I prefer sour over sweet. So these Lemon Bars might just be the most lemony ones you would ever have. I have had requests to make lemon tarts, lemon meringue pies, lemon bars… I am surrounded by people who are into lemon everything! I have always said no. Too much work. It’s a 2-step bake. Too tedious for my lazy style of baking. Then why was I furiously baking 3 trays of these Lemon Bars within a span of 5 days? I was caught between a rock and a hard place. It started with a trip to the supermarket. I saw bags of organic lemons in the chiller. “Ooh, I have always wanted to make candied lemon peel. Now would be the right time with these organic lemons.” I grabbed two 2 lb (~2 kg) bags. Into the shopping cart and home it went.

The candied lemon peel turned out rather nicely. I was meticulous about removing every area of white pith. So it is really not so much candied lemon peel but strips of candied lemon zest. The candied lemon zest makes the most dizzying smelling and tasting lemon sugar! I want to drench myself in the scent! And the hot lemon tea it makes? Sublime.

Although I was smug with my stash of candied lemon peel, I now had these bald looking lemons. It was time to give in to those requests to make Lemon Bars. What was I thinking? Obviously, I was not. Facing that big daunting bowl piled high with bald lemons must have momentarily clouded my thinking. Not only do I not like 2-step bakes, Lemon Bars are not diet food and to get my cookie crumb recipe right I had to bake 3 trays! I have little self-control when I am staring at beautiful, sunny, glossy yellow Lemon Bars. They just need to be popped into my mouth. For tasting purposes I tell myself. I am such a weakling.

Pucker Your Lips Up Lemon Bars

Prep: 15 minutes 
Cook: Cookie base 15 – 20 minutes.
Lemon topping 15 – 20 minutes.
Inactive: Chill dough at least 2 hours
Level: Intermediate
Makes: Depends on how large you slice them.
Bakes a 13″ x 9″ (23cm x 33cm) tray.
Oven Temperature: (350F)(175C) to bake cookie base.
Reduce to (320F)(160C) to bake lemon topping.
Oven rack -middle position.
Can recipe be doubled? No
Make ahead? Prepare the cookie base at least 2 hours and up to 2 days before. Lemon topping can be made a day ahead. Once baked, these keep well refrigerated for at least 3 days.

Ingredients

1 cup=250ml=8.45 US fl oz

Cookie base

5.29 oz (150g) unsalted butter
2.11 oz (60g) caster sugar
1/2 egg yolk
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
6.34 oz  (180g) all-purpose/plain flour + 1 Tablespoon (for flouring)
1 Tablespoons rice flour
1 Tablespoon candied lemon peel* OR 1 and 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
Lemon topping
4 eggs (1 cup) + 1 yolk + 1/2 yolk
8.81oz (250g) sugar
1 Tablespoon candied lemon peel* OR 1 and 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
2/3 cup lemon juice
3 Tablespoons all-purpose/plain flour
2 and 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
1/8 salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons milk
1 Tablespoon evaporated milk
* Not the wet, sticky syrup kind but those similar to the ones I had made (refer to image in preface).

Method

Prep baking tray
1. I use a 13″ x 9″ (23cm x 33cm) nonstick baking pan with at least a 1″ (2.5cm) depth. If you are using anything other than a nonstick baking pan, butter the bottom and sides of it well. If you want to take the entire bake off the baking pan in one piece then line your baking vessel with a large sheet of parchment/baking paper. The slippery parchment paper will annoy you a little as you spread the cook dough on it.  To minimise this, grease the baking vessel so that the parchment paper is anchored down. That is why I rather not line my baking pan.


Cookie base

1. Add the butter to the mixer bowl and let it soften to room temperature. ‘Soften’ does not mean melty. When you push a finger into the butter there should still be a very slight firmness to it.
2. If you are using candied lemon peel, place the all-purpose/plain flour, rice flour, candied lemon peel and salt into a food processor. Process until the candied lemon peel  have been blitz into tiny, tiny bits and the dry mix smell heavenly. Set aside.
3. If you are using lemon zest, simply mix the flours, zest and salt together.
4. Add sugar to the soften butter. Attach the whisk attachment and turn on the mixer to medium high speed and whisk until pale, light and creamy.


