Over the holidays I bought myself a new cookbook. I know, I don’t need anymore cookbooks but I was in Anthropologie and it was on sale and I couldn’t resist. The cookbook is Tartine from the Tartine Bakery & Cafe in San Francisco. I had the chance to eat there when I visited back in 2007 and have since recommended the bakery to everyone that I know who passes through San Fran. So of course when I saw the cookbook on sale I couldn’t pass it up. Well I guess I could have but that would have been less fun.
I bought this while in Miami where there was little hope of me finding fabulous French-style pastries. Needless to say I poured over this book knowing there was no hope of me satisfying my sweet tooth with no bakeries nearby and no kitchen. Le sigh. When I returned to Toronto, I decided to make something on my first full day back in town. I didn’t go to the grocery store so I had to make something using ingredients that I already had. Luckily I had everything necessary to make the lemon bars.
I enjoy lemon bars but the problem that I often run into is that the filling can be too eggy. Eggs generally freak me out a bit so if my dessert tastes or smells overly eggy I have a hard time getting past that. My other beef with lemon bars is generally the crust to filling ratio. I like more filing and less crust, not the half and half split that I sometimes see. Luckily the introduction to the recipe specifically says that this is a filling-heavy bar, so I knew I was in luck.
The other thing about the recipe that intrigued me was this “brown butter shortbread”. I’m all for things made with brown butter. Brown butter sauces with gnocchi, brown butter pound cake, brown butter everything!
I have to admit, these lemon bars are so easy to throw together. No special skills or tools required. Sure it says to use your stand mixer (which I happily did) but it’s not necessary. There’s some pre-baking required and a substantial amount of cooling time at the end, but otherwise not a ton of active time at all.
The lemon bars turned out pretty great. Admittedly the whole brown butter shortbread was a bit of a scam. There is no browning of butter. Perhaps the browning comes from pre-baking the crust but it wasn’t worthy of being called brown butter anything. Don’t get me wrong, it was delicious but was really just crust. The filling worked out really well. A tad on the sweet side but sufficiently lemony and tart and firm.
I think this recipe could be a great springboard for other variations like lime bars or something involving coconut and citrus.
Lemon Bars on Brown Butter Shortbread
Yield: one 9-by-13-inch baking pan; twelve 3-by-3 1/4-inch bars
For the crust:
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar (2 oz/55 g)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (7 1/2 oz/215 g)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (6 oz/170 g)
1/2 cup pine nuts (2 oz/55g) (optional)
For the filling:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (2 1/2 oz/70 g)
2 1/4 cups sugar (1 pound/455 g)
1 cup plus 2 tbsp lemon juice (9 oz/28o ml)
lemon zest, grated from 1 small lemon
6 large whole eggs
1 large egg yolk
confectioners’ sugar for topping (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350F and butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
To make the crust: sift the confectioners’ sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Stir in the flour. Add the butter and pine nuts (if using) and beat on low speed just until a smooth dough forms.
Press the dough evenly into the pan and allow it to come up about a 1/2 inch up the sides of the pan. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights.
Bake the crust until it is a deep golden brown, about 25-35 minutes.
To make the filling: While the crust is baking sift the flour into a mixing bowl and whisk in the sugar until blended. Add the lemon juice and zest and stir to dissolve the sugar. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the whole eggs and egg yolk with the salt. Add the eggs to the lemon juice mixture and whisk until well mixed.
Once the crust is ready pour the filling directly into the pan (leave the pan in the oven while you do this to make it easier). Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F. and bake just until the center of the custard is set, about 30 to 40 minutes.
Let cool completely on a wire rock, then cover and chill well before cutting. Cut into squares and dust the top with confectioners’ sugar, if desired. They will keep in an airtight container or well covered in the baking dish in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
(Recipe from Tartine Cookbook)
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