Lemon Bars tend to be one of those desserts that fall squarely in the zone of either love or hate, no in-between. I happen to love them. Sadly, they seem to have lost their popularity in recent years, with many viewing them as an old-fashioned dessert. I cannot tell you how many times I have whipped up a batch of these and been informed that they're "Just like my Grandma used to make, but I haven't had them in years." I like to think of them a classic dessert, perfect for a hot summery day (which we see a lot of here in Hawaii.) They're also a great treat when you feel like you can't face another cold, winter day and are looking forward getting a jump-start on Summer. Lemon Bars are also a great dessert alternative when you're all chocolated out. (Which apparently DOES happen to some people.) The perfect lemon bar should have a buttery, slightly sweet shortbread crust that crumbles on your tongue and a tart, creamy, custard-like filling.
Any good Lemon Bar starts with shortbread, and the base of this one is just your basic 3 ingredient shortbread. Personally, I prefer a little more shortbread in my shortbread-to-filling ratio, so I typically double the crust. Make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature before you begin, especially the butter. The flour, butter, and sugar comes together to form a powdery dough. To make it easier to get the bars out of the pan and to cut them more easily, line your baking dish with parchment paper, leaving a little overlapping the sides to lift the bars by. Now get your hands dirty and press the dough into the bottom of your 9x13 inch baking dish. Press a bit of the dough up the sides to create a slight edge. Bake the shortbread in your preheated oven at 350*F for about 15-20 minutes, until your crust is slightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside, making sure to leave the oven on.
Now for the filling. This recipe calls for 1 cup of fresh squeezed lemon juice. I used 6 medium-to-large lemons and ended up with 1 1/4 cups of fresh juice. To get the most out of each lemon I slice each one in half, put them in a microwave-safe bowl, then nuke them for about 30-45 seconds. Then I squeeze by hand into a pyrex measuring cup, being careful not to burn myself. Pour the juice through a strainer to filter out any seeds. You can also filter out the pulp for a smoother filling, but I like a little pulp in mine for an extra bite of lemon flavor. Whisk together the lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, eggs, and flour until well-blended, making sure no lumps of flour remain. (Be sure to take a small taste of your filling before baking, adding more sugar or lemon juice to taste. Some like it sweeter; some like it more tart.) Pour the filling over the crust, and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, until filling is set.
Remove from oven and let cool. These can be served at room temperature, but I much prefer them chilled. Dust with powdered sugar and cut evenly into squares before serving. So, next time you're at the store, grab a big bag of lemons and help me bring Lemon Bars back into fashion!