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Updated: 5:43 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013 | Posted: 5:43 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013
Jenay’s Famous Lemon Bars
Jenay Benge might only be 12, but she cooks like an old soul. Five years ago, the aspiring pastry chef won the attention of star chef Kevin Rathbun after she began baking to raise money to attend a Central Market cooking class in Dallas. Soon she and Kevin were exchanging cooking tips, and the next thing you know, Jenay’s lemon bars were being served at his Blue Plate Kitchen. Published here for the first time, these beauties are a perfect balance of sweet and tart. “They just taste like summer,” she says. Here comes the sun.
Now, let’s talk tartness. This recipe calls for half cup of lemon zest, while most recipes call for only a tablespoon or two. Wouldn’t the tartness annihilate your taste buds? Nada. Jenay’s figured out just the right balance of deep lemon and soft sugar flavor.
— Denise Gee, author of “Sweet on Texas” (Chronicle Books, $24.95)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup freshly grated lemon zest
1 tsp. baking powder
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, stir 2 cups of the flour together with the butter and powdered sugar to make a dough. Spread the mixture into the prepared pan, building up a 1-inch edge on all sides.
Bake for 15 minutes, until very lightly browned; remove from the oven and place the pan on a wire rack. (Leave the oven on.)
In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to mix the eggs with the granulated sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest; set aside. In a small bowl, mix the remaining 1/2 cup flour with the baking powder. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix well.
Pour the mixture over the prebaked crust.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden around the edges and set in the middle. Let the bars cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes before refrigerating for another 30 minutes (which makes them easier to cut). Cut into squares and sprinkle with powdered sugar. You can eat them warm or at room temperature, but I love them ice-cold.
Store the bars, covered in plastic wrap, at room temperature for a couple of days (but they will best retain their flavor and shape for about 1 week in the refrigerator). They also can be stacked on layers of wax paper and frozen for about 1 month. Thaw them in the refrigerator. Makes about 20 squares.
Grapefruit Lemon Bars with Salted Shortbread Crust
I absolutely love grapefruit, but grapefruit juice, while great for drinking straight, isn’t as strong as lemon juice, so you cannot substitute it one-for-one in a lemon bar recipe. However, if you simmer twice as much grapefruit (or blood orange or Cara Cara orange or whatever fancy citrus that you discover at Central Market or Whole Foods this time of year) until it has reduced by half, you can incorporate that into your favorite bar recipe. You could make this with all grapefruit juice, but I like the signature tart from lemon, so I used half reduced grapefruit juice and half lemon. You could use all lemon zest for this recipe or a mixture of both. This salted shortbread crust recipe is based on one in the January issue of Bon Appetit.
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt (reduce to 1 tsp. if using salted butter)
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces
2/3 cup powdered sugar, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup reduced grapefruit juice (see note above)
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 Tbsp. lemon or grapefruit zest (or a mixture of both)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. To make the crust, whisk together the flour, cornstarch and salt in a small bowl. In a food processor, pulse together the butter and powdered sugar until smooth. (If you don’t have a food processor, you could use an electric hand-held mixer.) Add the dry ingredients to the food processor bowl, and pulse to combine, just until mixture is crumbly and holds together when pinched.
Tear two sheets of parchment paper and lay them perpendicular in an 8-inch-by-8-inch baking dish. (This not only prevents the bar from sticking to the pan but it also makes it easier to remove the bars once they have cooled.)
Using dry fingers, press the crust mixture into the bottom of the parchment-lined dish and about half an inch up the sides of the dish. Bake crust for about 25 minutes, or until lightly golden brown. Remove from oven, but leave oven on.
While crust is baking, make the filling by whisking together the flour and sugar in a small bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together the citrus juice, eggs, salt and zest. Combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients, whisking until sugar has dissolved. Let the mixture rest for at least 10 minutes to let some of the air bubbles rise to the surface.
Pour filling into the warm crust and then place back in the oven. Bake for another 25 to 25 minutes, until center of filling has set. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Refrigerate for at least one hour before removing from pan and cutting into squares. Dust with powdered sugar, if desired, and serve. Makes 16 to 25 squares.
