I’m really not sure why, but as the sweltering heat of the last few days commenced, all I could think about was lemons. I kept finding myself thinking that a little lemon zest would improve, well, just about everything. Consequently, it felt as though my trusty microplane grater didn’t leave my hand all week.
While I was grating merrily away into mostly savory dishes, I started thinking about lemon bars. Upon reflection, I realized that it had been ages since I’d made them and I got all sentimental remembering that they were a great favorite of mine long ago. I realized with some horror that I couldn’t quite remember whose recipe I was in the habit of using in the lemon bar-centric days of yore. I did recall trying a great many different ones. This in turn resulted in several happy hours delving into my embarrassingly vast library of cookbooks comparing and contrasting recipes and trying to figure out which one I used to regard as the best.
Finally, after about the tenth volume, I reached for an old cookbook of Ina Garten’s, her second in fact, Barefoot Contessa Parties! circa 2001, in which I found pay dirt. There, big as life, I’d scrawled on the page in my, how shall I say, less mature hand, “The best” right in front of the recipe title “Lemon Bars.” I was so relieved that in Hansel and Gretel style, I’d left crumbs(or should I say zest?) for my older self to find.
In any case, I whipped up a batch and I have to say, my younger self seems to have made a very astute pronouncement as, surely, these are the best lemon bars ever. Now I have to say, that Felix (who said right up front that he’s not a lemon bar fan) didn’t particularly care for them. I won’t even get into whether or not this lends credence to my theory that he’s bonkers. What I will say, is that they aren’t overly sweet, which, to me, is just right. What I love about them is that the lemony-ness is so intense it just zings through you like lightning. Or perhaps what I mean to say, is that taking a bite is the taste equivalent of seeing the first blink of a lightning bug on the first hot night of summer. Exciting, electrifying yes, but more importantly, finding oneself suddenly grounded intensely in the moment. In short, you are one with the lemon.
Anyway, before I wax on any more about the wonder of these little squares of sheer delight, perhaps I should just share the recipe so you can see for yourself.
The Best Lemon Bars
adapted from Ina Garten
Makes 20 large, luxurious squares
For the crust:
1/2 pound unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
3 cups sugar
grated lemon zest from 5 lemons
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 6 large lemons)
1 cup all-purpose flour
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until well combined. Add the flour and salt and mix until just combined. Press dough into a 9 x 13 x 2-inch glass dish, building up a 1/2- inch edge on all sides. Chill.
Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.
For the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for about 35 minutes until the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.
Cut into squares and dust with the confectioners’ sugar.