5. Turn speed down to medium, add the 1/2 egg yolk and vanilla extract.

6. Let the mixer run for 1 minute. Turn off the mixer, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl.
7. Turn on the mixer and let it run at medium for 30 seconds to incorporate everything well.

8. Stop the machine, remove, scrape the bowl with a spatula to make sure batter is well mixed. Don’t over work it, do this within 5 – 10 seconds.
9. Add in the dry mix all at once. With a spatula, use slashing motions to incorporate the dry mix in. It should take about 1 minute.  Do not over mix or your cookie base might not be as light.


10. If the dough looks too sticky, add 1 Tablespoon of all-purpose/plain flour at a time. Go slow on the flour. The final dough will be very slightly tacky.
11. Have the 1 Tablespoon of all-purpose/plain flour (for flouring) nearby. Transfer the dough into the centre of your baking pan. Dip you fingers in the flour and press the dough out to fill the base of the baking pan. The dough should also be be pushed a little higher up into the sides of the pan, about 1/4″ (0.63cm).  Ensure that the base is pretty much levelled out. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm -about 2 hours. Chilling the dough is important as it helps to prevent the cookie base from shrinking when bake. It is not ideal to have the cookie shrink too far away from the sides of the baking pan as it means your lemon filling will spill down the walls of the cookie base. Ugh. So be patient and chill your dough. I usually prepare the dough the night before but you can do it 2 days ahead and refrigerate.

Baking cookie base
1. Preheat the oven to 350F (175C) oven rack adjusted to middle position.
2. Prick the dough all over with a fork to discourage cookie base from puffing up. Only when the oven is hot would you remove the baking pan from the refrigerator and bake immediately for 15 – 20 minutes or until the cookie turns a light golden brown.
3. Whilst the cookie base is baking, you must make the lemon filling as the cookie base has to filled whilst still warm.


Lemon filling

1. If you are using candied lemon peel, use a food processor to process the candied lemon peel, flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest until the peel have been processed into little bits.

2. If you are not using candied lemon peel, just mix all the dried ingredients with the lemon zest. No need to blitz in a food processor.
3. Warm the milk and evaporated milk slightly (only enough to melt the butter). Do not boil or overheat as a layer of skin will form as the milk cools. Remove from heat source and add the butter.
4. In a bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolks. Whisk away any visible egg whites. You do not want the eggs to get frothy though. Set aside.
5. When the butter has melted, add the dry ingredients into the butter+milk mixture. Do not mix as yet.
6. Get your whisk and gradually whisk in lemon juice into the dry and wet mix mentioned above. This helps to prevent any flour lumps from forming.
7. Finally, whisk in eggs.
8. Lemon filling can be made a day ahead. Bring to room temperature and stir to remix before using.
9. Remember the cookie base has to be filled whilst it is still hot/warm, so plan to have the lemon filling ready.

Baking lemon filling
1. When the cookie base is baked through, pour in the lemon filling.

2. Reduce the oven temperature to 320F (160C) and bake for another 15 minutes or until the middle has set. Touch the middle with your finger, it should be firm but sticky to the touch.


3. Remove and cool completely on a wire rack. Once cooled, refrigerate for 2 hours until cold before slicing and serving. If you slice it any sooner, the cookie will not slice up neatly and you will end up with quite a bit of cookie crumbs and cut edges that are broken up. Be patient.

Tips

How do you slice up Lemon Bars in your nonstick baking pan without scratching it?
Use a bench scraper! You will still get neat cuts of Lemon Bars.

WHAT’S COMING UP NEXT?

I am working on my recipe for this Eastern European inspired Poppyseed Roll that has lemon, sultanas and almonds in them. Just in time for my Easter table!

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