Monday, December 24, 2012

Lemon Bars

 Traditionally, we often think of citrus as summer fare. Lemonade comes to mind, ice-cold and lip-smackingly sour. Also, cold pasta salad, dressed with an herbaceous lemon dressing. Tart parfaits, lemon chiffon cake, and the like don't make us think of the cold days of winter, but instead the sweltering days of summer.
What's funny, though, is that citrus is actually a winter fruit. And a summer fruit. Citrus here in California (and possibly other place-I don't really know) bears fruit several times a year. And it is bearing now.

This may be where Christmas traditions came from that are so full of citrusy flavors. I know when I was a child there was always a large orange in my stocking, not something I particularly looked for, but then the other items were usually a few nuts in the shell, a lifesaver storybook, and a large, straight, candy cane. Of course, there were other things, but those were the consistent factors.
A salad I love serving at this time of the year is a combination of any type of grapefruit, pomelo, or orange, segmented and tossed in an anise flavored simple syrup.
All that said, it is not very often that I think of lemons, other than with a roasted chicken, or squeezed over some crispy fish. And I have been overlooking a winter jewel. Fresh lemon is so delicious and bright, cutting through the deep, dark, winter dishes we crave at this time of year. Finishing off a turkey dumpling stew with a squeeze of fresh lemon, or shaving its' zest into my new favorite day-after-thanksgiving dish, turkey risotto, is just perfect.
In case you, too have been ignoring this winter treat, I decided to revive an old classic: lemon bars. I made these when a neighbor gave me a large grocery bag full of lemons, and I needed to make a dessert for sixty people.
I absolutely adore lemon, and these bars don't disappoint. I found the recipe from Ina Garten, Food Network's Barefoot Contessa, and her recipes are some of my favorites. I upped the lemon zest a bit from the original recipe.

Lemon Bars
makes about 20 small squares

For the crust:
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
For the filling:
6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
4 tablespoons grated lemon zest (4 to 6 lemons)
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup flour
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet, building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides. Chill.

Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.
For the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.
Cut into triangles and dust with confectioners' sugar.

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