A few years ago, back when Terwilliger and I were still suffering through winter on the East coast, his So-Cal grandmother sent his family a box of legendary lemons from the tree in her backyard.
“These are the best lemons you’ll ever have,” Terwilliger told me, holding one to my nose so I could smell the sweet-tart aroma. The lemon was a deep, golden yellow, and it smelled like flowers and earth. I appreciated it, but I didn’t really understand just how awesome the lemons were until we ended up out here in San Diego, where we are terribly spoiled by our current locale.
In our yard, we have two orange trees — navel and Valencia — and the legendary lemon tree. We are not sure if they’re Meyer lemons, but they are fantastic lemons. This month the tree is just bursting with citrus, its branches heavy with clusters of fragrant, deep-yellow fruit, and I’ve been looking forward to using them in recipes.
Hello, lemon bars. When I was a kid, with no legendary lemons at my disposal, I would make lemon bars from a box mix, and it was the easiest thing in the world. I was so accustomed to the flavor of boxed crust that years later when I had my first from-scratch lemon bar, with its buttery shortbread base, I thought it was weird. Good, but not like a “real” lemon bar. I’m telling you, I loved the box mix. (One weekend when my mom was out of town, my dad and I ate an entire pan of box-mix-bars in 24 hours. We were great fans.)
But as my
snobbery palate has developed over the years, I’ve moved away from box mixes, and I’ve come to salivate over homemade lemon bars. But I’ve never made them myself. So for this endeavor, I combed through various recipes, trying to find one that seemed like the ideal ratio of tart-to-sweet. I was also looking for something that used an excessive amount of lemon juice, since we have so many lemons to use. This recipe, from the Baking Bites Cookbook, used the most juice and looked incredibly easy to put together.
You’d think I would realize that by using as much lemon juice as possible, I would be creating something that was mouth-puckeringly tart. But I didn’t think about it until I tried one of these. Hoooo boy, these have some zing. They’re very good, but I’m thinking one small piece at a time is my limit, lest my throat start hurting from the acidity of the citrus juice.
But as I said, they are good. The shortbread crust has a light texture and perfect buttery flavor, and the filling is more like a lemon curd, smooth and slick and tangy. These are rather thin, so if you prefer a thicker crust and thicker lemon filling, I’d suggest baking the recipe below in a 9×9 square pan instead of the 9×13 called for.
1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups flour
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1 T. lemon zest
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
Preheat 350 F.
In a large bowl (mixer optional), cream butter and sugar until well-combined. Stir in flour, salt, zest, and vanilla and mix until you have a grainy, crumbly dough, like coarse sand. Transfer mixture to a 9×13 baking pan (I left mine ungreased and the bars came out just fine) and press firmly to bring dough together. Bake crust for 15 – 17 minutes, or until the crust is juuuuust beginning to brown at the edges.
While the crust is baking, prepare the filling. This part is really easy: combine all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and whirl until well-combined. If you don’t have a food processor, a spoon and a bowl will work just fine. Pour filling over hot crust, and then bake for 11 – 14* minutes, or until the filling is set and the edges have gotten barely golden. (*My oven cooks slow, but even still, this took more like 20 – 22 minutes for me.)
Remove from oven and cool to room temperature on a wire rack, then transfer bars to fridge and chill for an hour before serving. To serve, cut into 20 squares and sift powdered sugar over all (you might want to use quite a bit, to cut the tartness of the filling).