When asked to describe what summer is like in the south, I often refer people to this quote from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: “Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon and after their three o’clock naps. And by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frosting from sweating and sweet talcum. The day was twenty-four hours long, but it seemed longer.”
People who don’t live in the south will often say, “Aren’t you used to it?” It’s nearly impossible to get used to weather like this, where the humidity is so oppressive that it is “like walking through gauze or inhaling damaged silk.” (The Lords of Discipline, Pat Conroy) One can only learn to cope with it. One of my favorite summertime coping mechanisms is to make lemon bars. Tart, with a sweetness that isn’t cloyingly so, a buttery, shortbread crust, and a yellow color that reminds one of a mid-day summer sun. I wish I could say that the recipe is one I came up with on my own, but why mess with the perfection that is Ina Garten’s Lemon Bars? If you don’t know who Ina Garten is, she is a chef and cookbook author seen on the Food Network and Cooking Channel. Her unapologetic way of cooking and baking is something I admire and her food is, in a word, delicious. But don’t just take my word for it. You can find many of her cookbooks in Richland Library’s collection. Check them out here.
In order to make Ina Garten’s Lemon Bars you will need:
An electric stand or hand mixer
A 9 x 13” baking pan
Citrus juicer or reamer
Foil or parchment paper
Nonstick cooking spray
Hand Sieve (for powdered sugar – optional)
For the crust
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups All Purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
For the filling
6 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1 cup lemon juice (about 6 lemons) – must be fresh, not pre-packaged
1 cup All Purpose flour
Powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)
Lemon slices, for decoration (optional) – You will need to buy an extra lemon if you plan on doing this
Mint, for decoration (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Line a 9 x 13” baking pan with foil or parchment and lightly spray with a nonstick cooking spray. Be sure to leave some foil or parchment overhanging on the sides. This makes for easier removal later on.
Using the paddle attachment on your mixer, cream together the softened butter and sugar until the mixture is well combined and turns pale yellow in color. You may need to scrape down the sides and bottom of your mixing bowl several times during this process.
Mix in the flour and salt until a dough forms.
Press the dough into the pan, building up 1/2 inch crust on all sides. The dough will be sticky. I find that keeping a small bowl of ice water near by that I can dip my fingers into helps to keep the dough from sticking to my hands while I press it into the pan.
Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Chill while you make the filling.
Whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour until well combined, but do not over beat. I find that using a hand whisk is best for this. There will be some small clumps of flour that do not mix in. Those clumps will bake out when in the oven. Pour into the cooled crust.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, until filling is just set. Be sure not to over bake your filling. It should wiggle slightly like firm Jell-O, but not be runny. Do not worry about any brown spots that develop while baking. They shouldn’t look perfect. These are homemade and rustic.
Let cool to room temperature, or chill overnight.
Using the overhang of foil or parchment paper, carefully lift it out of the pan and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into squares and dust with powdered sugar and decorate with lemon slices and mint (optional) before serving. I find that the best tool to cut the lemon bars with is a pizza cutter, but if you don’t have one, a knife will work fine.
Leftovers can be refrigerated or frozen. Just be sure to thaw out your frozen lemon bars overnight in the refrigerator when you’re ready to eat them.