Do you ever go looking for a new version of something, mostly out of a desire to try a new recipe rather than any dissatisfaction with the classic, only to discover that the final result is indeed so different from what you were expecting that you are disappointed? Which is silly because first of all, you went looking for change so what did you expect? And second of all, upon further reflection the new recipe is actually quite good, just, well, different…
Anyway, I had been wanting to make a lemon bar, but I wanted to make a different lemon bar. I found this recipe which was indeed different because it had a streusal topping, something common in bar cookies but not so common in lemon bars. Somehow I expected a really tart lemon filling, to complement the streusal topping. John thought it was tart–but he does not like things very sour–whereas I found it kind of mild and sweet–but I like things really sour. I guess what I am really saying is try not to have any expectations about these bars and you’ll really enjoy them. But, as with many lemon desserts, if you get in your head they need to be just so lemony, then you might be disappointed. But only with the first bar. After that, you’ll have trouble staying away from them, just like me.
They took a pretty bad picture, too, I must say. It is only with the flash that the filling is even differentiated from the base and topping–and then it is a more striking difference than what you would see in person. Granted it was nighttime, but I still usually can get better photos than this.
Lemon Shortbread Bars
Adapted from Joan Williams, 60th Street Desserts, Seattle, WA, Bon Appétit, August 2000
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 cups (252 g) AP flour
3 T sugar
1/2 t salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large egg yolks
6 large eggs
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup (63 g) AP flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 T finely grated lemon zest
3/4 cup (93 g) AP flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 t salt
4 T (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a 9X13 baking pan with foil and then coat it lightly with nonstick spray. Blend flour, sugar and salt in food processor to combine. Cut in butter, using on/off turns, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add egg yolks and blend until moist clumps form (you will be able to tell when you squeeze the dough–I added 1 t of water to achieve this). Press mixture onto bottom of prepared pan. Bake until just beginning to turn golden brown around edges, about 10 minutes. Remove crust from oven; reduce temperature to 325°F.
Meanwhile, prepare lemon filling (make sure it will be ready before the crust comes out of the oven as it must be poured onto a hot crust): Whisk eggs and sugar in large bowl to blend. Whisk flour and baking powder in medium bowl to blend. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture, whisking to blend. Whisk in lemon juice and zest. Immediately pour lemon filling over hot crust; bake until filling is set, about 30 minutes. Keep the oven at 325 F.
While the lemon bars are baking, prepare the streusal topping. Blend flour, 1/2 cup sugar and salt in processor to combine. Cut in butter, using on/off turns, until mixture resembles coarse meal. It will be quite loose and dry compared to other streusal toppings.
Sprinkle topping over hot lemon bars; continue to bake until just golden, about 25 minutes longer. Cool completely.