Thursday, February 4, 2010

Lemon Bars for a Gray Day

January and February can be brutal in the Northeast. They're filled with cold, gray days where the wind whips chilly and brisk and creeps deep into your bones making you feel like you'll NEVER BE WARM AGAIN. Even the cheeriest of optimists can get a case of seasonal affective disorder, and for those of us who live closer to the edge on a good day, winter's not pretty. In the depths of winter, most days it's a triumph if I get out of bed, let alone out of the house. Under-employment isn't helping much either. One day last week, not only was the sky dark gray all morning, but it had been raining too. ALL DAY. There's nothing worse for a delicate psyche than January rain. So I decided to do something about it.
I decided to make some lemon bars. A co-worker of mine had been begging me for close to a year to make him some lemon bars. He doesn't like chocolate, he doesn't like pies, he doesn't like anything "weird or healthy". Therefore, he doesn't like most of the treats I bring in to pawn off. Now, don't get me wrong, lemon bars are great, but all previous attempts had turned out terrible. The short-bread crust was always difficult to work with and burned. The lemon filling would over cook and I'd have a weird-looking light yellow very tart souffle. Lemon bars consistently got filed under "NEEDS WORK". But this day was so gray, and the only thing we really had in the house was a surplus of lemons. I figured if nothing else, the color would help cheer me up. So I decided to give it another go.
And do you know what happened while they were in the oven? It stopped raining and the sun came out! It was as though the heavens were rivaled by the defiant YELLOW of these little treats, and decided to show them who's boss. Fine by me! I've been known to say that my baking is a little magical, and I think this only helps prove it. But really, it's a good thing the sun came out because as usual the shortbread crust was a bitch to work with, and got just slightly overcooked, and I thought the filling got over cooked as well. But once I calmed down, and the the bars cooled down, I found that I was very wrong. Not only had I overcome the weather, but I had finally defeated my lemon bar demons. The crust is so so so so so very buttery and chewy and fall-apart-delicious. And the filling is a wonderful combination of sweet and tart. Needless to say, these were quickly devoured by anyone who came into contact with them. And my co-worker, finally, was happy with me. And I made it through another gray winter day to bake again...

Pucker-up Lemon Bars
(*note*: these are not vegan, and not even dairy free. I cheat sometimes with the butter. But I assure you all that next time I make them, I will use earth balance sticks in the crust, and will report back. I haven't looked into making lemon curd without eggs... can it be done???)
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 tsp salt
Cream the butter and the sugar until light (use a mixer with the paddle attachment if you've got it). Mix the salt and flour together, then add to the creamed mixture and mix on low until just mixed. At some point i used my hands to scrape and mix because it was so dry, that's all that would work. I gathered it together into 3 balls, one large and two smaller, and placed it into a well-greased 9x13 ince pan.(Someone, please, give me some pointers on working with shortbread!!!) Press the dough into the pan and about 1/2 inch up on the sides. Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes, or until just lightly browned. Place on wire rack, leave oven on, and make the filling.
Lemon filling:
4 eggs
1 2/3 cup sugar
1 tbsp + 1 tsp lemon zest (about 5 med lemons)
2/3 cup lemon juice (juice of 5 med lemons)
2/3 cup flour
Mix all of the ingredients together. I used the whisk attachment on my kitchen aid mixer. Pour into the crust and bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, or until 5 minutes after the filling has set.* Allow to cool on wire rack before cutting. Sift confectioner's sugar over pieces if desired.
*My oven runs a little warm, so I always check everything at about halfway through the time on the original recipe. The original recipe stated 30-35 minutes, but I cut down on the lemon filling, so I should have cut my time WAY down. Instead, I checked at 20 minutes and it was done (looking very dry and like a souffle or quiche, YET AGAIN ::sigh::). Thankfully, they weren't ruined, but next time I think I'll start checking at 10 minutes. You might want to do the same.

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