I’m not exactly sure why, but there is something irresistible to me about lemons. When they become so abundant that they seem to take over the farmer’s market, I load up on them and make as many lemon desserts as I can. As a kid, I was never much for any lemon-based treat (why choose a fruit when chocolate is an option?), but now I love desserts made with lemon–its pungent tang was made to be tempered with sugar; in fact, it’s when you add sugar to lemon juice or lemon zest that the real lemon flavor comes out in full.
It’s been raining a lot in California this winter, and the rain has made lemons all the more appealing. Their bright color and luscious fragrance brighten up any kitchen, even as rain beats against the windows. So when yet another storm came through yesterday, I knew it was time to combat the gray skies with a batch of bright, flavorful lemon bars. But first…to the market to pick up the main ingredient.
My latest favorite variety of lemon is the Lisbon. Meyer Lemons have become hugely popular, but they are a little too sweet for my taste, and not quite as lemony. The Lisbon offers what I think of when I think of a lemon: lots of tang, very fragrant skin, a good amount of juice in each one.
I bought quite a few and promptly whipped up a batch of lemon bars, from this recipe, which comes from an old issue of Bon Appétit. It might be helpful to know that I zested three and a half lemons to get the 1 Tbsp. of packed zest the recipe calls for, and I only juiced two lemons which yielded more than the 1/4 cup of juice required for the filling (I told ya these lemons are juicy!).
This recipe is really fantastic, and it will fill your whole house with any number of wonderful aromas, not the least of which comes from the toasted coconut in the crust:
If you want to make them but don’t like coconut, I would encourage you to try them anyway; the coconut flavor is not super pronounced, and because it is toasted, it does not have the chewy texture that people often dislike about flaked coconut. My mom hates coconut, and she really liked these (I didn’t even bother telling her there was coconut in the crust). If you really dislike coconut, but love lemon, I would recommend using another crust recipe while still following the directions for the filling from this one: The filling is tangy and lemony and has a wonderful texture that’s luscious, light, and melty. I have found a lot of other lemon bars have a thick, gloppy, goopy kind of filling that is too sweet for my taste; this one really makes the lemon the star. I’ve brought these bars to several gatherings, and people always ask for the recipe. I’m happy to share it; these bars are happiness in a pan!
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut, toasted, cooled
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon (packed) finely grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan with foil, leaving overhang. Butter foil. Combine flour, sugar, and salt in processor; blend 5 seconds. Add coconut and butter; process until mixture resembles fine meal and begins to clump together. Gather dough into ball. Press dough evenly over bottom of prepared pan. Bake crust until golden at edges, about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare filling:
Combine 3/4 cup sugar, eggs, lemon juice, lemon peel, flour, baking powder, and salt in processor. Blend filling until smooth.
Remove crust from oven. Pour filling evenly over hot crust. Return to oven and bake until filling begins to brown at edges and is just set and springy to touch in center, about 30 minutes. Transfer pan to rack; cool lemon bars completely.
Using foil as aid, transfer lemon bars to work surface. Flatten foil edges. Cut into 16 bars. Sift powdered sugar over. (Can be made 5 days ahead. Store airtight in single layer in refrigerator.)
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