Depending on where you are in the world, it may be late winter, early spring, I suppose even fall if you’re in the other hemisphere. In Israel spring started in February and the weather has been glorious. During the day it hints at how hot it will become, but in the morning and evening it’s cool and slightly crisp. The orange and lemon trees are in full bloom around the neighborhood, and sometimes I’m lucky enough to collect one that has fallen onto the sidewalk. For me citrus is the perfect way to wish a farewell to winter and greet the warmer weather with open arms.
Winter is when citrus is at its best, and when you can really use a little zing to brighten up the otherwise gray skies. But in the colder months citrus is best used as an accent, an uplifting note to a hearty braised dish or rich dessert. In spring and summer I want to break out the all-ctirus desserts and beverages and sing. I can’t imagine eating a lemon bar in the winter. But as soon as it warms up, that’s all I want to do.
Lemon bars hearken back to bake sales and picnics, which is maybe why I find them so comforting. Even as a child I found the flavor of lemon intoxicating and I would eat sour lemon candies, drink lemonade by the gallon, and even suck on lemons until my face puckered. The first time I had a lemon bar it was a revelation. The creamy, tangy-sweet curd atop moist shortbread was almost too much to take.
I don’t eat lemon bars often. They’re about as bad for you as a dessert can get – they consist primarily of egg yolks, sugar, butter, and heavy cream, plus, of course, lemon. But that’s also probably why they’re so darn good. Also, I have yet to make a perfect batch. In my current oven I overcooked the shortbread slightly, but this oven doesn’t fare well with baked goods. And when I slice them, they never come out picture perfect. But they taste just divine.
Classic Lemon Bars
Yield: Makes about 25 bars (I cut them small)
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated via Leite’s Culinaria
7 large egg yolks + 2 large eggs
1 cup + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ lemon zest
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into four pieces
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Confectioners sugar for dusting (optional)
For the Shortbread Crust:
Line a rectangular baking pan with parchment paper, allowing some to hang over to help remove later. Spray with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
Combine the flour, confectioners sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter and mix until it becomes the texture of coarse meal. Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared baking pan and press firmly with fingers into even layer over entire pan bottom. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350F and bake until crust is lightly brown, about 20 minutes.
For the Lemon Filling:
Whisk together the yolks and eggs until combined. Add the granulated sugar and whisk until combined. Whisk in the lemon juice, lemon zest, and salt. Transfer the mixture to a saucepan and add the butter. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until curd thickens to thin sauce-like consistency and temperature registers 170F on an instant read thermometer (about 5 minutes).
Remove from the heat and immediately pour curd through a mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Stir in the heavy cream. Pour curd into warm crust and bake until filling is shiny and opaque and center jiggles slightly, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature, at least 45 minutes. Remove the bars from the pan using the parchment handles and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into squares and dust with confectioners sugar if desired.