Is there anyone else out there who is a lemon convert? Lemon anything used to madden me. I just couldn’t make myself like anything that had that distinctive, puckering flavor in it. Maybe the things I tried were too tart or lacked something else, but until the last couple of years, I was never a fan. But now that I have done a lot of baking with it and tried it in a variety of ways, I absolutely love it. I think the conversion began with lemon meringue pie a couple of years ago, and now I enjoy the tart sweetness that lemon adds to such a variety of baked goods. I especially love it paired with fruit and well, everything is infinitely better in cupcake form, so these Lemon-Limoncello Cupcakes are an absolute favorite as well. Lemon bars were a new venture for me and these turned out better than I could have hoped – a thick, shortbread-style crust topped with a perfectly set lemon custard. A perfect balance of sweet and tart, crunch and silky smoothness.
One of my sister’s best friends has a mom who does a lot of baking, especially around the holidays. One of the things that my sister always raves about are this lady’s lemon bars. I felt that I needed to pass the Mrs. K test when I made them so as soon as they were ready to cut I had my sister test one to see how they stacked up. She said they were fabulous and definitely on par with Mrs. K’s famous bars. Success!
A note on serving these… I didn’t plan on actually cutting and serving these until the day after they were made so I covered the pan in plastic and refrigerated, then took them out and dusted with powdered sugar. As you can see, most of the powdered sugar got soaked into condensation on top of the bars. If you refrigerate these before serving them, I would recommend letting them come to cool room temperature, then blotting off any noticeable condensation before dusting with powdered sugar. If you are serving them the same day you are baking them, I would just let them cool on a rack and then leave them at room temperature until you serve them.
For the crust:
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup confectioners' sugar, plus extra for decorating finished bars
¼ cup cornstarch
¾ teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces, plus extra for pan
For the lemon filling:
4 large eggs, beaten lightly
1-1/3 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, from about 2 large lemons
2/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup whole milk
Pinch of salt
1. Adjust an oven rack to middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9x13-inch baking pan and line with one sheet parchment paper. Dot the paper with a bit of butter, then lay a second sheet of parchment paper crosswise over it.
2. Pulse flour, confectioners' sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a food processor. Add the butter and process for 8 to 10 seconds and then pulse until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal, about three 1-second pulses. (To do this by hand, mix flour, confectioners' sugar, cornstarch, and salt in medium bowl. Freeze the butter and grate it on the large holes of a box grater into the flour mixture. toss the butter pieces to coat. Rub the pieces between your fingers for a minute, until flour turns pale yellow and coarse.) sprinkle the mixture into the lined pan and press firmly with fingers into an even ¼-inch layer over the entire pan bottom and ½-inch up the sides. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, then bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, sugar and flour in a medium bowl, then stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice, milk and salt to blend well.
4. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Stir the filling mixture to reblend; pour into warm crust. Bake until the filling feels firm when touched lightly, about 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack; cool to near room temperature, at least 30 minutes. Transfer to cutting board, fold paper down, and cut into bars. Sift confectioners' sugar over bars, if desired. Leftover bars can be covered in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 days.
*Note: The filling needs to be poured into a warm crust straight from the oven, so once the crust is in the refrigerator chilling, prepare the filling so it's ready when the crust comes out of the oven.