Day 79–Easy Lemon Bars

This image shows a whole and a cut lemon.

It is only March, and already the temperatures are in the 80s here in North Carolina. I’m not sure what that means for summer, but for now, it feels great. We spent the weekend working outside, getting our raised beds ready for planting and watching basketball (Go NC State!). Ok that last one involved being inside, but we did have the windows open.

In the winter, I love to bake and bake and bake, but once the weather turns warm, I want to be outside. My menus turn to quicker meals, grilled foods and all things lemon. Organizing the refrigerator yesterday, I noticed that we had a ridiculous collection of cut lemons. We’ve had several dishes lately that called for lemon zest, but not the juice, leaving us with the equivalent of two lemons that were begging to be used. And since one of our goals is to not waste the food we have, I called on a familiar recipe to turn lemons into…well…lemon bars!

Lemon bars are one of those wonderful, southern desserts that combine creamy, sweet custard with tangy lemon flavor. Next to a lemon pound cake, and Italian limoncello, I think lemon bars are a perfect complement to sunny, southern days. These are pretty effortless, so if you are intimidated by making a custard, this is a great dessert for a first try. Note though, that these lemon bars will not be a bright yellow color like you see in restaurants or from a box mix. I don’t use food coloring because really, I don’t care how yellow it is as long as it tastes lemony. So these squares will be a delicate, pale yellow, but still pack plenty of sass. If the light color bothers you, add a few drops of yellow food coloring to the filling and you will be happy.

We used whole wheat pastry flour from a local farm for this recipe, but if you don’t have whole wheat on hand, unbleached all-purpose flour will work as well. We also use our yummy local farm eggs in the filling. While lemons are, of course, not local to North Carolina, we do buy organic lemons, especially if we are zesting them since that is the portion of the lemon in highest contact with pesticides.

Easy Lemon Bars

Crust

  • 1 c. whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 1/3 c. organic confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 stick of butter, cut into pieces and chilled

Custard Filling

  • 1 c. organic, granulated sugar
  • 3 large farm eggs
  • 3 Tbsp. whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. organic, grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice from organic lemons (about 2 large lemons)

Topping

  • 1/4 c. organic confectioners’ sugar (optional)
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    2. Lightly coat an 8 x 8 baking pan with cooking spray or oil.
    3. Make the crust by combining all the dry ingredients for the crust in a medium bowl. Add the chilled butter and incorporate using a fork, pastry cutter or your fingertips until the crust has the consistency of course meal.
    4. Add the crust mix into the baking pan and press into an even layer along the pan bottom.
    5. Put the pan in the freezer for 20 minutes, then cook for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
    6. Remove the baking pan from the oven and reduce the heat to 300 degrees.
    7. Make the filling by combining all the filling ingredients in a medium bowl and mixing with a wisk until smooth.
    8. Pour the filling over the warm crust and cook for about 20 minutes or until the filling is set.
    9. Remove the pan from the oven and cool for about 30 minutes. Cut and serve or (I like mine cold), pop the pan into the refrigerator for another 30-45 minutes.
    10. Cut into 9 large bars and put bars on a serving platter.
    11. Just before serving, sift confectioners’ sugar over the bars.

Happy spring baking!

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