Sunday, February 15, 2009

Houswarming Lemon Bars

Hey everyone-

Some of you may know me from my own blog, pseudostoops, and I was thrilled when Jess said it would be okay for me to contribute to her recipe blog!

Normally, my own cooking tends towards the healthy side. (My dad had a stroke when I was 5 and he was 46, brought on by high blood pressure and high cholesterol, so healthy cooking has long been a priority in my family, and I'm fortunate to have develped healthy habits as a result.) But when it comes to baking and desserts, I inherited my dad's wicked sweet tooth, and I'd much rather eat a small portion of something delicious and homemade than a larger portion of something filled with chemicals and fake sweeteners and other ingredients I can't pronounce. Plus, I LOVE baking, and would be sad if I stopped. So I've developed a cadre of go-to dessert recipes that aren't healthy, exactly, but aren't over-the-top rich and are so delicious that you can be satisfied with a small portion.

As you may have heard, Jess is currently in the middle of a big cross-country move, and if I lived close enough to bring her and Torsten a small housewarming gift in their new place, this is what I'd bring them. Because I can't bring them in person, I'm giving them a housewarming recipe!

Easy-Peasy Lemon Bars
makes 36 bars

These lemon bars are perfect- lemony and tangy with a satisfying crunchy crust. They're much less rich than many lemon bar recipes, and they only use one bowl and require ZERO special equipment- not even a hand mixer! Plus, I usually have all the ingredients on hand, so I can make them in a flash. They're a winner.

For the crust:
8 tablespoons (one stick) unsalted butter, melted in the microwave
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

For the filling:
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons flour
3 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 cup strained fresh lemon juice (it usually takes me about two and a half lemons to get this much juice)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 dgrees. Line the bottom and sides of an 8 inch square baking pan with foil. Spray foil with cooking spray. (for directions on making a foil sling for bars, look below. It's SO WORTH THE EFFORT because it makes cutting easy and you don't end up weeping over ruined brownies that have fused to the pan. Not that I speak from experience.)

2. Make the crust: in the same medium-sized bowl you microwaved the butter in, stir in the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and mix until incorporated. Press dough evenly over the bottom of the pan with your fingers. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until the crust is fully baked- it will be well-browned at the edges and golden brown in the center.

3. While the crust is baking, make the filling: Give the bowl you made the crust in a quick rinse and dry out with a paper towel. Stir together the sugar and the flour in the bowl. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the zest and the lemon juice.

4. When the crust is ready, turn the heat in the oven down to 300 degrees. Slide the rack with the pan out and pour the filling onto the hot crust. Bake for 20-25 minutes longer, until the filling no longer jiggles in the center when you tap the pan.

5. Let cool completely in pan. To make cutting easier, after it's cool I pop the pan in the freezer for 10-15 minutes. Lift the foil sling out and set the bars on a cutting board. Cut into 36 equal squares. Dust with powdered sugar if you like.

Store the bars in the fridge for up to a week.

Welcome home, Jess and Torsten!

Foil sling method for brownies and bar cookies, from Cooks Illustrated

1. Fold two long sheets of aluminum foil so that they are as wide as the baking pan (if the dish is rectangular, the two sheets will be different sizes). Lay the sheets of foil in the pan, perpendicular to one another, with the extra hanging over the edges of the pan.

2. Push the foil flat into the corners and up the sides of the pan. Try to iron out any wrinkles in the foil, laying it flush to the pan. Spray the sides and bottom of the pan with vegetable oil spray before adding the batter.

3. After the brownies or bar cookies have baked and cooled, use the foil sling to transfer them to a cutting board before cutting into squares.)