Recently I was given a spanking new copy of a well-known bakery's book. Already I was deeply familiar with a number of the recipes because I worked at there a few years back when I was contemplating becoming a baker myself. Behind the display case was a tray for employees filled with castaway tarts or cakes that had been dropped or dented, some accidentally, some not. The lemon bars were my favorite and all too easy for a sloppy fingertip to nick their glossy surface, thus whisking them away to the employee tray. I've never been someone to buckle over chocolate, but a nice lemon curd has always been worthy of a swoon.
I might be in the minority of former food-industry professionals who actually prefer home-cooking to taste like home-cooking. That could explain why I was a little disheartened to see the book's lemon bar recipe called for over 15 ingredients, including over a dozen eggs. The recipe is meticulously laid out so a cook of any experience level can follow them to the letter to achieve a bakery-quality result. It leaves one thinking, "These lemon bars must be totally amaze-balls, because it might take all of 3 hours to make these suckers."
I have a very small kitchen, unfriendly to recipes designed for an industrial use. I have the patience of someone half my age. If we're trying to get more people into the kitchen, recipes like this are not the way. I hear from friends all the time that they "can't bake" or worse, fear it, as though it's neurosurgery. It needn't be so scary. **Case in point: David Lebowitz's recipe for Whole Lemon Bars. Shortcuts get a bad rap. In some recipes, like macarons, they will never work. But when they do, I say take the money and run. Use good technique as your route instead of pre-made ingredients (much as I love looking at the jiggly jars of lemon pie-filling at Plaid Pantry, it's not really something I want to eat). Save your energy for a day where you want to make madeleines or more refined sweets. Let your lemon bars be simple, dead simple. They will still be delicious.
**Edit: Recipe belongs to Mr. Lebowitz, shown below with a few humble liberties taken on my part.
Meyer Lemon BarsI love this recipe because it uses the whole lemon, something I've always wished more citrus-based recipes would do. I have reduced the sugar, because meyer lemons are sweeter than a standard lemon and because I like desserts to be very tart.There's something really refreshing to me about not letting anything go to waste. The whole lemon lends the bar a very nice firm texture and their soft yellow color.Ingredients for Crust:1 cup all-purpose baking flour1/4 cup unrefined sugar1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract8 Tbs or 1 stick of melted unsalted butterIngredients for Lemon Curd Topping:1 meyer lemon, organic or unsprayed2/3 cup unrefined sugar3 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice (from a regular old tart lemon, not a meyer)*3 large eggs, at room temperature4 teaspoons cornstarch1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt3 Tbs. melted unsalted butter, cooledDirections:1. Preheat the oven to 350 Farenheit.2. Prepare an 8-inch square baking pan by lining it with tin foil, shiny side down.3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 tsp. coarse sea salt together. Drizzle 8 Tbs. melted butter and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract over the mix and combine with hands until the crust dough has the consistency of crumbly wet sand.4. Press the crust dough into the prepared pan and smooth into the corners evenly with your hands. You can also use a spatula to smooth the surface so its flat.5. Bake the crust for 25 minutes, until it is nice and golden.6. While the crust bakes, prepare the topping. Cut the meyer lemon in half and remove the seeds with a small, sharp paring knife. Divide the lemon into quarters.7. Place lemon quarters in a food processor or blender (I used a blender), along with 2/3 cup unrefined sugar and 3 Tbs. lemon juice. Whiz it until the lemon is properly broken up, then add 3 eggs, 4 tsp. cornstarch, 1/4 tsp coarse sea salt, and 3 Tbs. melted butter. Process again until the mixture is smooth (but not too frothy!). It's okay if there's still a few bits of lemon here or there, that will enhance the texture of the bar.8. Take the crust out of the oven, and pour the topping over the hot crust. Reduce the heat to 300 degrees Farenheit. Bake for another 25 minutes, or until the filling has barely set and doesn't wiggle when you give it a small shake.9. Remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool completely. Once cool, carefully lift the bars out of the pan. Cut the bars evenly into squares or smaller rectangles. Sift confectioner's sugar on top if you like and serve. **Yield: 9-12 bars.* I liked these best when I used regular lemon juice as opposed to meyer lemon juice, to give them a bit more acidity.** The tarts can be stored at room temperature in a airtight container for 3 days, or stored for up to a month in the freezer and thawed before serving.