Vail Baking: Gussy up a lemon bar for fresh treat
High Country Baking
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado –At Vail’s altitude, the arrival of spring looks different than it does elsewhere. Months from green grass and blooming gardens, our springtime rituals (Easter egg hunt, anyone?) often take place in snow with participants in down coats and waterproof boots.
In spite of that (or maybe because of it), once the season is officially upon us, I start yearning for lighter, fresher tastes. This little lemon pastry is a good example of what I’m after.
It features a tender, sweet crust that cradles a smooth, very tart citrus filling crowned with a shimmer of raspberry jam. The three layers complement each other beautifully and are as appealing to look at as they are to eat.
In truth, the pastry is a gussied up, exceptionally good lemon bar. Baked in the round, it’s elevated from a cookie to a company dessert. But its origins prove how straightforward it is to prepare. You don’t even need an electric mixer to get this in the oven. And, once baked, it can wait a day or two before serving.
Make in a 9-inch springform pan or 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom
1/4 cup of confectioner’s sugar
1 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon of salt
8 tablespoons of unsalted butter (one stick)
1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 cups of granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of finely grated lemon peel or 1/4 teaspoon of lemon oil
2/3 cup seedless raspberry jam
2 teaspoons of raspberry liqueur (optional)
Step One: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Grease or butter the pan, both the bottom and the sides.
Step Two: Make the crust – place the confectioner’s sugar, the flour and the salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Cut the butter into small pieces and add them to the bowl. Process until the mixture forms course crumbs.
If you don’t have a food processor, cut the butter (at room temperature) into the dry ingredients to form course crumbs with a pastry blender, your fingers or an electric mixer.
Dump the crumbs into the prepared pan and press them into the bottom until they make a smooth and level crust. Make only a bottom crust; it shouldn’t extend up the sides of the pan. Place the pan on a cookie sheet and bake until the crust is set and just turning color. This takes about 20 minutes in my oven.
Step Three: While the crust bakes, make the filling. In a medium bowl or a four-cup measure, combine the half-cup of lemon juice, the granulated sugar and the four eggs. Beat by hand (I use a whisk) or, if you prefer, with an electric mixer until the ingredients are thoroughly combined and smooth. Stop beating before the mixture gets frothy. Add the flour, salt, and grated peel or lemon oil and stir to mix completely. When the crust has baked, remove it, on the cookie sheet, from the oven and pour the filling over it while it is hot. Return the pan and cookie sheet to the oven and bake until the filling sets (gently shake the pan, the filling shouldn’t jiggle). This takes from 22-27 minutes in my oven. Remove the pastry to a cooling rack and cool it completely.
Step Four: Make the raspberry topping. Heat the raspberry jam in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring it constantly, until it starts to bubble. Keep it at a low boil and continue to stir for several minutes so it thickens slightly and is very smooth. Remove it from the heat, stir in the liqueur if you’re using it, and set it aside until it cools to room temperature and thickens some more. Spread the topping over the cool lemon filling, creating a smooth surface. Refrigerate the pastry until the topping is quite thick and set (it won’t harden but will remain slightly sticky).
Step Five: At this point, you can either serve the dessert or let it remain in the refrigerator, tented with foil (taking care to keep the foil from smearing the topping), for up to 48 hours. When you’re ready to serve it, run a greased knife blade around the inside edge of the springform pan to loosen the pastry before releasing the sides of the pan. If baked in a tart pan, use the point of a greased knife to separate the pastry from the pan before removing it. Cut the chilled dessert with a sharp, thin-bladed knife (I use a slicer), cleaning it with hot water and drying it after each cut.
This is a variation of a recipe from King Arthur Flour.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor at the Culinary Institute of Colorado Mountain College, 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 her with your comments about this column and/or your baking questions at email@example.com .