Spasmodic Baking: Lemon Bars

As a general rule of thumb, I’m not to be trusted in the kitchen. However, I’m slightly better with the oven. I sporadically bake cake and cookies and the like (you can count on it around my birthday), and it usually turns out kind of tasty. In “Spasmodic Baking”, I share recipes I’ve done.

This week, I had a strong, sudden need to bake something. I suppose I was thinking of trying to find a recipe that could be my recipe, something simple that I could just whip up at any time when potluck-type things bloom out of nowhere. However, I subsequently decided that was a bad idea, limiting myself to just one recipe when there is an endless amount of them to try. I don’t think I’m going to find a stick to a regular recipe any time soon, but nevertheless I still wanted to bake this weekend since there was a spaghetti dinner for my cross country team.

I literally just started looking through baking recipes on Food Network to see what there was–I was looking for something not too complicated, but tasty, maybe a cookie, I didn’t know. Eventually I decided on lemon bars.

This version is by Ina Garten, and just as a summary: the crust is mainly butter and the filling is mainly eggs, with some flour, sugar, and lemons in the middle there somewhere. It personally took me a while to make (forgetting about room temperature ingredients, trying to use a beater instead of a mixer, poking the heck out of lemons in order to squeeze them), mainly because I am not a very techniqued baker. But since I at least have some baking experience, and there weren’t too many ingredients, it came together, in time.

Ingredients:

  • For the crust:
    • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
    • 2 cups flour
    • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • For the filling:
    • 6 large eggs at room temperature
    • 3 cups granulated sugar
    • 4 lemons
      • 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
      • 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
    • 1 cup flour
    • (optional) confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 large bowls (or 1 bowl and the willingness to wash and dry it in the middle)
  • method of creaming butter with sugar (I was inefficient and used an electric beater and a chopstick)
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • whisk
  • 9 by 13 pan
  • board (a large cutting board or mixing board will do)
  • knife
  • zester
  • measuring cup

Some very helpful tips: Get the butter and eggs to room temperature ahead plenty of time, probably at least an hour in advance. Aids in lemon squeezing are cool, too, if you have them. Otherwise get yourself a lot of time.

As I said last time I baked, I don’t heat the oven at the beginning because I never prep quickly enough. But when you’re ready to preheat it, put it at 350 F. For this particular instance, I warmed it up in the middle of the filling prep–after the ingredients were readied and before I mixed them together. Do it as you like, according to your own speed at kitchen-y stuff.

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together. I used an electric beater, but here’s some advice on doing it otherwise. The key here to not taking 20 minutes on this step is to have the butter completely at room temperature.
  2. Add the flour and salt and finish mixing together. If your beater/mixer and butter were cooler than mine, keep going with that. After I finally got fed up with my beater (and the fact that I hadn’t put the butter out ahead of time), I just got in there with my hands and finish mixing it.
  3. Finish kneading on a board, and then form into a ball-ish lump. Press it into your pan, covering the bottom evenly and making a ~1/2 inch border up the sides. No foil or nonstick spray required, it starts as quite unattaching butter and ends as a baked crust. Stick it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. You can keep going, in the meantime.
  4. Zest and squeeze the lemons. I chose four large lemons and zested and squeezed every last drop of life out of every one of them, and made the 2 tbsp and 1 cup exactly. (Also, without a lemon juicer or anything, poking to exhaust the juice out of these created another 20 minute step for me. Be more techniqued than me, friends!)
  5. Combine the flour, sugar, eggs, and lemons with a whisk until sufficiently combined.
  6. Whenever 30 minutes in the fridge has elapsed for the crust, if it happens during steps 4 and 5, or whether you have to kill some time after 5 to finish, stick it in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until it is “very slightly browned”. The moment I saw any color on it, I took it out. Let it cool down a little bit. (Leave the oven on.)
  7. Pour the filling into the crust. It’s okay (and good) if the edges of the crust disappear under the flood.
  8. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Let it cool, and cut it up into triangles. Dust it with confectioner’s sugar. (If you choose to put the sugar on before you move them to the serving platter, like I did, it’s likely a lot will fall right back off.)

My batch tasted quite good right off the pan. The crust was beautiful and crumbly, and the filling was quite, quite sweet (on the some-people-will-not-be-able-to-stand-it but anyone-who-doesn’t-detest-sugar-won’t-shy-away-from-it side). One slight downfall was that at the very end of eating it, in the back of your throat, that lemon is still biting hard–a lemon type of acid bite, not a pleasant acid bite. It’s a small price to pay, though, to eat the rest of it, besides confirming that fresh lemons were indeed just used.

Most of the edge pieces had a bit of a brown edge, since the filling contracted a little while baking and exposed the pale crust to the atrocities of direct oven exposure. I didn’t notice any difference in taste, but it did mean a little bit of cutting around the edges of the pan to get it loose (it didn’t stick at all to the bottom).

I was able to cut it into a total of 48 small triangles, and take approximately 2/3 to the spaghetti dinner, where a good amount went (there were still a few when I left). After I brought the plate back home and refilled it with the rest of the squares, there were a scant few left. Combine that with Dad getting to the plate between when I arranged them and charged the camera to take pictures and I don’t have very impressive pictures, but there was approximately 3 to 4 times as much as there are depicted.

A random note is that the filling baked into a beautiful firm top, so the bars are easy to grasp top and bottom and still have the sticky, jelly sweetness in between.

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Spasmodic Baking: Lemon Bars

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