Haha - they're a hit!
A couple of things to keep in mind, especially if you're baking these ahead of time for the holiday season:
- dust them with icing sugar ONLY if you plan on serving them soon afterwards. If you plan on storing these covered, the icing sugar melts into the lemon topping (it leaves a shiny glaze, which isn't terrible, but just not as pretty as the sugar dusting)
- if you eat the bars on the same day that they're made, the shortbread is almost flaky and crispy; if you store them covered overnight, they lose their flakiness and take on a more buttery and cookie feel (both ways are delicious and highly recommended!)
lemon shortbread bars
source: slightly adapted from finecooking.com
for the crust:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (for the pan)
7 ounces (14 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
9.5 ounces (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
for the topping:
4 large eggs
1 1/4 cups sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 3-4 lemons)
1 tablespoon packed, finely grated lemon zest (from 2 lemons)
2 tablespoons icing sugar
Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F and place a rack into the middle position.
Line a 13 x 9 inch metal baking pan with foil, letting the ends create an overhanging edge (for easy removal).
Lightly coat the sides of the foil (but not the bottom) with melted butter to prevent the lemon topping from sticking.
In a medium bowl, stir together the butter, sugar and salt. Gently stir in the flour to make a stiff dough.
Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Prick the dough all over with a fork.
Place the pan into the freezer for 15 minutes to firm up the dough. Once the dough is firm, place into the pre-heated oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the crust is golden and set.
To make the topping: in a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, flour and salt until smooth, about 1 minute. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest.
Once the crust is ready, remove from the oven and pour the lemon topping over the hot crust. Return the pan to the oven and increase the heat to 350 degrees F.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the topping is set in the center (it should no longer wiggle when the pan is moved) and the edges are golden.
Set the pan on a metal rack to cool until the crust is completely firm, at least 1 hour.
When the bottom of the pan is cool, carefully lift the bars from the pan using the foil sides and transfer them to a cutting board. Separate the foil from the bars by sliding a spatula between them.
Sift the icing sugar over the lemon topping.
Cut the bars into 2-inch squares (I prefer my bars smaller and more bit-sized, so I cut them into 1 1/2-inch squares).
yields: approximately 30 bars (depending on how large you cut the bars)