If your mom is like mine, sweet mixed with a bit of tart, then Lemon Bars with Shortbread Crust will suit her just fine this Mother’s Day.
Lemon Bars are cookie hybrids, a bit more like a cream pie than a sturdy cookie headed for the lunch box. They are not really fit for the cookie jar or freezer but more comfortable in the refrigerator. They must be refrigerated or the curd will go limp and runny. I am not saying they will be inedible, just unappetizing. And for Mom, only the best will do.
This recipe is slightly adapted from one developed by Melissa Clark for the New York Times. Her recipe calls for fruity olive oil in the curd and I used that. You could substitute vegetable or canola oil. I would only use olive oil if you have a specialty brand rather than a mass market variety. Some olive oils are harsh on their own. (Pour a bit on a spoon and taste by itself. If the olive oil burns the back of your throat, don’t use in this recipe.)
Every Christmas, my husband buys me a container of pricey Nicolas Alziari olive oil made in Nice, France. It lasts close to a year because I use it sparingly. I never use it as a sauté oil, but rather drizzle on ripe tomatoes or a caprese salad. Mom is worth it, so I used it in these Lemon Bars.
Play close attention to the instructions and make sure the lemon filling comes to a boil to activate the cornstarch. If you don’t do this, the filling won’t set and you’ll have a mess.
Also, cool the pan completely and then refrigerate for a couple hours before cutting. Better yet, make the Lemon Bars the day before you want to serve them.
These are sophisticated cookies that are worth the time to make.
- 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, plus more for sprinkling
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 10 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 4 to 6 lemons
- 1½ cups sugar
- 2 large eggs plus 3 yolks
- 1½ teaspoons/5 grams cornstarch
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- 4 tablespoons butter
- ¼ cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil or vegetable oil
- Heat oven to 325 degrees and line a 9-by-9-inch baking pan with enough parchment to hang over two of the sides (to be used as handles later to lift the bars out of the pan).
- To make the shortbread base, pulse together the flour, granulated sugar, confectioners’ sugar, lemon zest and salt in a food processor, or whisk together in a large bowl. Add butter and pulse (or use two knives or your fingers) to cut the butter into the flour until a crumbly dough forms. Press dough into prepared pan and bake until shortbread is pale golden all over, 30 to 35 minutes.
- While the shortbread is baking, prepare the lemon curd: Grate ½ tablespoon zest from lemons and set aside. Squeeze lemons to yield ¾ cup juice.
- In a small saucepan, whisk together lemon juice, sugar, eggs and yolks, cornstarch and fine sea salt over medium heat until boiling and thickened, 2 to 5 minutes. Make sure mixture comes to a boil or the cornstarch won’t activate. But once it boils do not cook for longer than 1 minute or you risk the curd thinning out again. Remove from heat and strain into a bowl. Whisk in butter, olive oil and lemon zest.
- When the shortbread is ready, take it out of the oven and carefully pour the lemon curd onto the shortbread base; return the pan to the oven. Bake until topping is just set, 10 to 15 minutes more. Allow to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate until cold before cutting into bars. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and garnish with lemon zest.