I go through phases with desserts. Sometimes I'm all about chocolate. Sometimes it's caramel. And just as often it's citrus - lemon meringue pies, candied citrus peels, tangy lemon tassies, key lime pies, pineapple upside down cakes...all of them are perfect zesty little finishes to a meal, or a day, or simply a moment.
The primary problem with most commercially available citrus deserts is that simply don't have much citrus flavor - they're often tinted with food coloring to get your hopes up with glimpses of popping lime green, sunshiny orange or buttery golden yellow - but the flavor just doesn't deliver. Any residual citrusy flavors are often smothered in the cloying amounts of sugar that commercial producers seem to think are necessary. So don't buy them. For less than you'd spend at a bakery, and for minimal effort, you do much, mush better at home!
This is a perfect citrus treat. It's aso one of the most basics, super mega-easy, and very quick to put together. One key thing - use fresh juices. I keep bottled citrus juices in my fridge and use them all the time - they are far more budget friendly than the whole fruits. But in this case not only do you really need the zest in order to make the flavors pop, but since the juice is the primary flavor of the finished desert, the freshness really makes a difference.
Also - be sure to measure out the amount of juice you need. Don't make the recipe with just 'the juice of 3 lemons' - your lemons may be much larger or smaller than mine. You also want a couple of tablespoons of zest - so grate accordingly.
You can also substitute limes, key limes and oranges for the lemon in these bars. Oranges give the mildest flavor, but are quite lovely. Make three flavors, tinting each with appropriate color, and cut beautiful small squares. Pile them on a cake plate and you've got a gorgeous desert for a buffet, shower or luncheon. These are deliciously tart, with just the right sweetness, and a perfect little shortbread style crust. They'll quickly become on of your favorite cookies, and they'll make you looke FABULOUS!
For the crust:
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- pinch of table salt
For the filling:
- 4 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups white sugar
- 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2/3 cups lemon juice (about 3 large, or 5 small
- zest from two lemons (large, or 3 if small)
- for garnish - powdered sugar for dusting, and very thin twists of sliced lemon, or a tiny sprig of mint
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- In a mixing bowl, mix together softened butter, 2 cups flour and 1/2 cup sugar. Press this mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 8x11 inch baking pan. This will form the crust for your bars.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven. You're looking for the crust to become firm, and evenly light, toasty, golden brown.
- In a seperate bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/12 cups sugar and 1/2 cup flour. Whisk in the eggs, lemon juice and lemon zest. If you wish, you can add a drop of yellow food coloring to create a pale, lemony yellow filling, but it isn't necessary. Pour over the baked crust.
- Bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes in the 350F oven. The bars will firm up as they cool, and once they've cooled to room temperature, you can stash them in the fridge. The consistency of the filling will be about that of a firm pudding.
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