Pucker up for these lemon bars
Vail CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
A breath of spring … that’s what these bars are. With a light, lemon-flavored custard embracing a tender, shortbread base, these dainty bars bring to mind summer weddings, teas in the garden, and a whole collection of elegant warm-weather occasions. Don’t, however, think they’re for women in white gloves only; they’re tasty enough to appeal to everyone and to be served in a wide variety of situations. They are as at home on a picnic table and beside the office coffee pot as they are at fancy affairs.
Present them as a cookie, with coffee or tea. Or, if you’re looking for a dessert, they are a wonderful accompaniment to raspberry or strawberry sherbet, vanilla ice cream or any compote of fruit and berries.
The lemon flavor becomes more pronounced after a little time in the refrigerator. However, it’s subtle. If you want the bars to provide a lemon taste that makes you pucker, use a bit more of the zest and the three tablespoons of lemon juice. If your lemons aren’t yielding strongly flavored juice (the only way to tell is to taste it), add a few drops of lemon oil or a quarter teaspoon of lemon extract to assure a strong hit of citrus.
These bars can be stored, airtight, in the refrigerator for about five days.
Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet
Make in an 8X8 inch baking pan
3⁄4 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
1⁄4 cup of confectioner’s sugar
7 tablespoons butter, softened and cut up if making by hand, chilled and cut up if using a food processor
2 large eggs
3⁄4 cup granulated sugar
1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon lemon zest
21⁄2 to 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
1⁄8 teaspoon lemon oil or 1⁄4 teaspoon lemon extract, optional
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Line the 8X8 inch baking pan with aluminum foil, then grease and flour the foil or line the pan with Reynold’s Release foil (I love this stuff ” no greasing required.). Extend the foil several inches beyond the pan on two opposing sides so you can use it as handles when removing the pastry from the pan.
Next, make the base. To make it by hand: Combine the flour, confectioner’s sugar and salt in a bowl and whisk until well combined and aerated. Blend in the soft butter with a fork or your finger tips until moist clumps are formed. To make it in a food processor: Put the flour, confectioner’s sugar and salt in the bowl of the processor and pulse until well combined. Add the pieces of chilled butter and process until the dough is uniformly moist and forms clumps.
Dump the clumps of dough into the prepared pan and pat until smooth and level. If the dough sticks to your hands, pat it through a piece of plastic wrap. Put the pan in the oven and bake until the base is pale golden, about 30 minutes.
When the base has almost finished baking, make the topping: Whisk together the two eggs, granulated sugar, baking powder, lemon zest, lemon juice, lemon oil or extract if you are using it, and salt just until smooth and combined. Don’t beat until air bubbles are formed; the bubbles pop while baking and make the texture less appealing. Pour the topping over the warm base. Return the pan to the oven and bake another 30 to 40 minutes, until a knife inserted in center comes out almost clean.
Remove the pan to a cooling rack. Run a knife around the edges of the pan (between the bars and the aluminum foil) while the pastry is still warm. This will keep the topping from sticking to the foil. Cool the lemon bars in pan. Using the foil as handles, carefully remove the uncut bars from the pan. Gently smooth the foil flat, dust all over with confectioner’s sugar. If you are serving the bars immediately, cut them into squares with a sharp knife. If not, store the cooled bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Just before serving, cut them and dust them again with confectioner’s sugar.
Vera Dawson lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact Dawson with your comments about this column and/or your baking questions at email@example.com.
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