I remember my mom baked incessantly in the wintertime. There’s something very soothing when your house is warm and toasty and full of aromas wafting from an oven that’s in constant use. She truly loved baking. And, lucky for us, we were the proud beneficiaries of all of her baked masterpieces.
Mom had a Flour/Sugar Shaker so she could evenly sprinkle flour, powdered sugar or cinnamon over top her Viennese Crescent Cookies, Salzburger Nockerl, bread dough, or anything else requiring a powdery coating. She really had a flair for presentation and every brownie, every pie, every loaf of bread that was presented to her eager audience was gourmet quality in looks as well as taste.
While I am still mastering the art of baking, and learning the hard way that it’s an exact science with really NO room for error, I have slowly grown to LOVE baking. I love it for its predictability. If you follow the directions, and truly focus on the exact ingredients, the exact measurements and the exact time allocations, chances are, your final product SHOULD turn out as planned.
A few years back I made mom’s recipe for Lemon Squares. They were exactly as how I remembered them— tangy and cake-like with a nice dusting of powdered sugar on top. I was reminiscing about the squares the other day and found another recipe for lemon bars in the New York Times Cooking section (if you don’t subscribe to their email newsletter, you should!) using olive oil and sea salt. I knew I had to attempt to bake them and the weather was so dreadful last weekend, I felt as though it was my calling. As I was carefully moving through each step of the recipe, I was thinking how exciting it is to witness the transformation of a recipe, simply by altering one or two ingredients.
While I’m still mastering the art of presentation (as you can see from my product shots above), you can’t always judge a book by its cover. One of these days I’ll purchase a flour/sugar sifter like mom’s to evenly perfectly dust the top of the bars but right now, on a rainy weekend afternoon with kids running around, I’m fine settling with the powdered sugar clumps that fell from the spoon (see photo above).
This particular batch of Lemon Bars is completely different than my last one. The tart custard top layer overlays a crumbly shortbread base layer to create a refreshing and filling treat.
My kids adored them but, they’re very filling. They could only eat one at a sitting. And, everyone preferred eating them after having been chilled in the fridge for a couple of hours. Otherwise the custard layer gets “soupy.”
Hope you enjoy!
from the New York Times Cooking Section 1/18/15
makes 24 tasty bars
For the crust:
- 1 ¼ cups/155 grams all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup/50 grams granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons/25 grams confectioners’ sugar, plus more for sprinkling
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 10 tablespoons/142 grams unsalted butter
For the curd:
- 4 to 6 lemons
- 1 ½ cups/300 grams sugar
- 2 large eggs plus 3 yolks
- 1 ½ teaspoons/5 grams cornstarch
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- 4 tablespoons/57 grams cold butter, cut into cubes
- ¼ cup/60 milliliters fruity extra-virgin olive oil
- Confectioners’ sugar
- Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
- Heat oven to 325 degrees and line a 9-by-9-inch baking pan with enough parchment to hang over two of the sides (to be used as handles later to lift the bars out of the pan).
- To make the shortbread base, pulse together the flour, granulated sugar, confectioners’ sugar, lemon zest and salt in a food processor, or whisk together in a large bowl. Add butter and pulse (or use two knives or your fingers) to cut the butter into the flour until a crumbly dough forms. Press dough into prepared pan and bake until shortbread is pale golden all over, 30 to 35 minutes.
- While the shortbread is baking, prepare the lemon curd: Grate 1/2 tablespoon zest from lemons and set aside. Squeeze lemons to yield 3/4 cup juice.
- In a small saucepan, whisk together lemon juice, sugar, eggs and yolks, cornstarch and fine sea salt over medium heat until boiling and thickened, 2 to 5 minutes. Make sure mixture comes to a boil or the cornstarch won’t activate. Remove from heat and strain into a bowl. Whisk in butter, olive oil and lemon zest.
- When the shortbread is ready, take it out of the oven and carefully pour the lemon curd onto the shortbread base; return the pan to the oven. Bake until topping is just set, 10 to 15 minutes more. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until cold before cutting into bars. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and flaky sea salt right before serving.