Lemon Bars

My friend Laura recently informed me that I’m going through my “gadget phase,” — a mandatory period that apparently all new kitchen bugs like me go through. At first, I privately scoffed at the idea, but since taking inventory of my kitchen, I’ve had to give up the grunt and admit she’s right. After all, in just the last three months, my culinary family has grown by a NuWave oven, a garlic press, a crock pot, a Magic Bullet, a potato press, an olive oil sprayer, an oven liner, plastic cutting mats, a food processor, two aprons, an assortment of cookie sheets, cake and brownie pans, a potato scooper, a bounty of serving dishes, bowls, and trays, and barbecue tongs that, thankfully, fold up to save room in my utensil drawer. On top of that, an entire shelf of DVD’s has been dispalced in favor of cook books and cocktail manuals, and I’m curently sitting on a $150 gift card to Sur La Table.

Oh, and as of yesterday… I am the proud papa of a shiny lemon zester.

I hope I stay in the gadget phase for a long, long time. Nothing’s making me happier these days than the cacophony of steel, plastic and wire that plays anytime I give my utensil drawer a nice firm pull.

Yes, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to learn how to zest a lemon, but just like blanching onions , it’s far simpler than it sounds. Why don’t recipes just instruct you to “gently grate the yellow part off your lemon by rubbing it against the zester and rotating the lemon as you go”?  Wouldn’t that just make life easier for everyone?

I would have made these fantastic lemon bars a lot sooner if I’d just known that zesting was as simple as all that.  The only thing you have to concern yourself with is making sure you don’t zest the white pith just underneath the peel, which is intensely bitter.  A little in the mix won’t hurt anything, but your zesting should be light and quick.  Don’t overdo it. Better to have more lemons than you need and apply even less pressure to make sure you get it right then to wind up with bitter lemon bars and a “ZEST FAILURE” stamp across your forhead.

Lemon Bars
from Smitten Kitchen


1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Lemon Layer:

6 extra-large eggs, room temperature
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (4 lemons gave me more than enough, but have a few extras on hand)
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup flour
And don’t forget confectioners’ sugar (for us amateurs, that’s powdered sugar— there’s no difference), for dusting

For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (I did it by hand because a mixer is one gadget that hasn’t found its way into my kitchen…yet!).

Grease a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet.

Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into the greased baking sheet, building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides. Chill.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (I don’t understand why pre-heating is always listed first, so I move it.  My oven takes about two minutes to heat up, and making the crust took about five times that long!)

Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool, but leave the oven on.  There’s more to come!

For the lemon layer, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour.

Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, but keep an eye on it.

Once the topping sets, Smitten recommends just another few minutes of baking time, and that worked for me. In fact, I could have pulled it out a few minutes earlier and avoided the overly-browned edges.

Once cooled, dust with the confectioners’ (powdered) sugar. I don’t have a sifter so I took a heaping tablespoon full and gently tapped away at it with my finger. Worked perfectly!

You will not be able to stop eating these bars, so give half away immediately!

ADDITIONAL NOTE 1/12/10 – 2:23pm: The following was sent to me a few minutes ago, by my friend Laura, referenced in the post above:

January 12 at 2:23pm
I see a sign in your current post that you are beginning to venture out of your gadget phase. Someone deep in the grip of said phase would have obtained a sifter (either by buying one yourself or by making enough noise about it to friends and coworkers that they buy you one just to make you stop) before making the recipe. Your comment that a spoon worked just fine is how all nongadgeteers cope daily in the kitchen without dedicated tools for each task. I love watching your kitchen development and am very proud of you.

Thanks Laura!

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One thought on “Lemon Bars

  • January 12, 2010 at 3:36 pm

    damn I love lemon. now you have to figure out a lemon cookie recipe for me. I’m desperate for a chewy, intensely tart cookie rather than the usual crumbly depressing shortbread recipes I keep finding. Zest my friend. Zest!!

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