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Lemon Bars – My Search for “The One”

August 24, 2011

It’s always good to start out with good news first, right?  I’m happy to say that my husband is fine.  I won’t bore you with details but the last week has been quiet stressful for both of us, reprieve not arriving until yesterday.  My normally very athletic husband was sentenced to a week of inactivity and worry, not his favorite pastimes. Work continues to be busy and with a trip planned for later this week, the hiccup with him threatened our departure (which I would have been happy to reschedule) but true to (stubborn) form, he was determined to stick to the plan and thankfully, he’s much better now.  He and I had a dear friend who left this world much too soon who impressed this idea so clearly upon us:  Your health is your wealth.  So true.

So in honor of events taking a turn for the (much) better, I thought I would share with you one of my favorite treats, lemon bars.  Surprised? Probably not.  I can’t believe it has taken me this long to share a recipe with you. A recipe, not my recipe or the recipe for as loyal as I am about many things, I am, well, you could even say promiscuous when it comes to lemon bar recipes.  I am always in search of my idea of “best”.

My first version, strangely enough, came from a Cooking Light book.  I was attracted to its figure friendlier qualities and it was not a bad recipe at all.  I used it for many years and my family loved it.  But after years of trying to change the recipe to get it right for me and not quite getting there, I realized it was time to let it go.  It lacked the prominent lemon flavor I like and the crust did not particularly stand out.

The next prospect came by way of an accidental encounter online.  A blind search yielded America’s Test Kitchen’s version of the “perfect” lemon bars.  Ironically, the recipe is different than the one I have in one of my ATK books but a test run yielded better results than my dalliance with Cooking Light.  The crust was crisp but the filling still needed work.

This past weekend, I tried my luck with  Tartine Bakery’s lemon bars.  Though I haven’t tasted the bars sold by one of San Francisco’s premier bakeries, I felt reasonably comfortable that my high regard for their other offerings meant their lemon bars might be a safe bet.  Their crust is described as a brown butter shortbread crust but there was no browning of butter here.  What was new to me is the addition of pine nuts which lent a nice hint of nuttiness against the tart lemon filling.  The crust was not oily but crisp.  The lemon filling, again, was nicely tart.  I actually thought that it might be a bit too tart for me–is that even possible?–but I still consider it a winner.  Using a combination of meyer lemons and regular lemons would easily fix this next time.  Its other virtues? The proportion of crust to filling was perfect.  Usually, one or the other element is lacking but not so here.  Lastly, the recipe calls for a 9 x 13 inch pan, not a paltry 8 x 8, which means larger bars.  I brought the lemons bars to a get-together Sunday night and my friends gave them an enthusiastic thumbs up.  I think I might have a future with this recipe but I won’t make any commitments just yet…

Tartine Bakery’s Lemon Bars

For the crust:

  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar (2 oz/55 g)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (7 1/2 oz/215 g)
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (6 oz/170 g)
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts (2 oz/55g) (optional)

For the filling:

  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (2 1/2 oz/70 g)
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar (1 pound/455 g)
  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp lemon juice (9 oz/28o ml)
  • lemon zest, grated from 1 small lemon
  • 6 large whole eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • salt pinch
  • confectioners’ sugar for topping

Preheat the oven to 350F and butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.

To make the crust: sift the confectioners’ sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Stir in the flour. Add the butter and pine nuts (if using) and beat on low speed just until a smooth dough forms.

Press the dough evenly into the pan and allow it to come up about a 1/2 inch up the sides of the pan. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights.

Bake the crust until it is a deep golden brown, about 25-35 minutes.

To make the filling: While the crust is baking sift the flour into a mixing bowl and whisk in the sugar until blended. Add the lemon juice and zest and stir to dissolve the sugar. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the whole eggs and egg yolk with the salt. Add the eggs to the lemon juice mixture and whisk until well mixed.

Once the crust is ready pour the filling directly into the pan (leave the pan in the oven while you do this to make it easier). Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F. and bake just until the center of the custard is set, about 30 to 40 minutes.

Let cool completely on a wire rock, then cover and chill well before cutting. Cut into squares and dust the top with confectioners’ sugar, if desired. They will keep in an airtight container or well covered in the baking dish in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

25 Comments leave one →
  1. August 24, 2011 12:44 PM

    I’m so happy that he is doing better!! You are so right with your Health is Wealth comment. We’ve been struggling with a few family issues as well, and it spurs my husband and I to try to keep healthy as we “age”.
    As for the Lemon Bars… Yep… they are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen! I adore lemon bars and while I consider myself a fairly good baker, a “good and pretty” Lemon Bar has never been produced in my kitchen. Maybe these will do the trick!!

  2. August 24, 2011 6:19 PM

    So glad everything was okay, I was a little worried when you mentioned it on FB. I’m a lover of the lemon bars too, I will have to try yours, I love the idea of the pine nuts in the crust, I’m sure it adds to the taste. I’m hoping things keep getting better and better.
    -Gina-

  3. August 24, 2011 6:23 PM

    I love Tartine bakery and I looooove lemon bars – so will have to try this recipe asap!! Glad everyone is happy and healthy.

