As my husband’s birthday approaches along with Spring, nothing seems more fitting than a lemon (or lime) bar to kickoff the season. Fitting not only because he absolutely loves lemons in any and all forms, but also that lemon and lime make me think of spring. And margaritas. Ok spring, margaritas and sitting out on the porch with an umbrella in my drink. Looking out the window I keep telling the snow it has had its time and that it is free to leave at any moment it chooses. I would chose this exact moment to say sayonara, adios, arrivederci and send it off with a sugary tangy lemon bar to set it on its way.
The recipe I used today comes to us again from our trusty Sheboygan Community Cookbook. I promise I do have other cookbooks and recipes, but this is one of my top 5 because these are recipes from people in the community and are ones that people have used & have loved enough to share. I have only made this recipe once before back when my husband and I were living together in our kitchen that had a much smaller space in our old apartment. How times have changed. Now we have a larger brand new kitchen (yes, I realize how lucky I am all the time!) where I can make all of my bakes with all of the space I need. I enjoy this specific lemon *(or lime) bar because of its simplicity. I love a good, solid recipe that has instructions under a paragraph long. Similar to the mindset I had for my One Bowl Brownies (see previous post for a laugh!). However, these instructions are foolproof and user friendly which is something I quite enjoy. I like a good set of ingredients that are forgiving, which is set in the crust itself.
For these lemon bars there are only 3 ingredients: flour, unsalted butter & powdered sugar. Now the trick with this crust is to not get nervous once it is all combined. We are told to use a pastry blender, which of course I do not have being a novice baker – so here we improvise! This is my favorite part of baking. Figuring out the nuances of the instructions and knowing that sometimes it’s ok to just use your hands. Trust me on this one. I learned years ago from my mother to think on my feet. That has very much come handy in my baking because we will not always have all the tools we need or ingredients that are called for. Sometimes you just need to trust what you have and use what is available. Again, I’m not about to run out in the middle of winter to go to the store!
Here you can see our crust will basically look like clumped up sand once the 3 ingredients are combined. This is why you are absolutely free to use your pastry blender if you have one or you can use two butter knives in a criss-cross pattern. We are just trying to cut the butter into the flour and powered sugar. If you feel this is not working then get your hands in there. This is what I did because I like to know how the dough is forming and it is very easy to tell when it is ready. Basically when you have crumbly crumbs and no more visible flour or sugar we are ready to go! Dump that into your 9×13 inch pan and spread out the crust. Tip: Once all of the crust is spread out, take a butter knife and push it through the dough in different areas around the crust. This is how you can tell if there is an even amount of crust around the pan. If you find that the crust is lower in certain areas then take some from the other side and fill it in. This crust is VERY forgiving in this way that you can just move it around and it will be happy. Below you can see how it wonderfully comes together once it gets moved around the pan.
Once our crust is ready to go pop it in the oven. Do watch it because the recipe says 25 minutes, but my oven thinks about 22-23 minutes is sufficient and then the edges start to brown. In these 25 minutes you will have just enough time to get your filling ready. The filling calls for fresh lemon juice. Through trial and error I have found that 3 lemons will produce about 7 Tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. I have not made these with limes, but I would probably get 4 limes to be safe. The first time I made these lemon bars I only picked up 2 lemons, which left me short on juice and resulted in my husband very kindly running to the store. I’d say just pick up an extra lemon or lime, and if you don’t need it then make yourself that margarita! The easiest way I have found to extract the lemon juice is to cut each lemon in half and put a mesh strainer over a large bowl. Then take a fork (carefully) and twist the fork into the half lemon and you squeeze the juice out of the lemon half. The strainer will catch all of the seeds and large pulp that will fall from the lemon. Now there might be better tools you can find in the store for this, but my strainer always comes in handy and does the trick with a little elbow grease.
From here we will combine our 6 tablespoons of lemon (or lime!) juice with 4 eggs, 2 cups of sugar, 4 Tablespoons of flour and 1 tsp. of baking powder. I find it best to first have our lemon juice ready and set aside. Then grab yourself a large bowl and measure out the sugar, flour, and baking powder. I like to crack the eggs in their own separate bowl because I know myself and I am not very good at getting eggs nicely into a bowl. In fact the first egg I cracked ended up on the counter top an I just looked at it because it had landed so perfectly it looked like a fried egg…minus being fried. So that egg was a loss, but the rest were a success. So I put all of the 4 eggs in a prep bowl. Over the years I have spent many many hours watching baking shows which always say to add the eggs one by one. This does seem to help everything mix together so much better and the mix doesn’t seize up.
So once you have your sugar, flour, and baking powder in the bowl you are ready to mix! Start by adding the eggs one by one and adding in the lemon juice. Keep adding these slowly until combined. By this time my oven was already going off telling me that my crust was done, and I was telling my oven that I was not done with my filling! My oven and I could probably work on our communication. Yet again, forgiving as this recipe is – if your crust is done just take it out of the oven and take a sip of your margarita. It will be ok. The crust will wait until we are done with our filling. Once you are ready, pour the filling over that crust and pop that pan back in the oven.
Now in the next 25 minutes you should have enough time to clean up the dishes…and that egg I dropped. Or at least enough time to convince your significant other to help you clean up. And if you don’t have an SO, that’s totally ok! Just talk to your dog, the cat, or that one neighbor that’s always around for some reason. I’m sure they would love to hear all about your adventures, or maybe that’s just me.
BEEP! It’s go time. If you are way more diligent than me you have been watching the oven making sure these bars don’t brown too much. I was trying to be on top of my game and have all of the dishes washed and dried at this point. As I opened the oven at 23 minutes I thought, “Oh shoot, did I burn these bars?!”. I frantically ran for hot pads and took them out of the oven as fast as I could. As I set them on the counter top I remembered that scrambled egg smell these bars produce. Don’t worry! This is normal and it is just because the topping has 4 eggs. You didn’t make scrambled eggs – I promise these will taste like lemons and not like a mistaken omelette casserole.
At this point you can roll up your sleeves and feel like you work in the finest patisserie and sprinkle those bars with a thin layer of powdered sugar. (Yeah I know French patisseries must have something much fancier, but we can pretend right?) Since these bars will be warm for a while you can let them hang out on your countertop. Or if you have tiny or tall people in your household that cannot resist the zest of a lemon or lime…you can hide these in the refrigerator. All you need to do is put a bit of tin foil on the top and label them “Gluten/Sugar-Free Multigrain Flax Bars” and they will be safe…for a few hours at least. I do think these are best served and stored cold, but that is totally personal preference. Once your bars are set you are ready to go! Take a bite and share, or cut a slice and pour a margarita. Dealer’s choice! I hope you enjoyed going on this lemony adventure with me. Cheers & lemon margaritas!
Lemon or Lime Bars
- 2 cups flour
- 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
* You will want some additional powered sugar for the top
- 6 Tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice (3 lemons, or 4 limes)
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, powered sugar and butter with pastry blender (or your hands!). Spread in a 9×13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes (watch it doesn’t brown too much here).
While the crust is baking, beat the filling ingredients together. Pour filling over baked crust and bake an additional 25 minutes. Sprinkle top of bars with powered sugar. This will make 25-30 servings, depending on how many bars you want to leave for everyone else.
*Make ahead tip: You can make your fresh lemon or lime juice a 1-2 days ahead and keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Credit: Sheboygan Community Cookbook (FCCLA)