April 2015 | First published on Sasquatch books blog
Paging through the beautiful recipes in The Lemon Cookbook, I couldn’t resist trying out the Best Lemon Bars. Having never made lemon bars before, I wasn’t totally sure about what I was getting myself into. I consider myself a novice baker, but this recipe went smoothly.
I love the smell of freshly squeezed lemons, and there’s something gratifying about hand-juicing lemons yourself, which reminds me of a pro-tip—zesting the lemons is much easier before you juice them . . . trust me on this one. This recipe calls for 1 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 4 medium lemons) for the topping to get that tangy finish. I only ended up needing 3 (I guess I picked gargantuan lemons instead of medium ones).
The recipe was easy to follow, even for a new baker like myself. The book notes that when making the crust, crumbly is a good thing, as this will make it easy to spread out in the pan. I definitely found this to be the case.
The recipe also notes that you should bake the crust until it is light brown, and while it’s baking, prepare the topping. For beginner bakers like me, I would recommend preparing the topping before baking the crust. I knew it made more sense to leave myself some time for error, in case juicing the lemons took longer than I expected. Once the topping was underway and I felt that I could finish preparing it in the 25 minutes that the crust was baking, I put the crust in the oven.
The bars turned out just as The Lemon Cookbook promised, with a nice ratio of topping to crust and a perfect sweet and tangy flavor. I hope one day I’ll have the skills to master another recipe in the book, such as the Lemon Crème Brulée with Lavender and Honey. Yum!
Ellen Jackson’s The Lemon Cookbook is on sale April 28, 2015.
Best Lemon Bars
Makes 2 dozen (1½-by-3-inch) bars
For the crust:
2½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons finely chopped lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the topping:
6 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups sugar
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 4 medium lemons)
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons finely chopped lemon zest (from 2 small lemons)
½ cup whole milk
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Confectioners’ sugar, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with foil and lightly coat the foil with cooking spray or melted butter.
To make the crust, in a small bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a handheld electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until it is light in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the zest and vanilla and mix to incorporate. Reduce to low speed and add the flour mixture, using a spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl several times. Stop mixing when the ingredients are fully incorporated but still crumbly. Do not overmix or the crust will be difficult to distribute in the pan.
Pour the crumbly dough into the prepared pan and use your fingers to distribute it evenly over the bottom, lightly pressing it down and making sure to bring the dough up the sides of the pan slightly, to contain the topping. Bake until toasty brown, about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the topping. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the sugar and flour. Stir in the lemon juice and zest, milk, and salt.
When the crust is done, reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Stir the topping ingredients together again before pouring the topping over the warm crust. Place the pan in the middle of the oven and bake until the topping feels firm when lightly touched, about 20 minutes. Cool the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes or to room temperature before cutting the bars. Dust generously with confectioners’ sugar before serving.