  4. August 24, 2011 7:12 PM

    Bookmarked, because like you, I’m on a never-ending search for the perfect lemon bar. This does sound like a good solid base. My eyebrows raised when you said it might be too tart though. I’m excited to see if that’s the case.

    I’m happy that your husband is doing better. I don’t know what went on, but am grateful for health and that you will be able to stick to your plans.

  5. August 24, 2011 7:35 PM

    So happy hubby is feeling better!! Love the saying “your health is your wealthy” – so true! Lemon Bars are just such a sublime dessert and yours look and sound supreme. I have the Tartine book – you have inspired me to open it up again. Hope you have a fantastic weekend!!!!

  6. August 25, 2011 3:16 AM

    Ive never tried making a plain old lemon bar but fell in LOVE with the creamy lemon crumb bars (pioneer womans recipe) that i tried earlier this year. So this is definitely calling my name to be tried very soon! Beautiful photos too, seriously one tempting post 🙂

  7. August 25, 2011 4:31 AM

    I’m so happy that your husband is doing better and hope you’re going to have a wonderful trip. Indeed, out health is our wealth, as long as we are healthy we can with the rest.
    Probably like most of us, i’m still looking for the “one” recipe that will blow me away, but I’m going to bookmark this recipe and give it a try and share with my family soon. We all love lemony desserts!
    Thanks for sharing a enjoy your trip!

  8. August 25, 2011 5:37 AM

    Jean: first things first…glad your hubby is ok.
    This looks like a perfect good health celebration dessert. Wow: do they look amazing. I could totally see this on the cover of your book. I have both Tartine’s books (the bakery one and the bread one) and am in love with them.

  9. August 25, 2011 6:25 AM

    Love the process you went through exploring lemon bars. These looks like perfection Jean. So delicious looking!!

  10. August 25, 2011 7:03 AM

    Sorry to hear of your friend. Glad that things are smoothing out with your husband. I love lemon bars! And I LOVE Tartine!

  11. August 25, 2011 7:20 AM

    Glad your hubby is doing better…whew. And these lemon bars look seriously wonderful!!

  12. August 25, 2011 7:36 AM

    The addition of pine nuts intrigues me. I do love lemon bars.. I was quite pleased with the recipe I tried from the King Arthur cookbook if you’re interested in giving it a go 🙂

  13. August 25, 2011 8:20 AM

    I haven’t made lemon bars in ages but these have me totally inspired. Gorgeous!

  14. August 25, 2011 11:51 AM

    I admire your journey through the jungles of lemon bars. I think pine nuts is terrific with lemon as I have been making Thomas Keller’s pine nut crust and lemon sabayon tart for more than a decade! GREG

  15. August 25, 2011 6:51 PM

    1) Glad you husband is doing better.
    2) You are correct, your health is your wealth. Thank you for the reminder.
    3) Cooking Light! (hehe) love that you started there and ended up with a masterpiece. Delicious post!
    sending some healing light your way! – Megan

  16. August 26, 2011 8:57 PM

    Lemon bars are one of my favorite treats…and I like them tart, so I’m eager to give this ratio a try. I’m glad to hear your husband is okay, and I’m going to send healing thoughts your way. I hope you have a wonderful evening and weekend my friend. Thank you for sharing another delicious treat with me. Many blessings as the days unfold!

  17. August 27, 2011 4:57 PM

    Glad to hear your husband is doing okay. I’m on an eternal quest for the perfect lemon bar recipe myself, I’ve tried the ATK one and I agree it’s not quite right. I’ll have to give this one a try!

  18. August 27, 2011 9:11 PM

    Glad everything is okay with your husband, and hope you guys have a great trip. These lemon bars look amazing. I love lemon bars, and I will definitely have to try this recipe.

  19. August 28, 2011 6:19 AM

    Don’t commit until you know it’s the real thing, girl 😉 These are stunning looking, though. I do love a good lemon bar – I’m going to have a try of this!

    So glad that you and hubs are doing well. I so know the truth behind that saying – I’ve been very sick lately but thankfully have a diagnosis and medication that’s making me feel right as rain & back to my usual zany self. I cannot stress enough how important it is to look after yourself!

    Wishing I was back in town with all of you wonderful people and sending so much love your way.

    Jax x

  20. Liren permalink
    August 28, 2011 10:10 PM

    Soo relieved to hear that all is returning to normal with the hubs…those scary moments are frightening indeed, and I am glad you are able to enjoy the vacation and these lemon bars together. I loved reading about your lemon bar quest and journey…I do know what you mean about finding the one. For food, I think I am still searching for the right pizza dough 🙂

  21. August 31, 2011 1:42 PM

    Glad your husband is doing better – and that saying couldn’t be more true “Your Health is Your Wealth” is something we all should live by =)

    These lemon bars sounds absolutely tasty, and I’ve been on a lemon bar drought for quite some time, so I think it’s about time I made some!

  22. September 1, 2011 2:41 AM

    that’s the best-looking lemon bars i’ve seen yet. i bet they taste phenomenal!

  23. September 1, 2011 2:58 AM

    oh such beautiful lemon bars, I am drooling

  24. September 14, 2011 6:44 AM

    Your photos are absolutely stunning! I can almost taste the acidity of the lemons and can’t wait to make these this weekend.

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