Whole Lemon Bars
In the early seventines, when my sister was still a wee thing and I wasn't yet on the horizon, my mother won first prize in a regional cooking contest for her lemon bars. A two-layer affair, you first parbaked a shortbread base, then beat a mixture of lemon juice, lemon zest, butter, eggs, sugar, and then some and poured it over the cookie crust and baked it again. They're delightful. I love them. These are not them.
What? Look, I've decided that every generation should have her own chance to make her mark on the lemon bar, and these are, well, more me: lazier, louder, and lush with butter. The whole of this recipe can be completed in the single bowl of a food processor. And instead of zesting and juicing many lemons, you just use one. All of it: the zest, the skin, and the flesh. Ground with sugar, butter, eggs, salt, and a bit of cornflour, it bakes into the very best layer of lemon custard you could possibly imagine. I may not have won any prizes for these, but my mother, the lemon bar expert herself, tried one the other day and declared them 'very, very good,' which is all the blue ribbon I need.
- For the crust:
- 125g plain flour
- 65g sugar
- 1/4 tsp table salt
- 115g unsalted butter, cut into chunks, plus extra for greasing tin
- For the filling:
- 1 small-to-medium-sized lemon (about 130g, or about 7.5cm long)
- 265g sugar
- 115g unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- 4 large eggs
- 2 tbsp cornflour
- 1/4 tsp table salt
Cooking notes: You can double the recipe and bake it in a 23 x 32cm tin as well.
Place a rack in middle of the oven and preheat your oven to 180°C/fan 160°C/Gas 4. Cut two 30cm lengths of parchment paper, and trim each to fit the bottom of a 20 x 20cm square baking tin. Press the first sheet into the bottom and up the sides of your tin in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, running it perpendicular to the first sheet. Lightly butter exposed parts of parchment or coat them with a nonstick cooking spray. Set the tin aside.
Make the crust
Blend the flour, sugar, andd salt together in the work bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is powdery, but if firmly pinched, will hold the pinched shape. Turn the dough crumbs into the prepared baking tin and press the dough evenly across the bottom and about 1cm up the sides. Prick the dough all over with a fork and bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Should any parts bubble up, gently prick them again with a fork. Leave the oven on.
Make your filling
Cut your lemon in half, and here's where I need us all to be, briefly, quite fussy. Is the white part of the skin especially thick? If the widest part of the white is 0.5cm thick or less, continue on to the next step; your lemon is good to go. If any part of it is thicker than 0.5cm, however, I find it safest to remove the skin from half the lemon or the bitterness of the pith can overwhelm the bars. To remove the skin, place half the lemon cut-side-down on the cutting board, and remove the skin and pith from the entire half in downward cuts and discard it. The second half, even if just as thick, can be used as is.
Cut your lemon halves into thin rings and discard any seeds. Toss the lemon rounds – lemon flesh and peel –in the bowl of your food processor, add the sugar, and run the machine until the lemon is thoroughly puréed, about 2 minutes. Add the butter and again run the machine until the mixture is smooth, scraping down the sides of the work bowl as needed. Add the eggs, cornflour, and salt and pulse the machine in short bursts until the mixture is evenly combined.
Pour the lemon mixture over the curst and bake it for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the filling is set. You can test this by bumping the pan a little; it should only jiggle slightly. In my oven, I find that the point at which the filling is set is also when the lemon bars start to get very light brown on top.
Let the tin cool completely on rack or in the fridge. Gently cut around the outside of the parchment paper to make sure no sides have stuck, then gently use the parchment 'sling' to transfer bars from tin to cutting board. Cut into 16 squares.