I really like lemon bars. Every time I'm pregnant (note: I am NOT currently pregnant just because I am writing about lemon bars), I crave lemon and lemony things like a lunatic and occasionally make a pan of bars that I eat half of that night, like even more of a lunatic (normally I'm a small treat kind of a girl). Nevertheless, you'll notice there's not a recipe on here for one yet. That's because even though I think most bars are decent, I have been looking for one to fall in love with for a very long time. Some of them get this kind of crusty thing going on up top. Some are too lemony (sometimes to the point where they almost burn my mouth) and some are just not very interesting. Then again, some are a little too interesting--I found a recipe a couple years ago where you just threw a lemon (seeds, rind, and all) into the food processor and processed it with all the other stuff. I loved that concept--the simple efficiency of it, and it actually tasted pretty good, but the bars came out with little chewy lumps of pith in them, and I didn't love that.
But as fate would have it, this Christmas, one of my sweet sweet piano students brought me a plate of lemon bars that she herself had made. And they were perfect--lemony and acidic, but nothing that'd burn your mouth off. A perfect custardy filling with a lovely shortbread crust. I also liked the crust to custard ratio. They were it--the one--the lemon bar I'd been looking for.
I admit that I was almost scared to try to reproduce them. What if it had just been a fluke? What if they didn't work out for me? What if I messed them up?
But then, another friend, in another simple act of friendship gave me a whole bagful of lemons that her mother had grown. They were the most fragrant, beautiful juicy lemons I've ever seen. You could just squeeze them by hand and get nearly 1/2 cup of juice from them.
And then I knew that the time had come to make the lemon bars. And so I did. And they were just as perfect as they'd been when my piano student brought them.
I hope you like them as much as I do.
My Favorite Lemon Bars
Makes 9x13 inch pan
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes, (20 for crust; 30 for filling)
Chill time: a couple hours--you'll chill the crust before baking and then you'll want to give yourself time for these to cool since warm lemon bars just seem weird (and too gooey).
Cost: $2.40 (that's about $.10/bar)
flour: .20, cornstarch: .05, sugar: .40, butter: 1.00, eggs: .40, lemon juice: .35
Note: This recipe is for a 9x13 inch pan. I didn't trust myself not to eat all of those, so I halved the recipe. If you make a smaller batch like I did, know that your cook times will be a little shorter. You'll probably cook your crust a wee bit less and your filling for about 20 minutes whereas mine was closer to 30 minutes.
1 3/4 C flour (all-purpose)
1/4 C cornstarch
1/2 C granulated sugar (NOT powdered sugar)
1/4 tsp salt
1 C cold butter
4 large eggs
2/3 C lemon juice (can be fresh-squeezed of from a bottle, but must be 100% lemon juice)
1 1/2 C granulated sugar
1/4 C flour
1/8 tsp salt
I made the crust in the food processor and recommend this. You just throw everything in and give it a few whizzes. It will end up looking crumbly, but it can be pressed together (kind of like a graham cracker crust actually).
However, if you don't have a food processor, just add all the dry ingredients and then use your fingers to rub the butter in until it forms fine crumbs. [Note: You could possibly melt your butter and stir it in for simplicity. I did NOT do this, since I followed my student's recipe perfectly. It might affect the texture of your crust and make it a bit denser, but then it might save you 10-15 minutes and that might be worth it--just an idea if you don't have a food processor].
Press this into a 9x13 inch pan. (I used parchment paper in my pan so that I could cut and remove the bars easily. Also, this makes it easier to freeze some of the bars so you don't eat them all immediately--this is always a good thing. Unless you are a pregnant lunatic, in which case you should just grab a spoon and have at it.)
Chill the crust for 30 minutes. [Note: Again, you could possibly skip this step. I didn't--I wanted the bars as I'd had them, so I followed the directions. But next time I will skip this step and see if it makes a big difference or not.]
When you're ready to go, heat the oven to 350 and bake the crust for 20 minutes. Then--without opening the oven door--turn the heat down to 300 and bake for another 2-5 minutes.
While it's baking, make your filling.
Whisk the eggs and then add the rest of the ingredients. Whisk it good.
Take your crust out when it's done (you don't want it super cooked--it's going back in with the filling and I just hate a burned crust; don't you?). Let it cool for 2 minutes and then pour the well-whisked filling over your crust (you want the crust still hot when you pour the filling in).
Bake for 25-30 minutes at 300 degrees until filling is set. When you take it out it should not be liquid, although a very soft jiggle is okay.
Cool it completely. When it is COMPLETELY cool, sift powdered sugar onto the top, and cut those babies up.
These keep well for several days and freeze extremely well. I just leave them on their parchment paper (cut into pieces) and put them in a large Ziploc bag in order to freeze.