— Addie Broyles
Nell’s Lemon Bars
This recipe, from reader Nell Rice González, is adapted from a version originally printed in a cookbook from St. John’s Lutheran church in West Bend, Wis. It is similar to Jenay’s Famous Lemon Bars, but with extra butter and powdered sugar in the crust and less lemon juice and zest. González says you can also make this recipe using limes or, as she discovered in a pinch while living in Brazil, passion fruit.
To make the crust:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, melted
For the lemon filling:
6 whole eggs
3 cups white sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (do not use concentrate or bottled lemon juice)
Zest from 2 or 3 lemons
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour and powdered sugar together, then pour the butter over the dry ingredients and gently combine until just crumbly. (I use my Kitchen Aid on the lowest setting with the paddle attachment.)
Line a 9-inch-by-13-inch pan with parchment and press the crumbs firmly into the pan in an even-ish layer. If you prefer (or you’re out of parchment), you can grease the pan with butter or cooking spray. Bake for 15 minutes at 350, but keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t burn.
While the crust is baking, whip the eggs until they are uniform and light in color. (To avoid beating a lot of air into the eggs, I use my stand mixer on the lowest setting with the whisk attachment.) Add sugar, baking powder and flour, and stir to combine well. Add the zest and lemon juice.
Pull the crust from the oven, and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees. Pour the curd mixture over the hot crust, scraping the bowl to get all the lemony goodness and pop the pan back in the over for 20 to 40 minutes. Watch them closely, they’re ready to be pulled when they don’t jiggle in the middle. (I find this takes about 25-30 minutes in my current oven, it may take more or less time in yours.)
Once out of the oven, let them cool completely (this means until the bottom of the pan is cool) before slicing into squares. Dust the top with powdered sugar.
Kneel and pray before the lemony goodness.
— Nell Rice González
IN YOUR KITCHEN
Nell Rice González responded to a query on Facebook for readers’ favorite lemon bar recipes. She emailed in a recipe, and when I asked her for the story behind it, she sent in this visceral gem of a memory. As a former (reluctant) piano student myself, I couldn’t resist sharing it in print. Do you have a favorite recipe that has an even better story behind it? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for consideration in our In Your Kitchen series.
At the age of 6, I was a reluctant piano student. Evidence of this is permanently etched into the finish of my great-grandmother’s baby grand where, frustrated, I would sink my teeth into the wood immediately underneath the music stand. (To this day, I cannot tell you why I gnawed on the piano; maybe it was the quiet “crunch” and satisfying taste of varnished spruce. Maybe I hoped if I ate the damned thing, I wouldn’t be expected to practice 30 minutes a day.)
My weekly lessons tested the patience of my poor piano teacher for most of the year, save the brief window during which we prepared for the fall or spring recital. The red hot minute I was assigned my recital piece, I would suddenly come to life on the piano bench and practice my heart out for two reasons that still ring true:
1) I am always at my best when I have an audience.
2) I love lemon bars.
To this day, lemon bars remind me of piano recitals in the basement of a church in my hometown of West Bend, Wis. (home to the West Bend kitchen appliance company!). My fellow students and I were expected to sit perfectly still while waiting to be called, one by one, to play our pieces. All the while, in the back of the room, a gaggle of local ladies would silently lay out plate after plate of confections … including, my favorite, lemon bars.
Although piano recitals always seemed to go on endlessly, I learned to gauge how close we were to the end by where the coffee percolator was in its cycle and whether or not they had spooned big, pastel gobs of Zurheide’s sherbet into the punch, causing it to fizz audibly.
My lemon bar recipe was poached, many years ago, from a coil-bound, local church cookbook from West Bend. I call them Nell’s Lemon Bars partly because I added lemon zest to the recipe and mostly because no one can remember whose lemon bars they were anyway.
I really tried to think of a colorful tale regarding the reason it calls for whole eggs over separated and even thought of blaming this on some kind of vague Midwestern tradition relating to the wholesome simplicity of people from places like Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. But really? I make lemon bars this way because I like ‘em this way.
After all, they stave off those cravings for piano wood that I still get from time to time.
— Nell Rice González