What a lemon
I’ve only made lemon bars once before, and it was an unqualified disaster that taught me never to attempt them again. I made them in an 8-inch loose-bottomed pan, to make it easier to remove them once baked. Sensible, me, definitely. I merrily made the base, pressed it into the pan, baked that, made the custard filling and poured it in on top, and put the whole lot back in the oven. Job done. It was only as I was pottering around the kitchen tidying up and collecting together all the washing up that I noticed how sticky the floor was. There was a thick trail of sticky (lemon juice and sugar, I don’t think you can get a stickier concoction, except maybe marshmallow) goo leading from one side of the kitchen to the oven on the other. Unfortunately the trail didn’t stop there, but continued to run over both the inside and outside of the oven door, and over all of the oven racks. Even as I watched, a few more drips leaked out of the pan and into the ever-growing puddle on the floor of the oven. How I had to failed to notice this, especially when it was also all over my trousers and slippers (moral of the story, never wear cream-coloured slippers in the kitchen) is beyond me, and of course then I went into a complete flap trying to work out what to do, whether I should pull the bars out of the oven and abandon the project completely, or, assuming the worst was over, leave them in and attempt to remove congealed lemony goo from the bottom of the oven when they were baked. I plumped for the latter, and for weeks afterwards the smell of burning sugar filled the house whenever I turned the oven on. The resulting lemon bars were not only decidedly light on lemon, but they didn’t even taste very nice, though this may have been more to do with the mental anguish I experienced every time I took a bite than the actual recipe. As a result, they were consigned to the “never attempt again” heap.
Funny how you can make so many tricky, complicated or just plain exotic recipes you’ve never tried before, and if they turn out fine you pat yourself on the back and say “awesome recipe” and add them to your repertoire, to be made again and again, but try a recipe that should be simple, that you screw up in a really obvious way, through no lack of cooking ability, merely a lack of common sense, and it can put you off ever making anything similar for life.
Fortunately I recently discovered two great resources to bring me back to reattempt the lemon bars. Firstly an organic veg producer who sets up a stall at my local farmers market and had a wonderful selection of citrus this week, from blood oranges to bergamots. And secondly, some tin foil. Ok, so the latter was hardly a recent discovery, but still, it’s pretty crucial. So crucial I am going to list it under ingredients for the recipe.
The recipe below came from a very helpful series of posts by David Lebovitz on citrus, it being citrus season at the moment (I don’t know about you but I find the idea of citrus being seasonal in the middle of winter really odd; I always associate oranges and lemons with sunshine and summer and, well, warmth). It is a much simpler recipe than the last one I tried, which had you cook up the custardey filling on the stove and then bake it; this is the sort of “throw everything in and mix” recipe that, as I have demonstrated, even a lemon like me can’t fail to get right.
Whole lemon bars
From David Lebovitz
Lebovitz recommends using an organic lemon for these bars, since you are using all of the lemon, not just the juice. If you really can’t find/don’t want to use an organic lemon, at least make sure you use an unwaxed one. I also cut down the sugar ever so slightly in the recipe, and the result was a bar that was really tangy, but not mouth-puckeringly so. The original called for 200g sugar in the topping if you like them slightly less tart.
140g gluten-free flour
50g caster sugar
115g butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large lemon, organic or unwaxed
180g caster sugar
45ml additional fresh lemon juice
4 teaspoons cornflour
45g butter, melted and cooled slightly
1. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Line an 8-inch square tin with foil. The easiest way to do this is to wrap the outside of the tin very tightly with foil, then carefully remove it and fit it inside the tin. There’s no need to grease the foil, the bars came away quite easily once cooked.
2. In a medium bowl beat together the flour, sugar, melted butter and vanilla until you have a thick doughy batter. Spoon this into the lined tin and using the base of your hand press it evenly into the tin, making sure it’s as flat as possible. Bake in the oven fo 25 minutes. It should be going golden at the edges when it’s done and smell heavenly.
3. While the crust is baking wash and cut up the lemon into 2-inch chunks. Remove any seeds you come across, and put the chunks into a blender. Add the sugar and the lemon juice and blend for about a minute until the chunks are almost completely broken up. Stop the blender, add the eggs, the cornflour, the salt and the melted and cooled butter (make sure it’s cool enough you can comfortably hold a finger in it or you may end up with lemony scrambled egg) and blend again, for another minute, or until the mixture is smooth. There will be small pieces of rind in the mixture, which is great, but you don’t want any large chunks left.
4. Pour the filling over the crust, return the whole pan to the oven and bake at 150 C for 25-30 minutes. Check for doneness by tilting the pan; the lemon topping, especially in the middle of the pan, shouldn’t move unless the pan is very firmly shaken (though not too violently or you’ll be cleaning lemon off the floor for weeks).
5. Leave the pan to cool. Once cool, remove the foil and lemon bars from the pan. To cut, use a sharp knife that has been dipped in very hot water to get clean edges. Wash between each cut (yes it’s tedious and yes I may have scrimped a bit on this part but it is worth it when you have lovely neat lines).
Makes 36 slightly-larger-than-one-inch squares, which in my opinion is more than large enough. They keep for a few days in the fridge; I kept mine at room temperature but after a couple of days they started to go a bit sticky on top.