Lemon Bars! I saw these on Heather Homemade yesterday, and when I read the recipe and saw that it called for blending an entire lemon whole, rather than juicing and zesting it- I knew I had to try it! I’m all for simplicity. Step 1) throw all ingredients into the blender. Yes please.
Lemon bars are something I’ve made literally more than a hundred times over the years, you can’t escape lemon bars and lemon tarts in the world of restaurants and hotels. It’s classic, familiar, and quite frankly delicious. Most of the recipes I’ve used call for cooking the lemon curd first over a bain marie, and then cooling, pouring into the shell and baking once more to set it fully. This recipe is a one step filling: blend, pour over pre-baked shortbread crust, bake. Using the skin/pith of citrus fruits is one of those things they teach you first in culinary school, you never do that. The pith of these fruits is bitter, and as a general rule you’re to blanch it several times over and candy it in sugar over low heat, in order to incorporate it into your desserts. But, the last two citrus recipes I’ve tried call for using the entire fruit. The key is to use fruit that has a higher ratio of flesh to pith. (Hence using mandarin oranges in my previous cake post). If you pick up a lemon or lime in the grocery store and give it a squeeze, you can usually feel how thick the skin is in comparison to the flesh inside. If the fruit feels quite hard it usually means it has a thicker layer of pith. If it feels a little softer and you can feel a slight bounce, it’s got more flesh inside. You’ll see what I mean if you do some squeezin’ for yourself!
Here’s a visual example:
So if you’ve been reading along in past weeks, you’ll remember I’m experimenting with the photography aspect of the blog, and trying to push myself to take great photos rather than just decent ones. I’m really loving the darker, shadowy images that have become so popular recently. Playing with light is the key here. Controlling the light so that it hits the subject at an interesting angle, creating an eye catching image. Light manipulation and your shooting angle really change your images completely. I purchased the ebook version of Helene Dujardin’s Plate to Pixel this week, and it’s got me inspired to keep it up. She talks about the basics of camera settings and food + light set up, but also goes more in depth in each of these subjects for the more intermediate. A great reference and all around guide book for those just starting out and those who’ve been doing it awhile but want to progress. I recommend it if you’re in the same boat as me! Helene started out as a pastry chef, then started blogging, and now does food photography as a full time job- so hearing that she started out exactly where I am today got me excited. I’ve been practicing with artificial light for the past week or so, but today’s shots are all natural light manipulated with a diffuser. The sun was too good to pass up this morning. Hopefully next week my white umbrella will show up and I can start experimenting with that too. I recommend Amazon for anybody food blogging who wants to add to their ‘photography gear’ collection, their prices are far better than in-store retail so it won’t break the bank. Since this is currently just a hobby for me I don’t need state of the art high quality materials. Once I master the light so-to-speak: I’ll upload a post with my set-up and talk a bit about (and probably complain about) my failings and successes.
For today: some lemons bars.
The Lemon Bars: yields one 8 inch by 8 inch pan (adapted from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook)
The Shortbread Base:
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
100 g (8 TB) unsalted butter, diced small
1 TB dried lavender
-Preheat your oven to 350 F.
-Blend together all your dry ingredients thoroughly, then begin working in the butter either with a food processor or with your hands (I used my hands). Rub together until the butter is only in tiny little pieces, and the mixture is crumbly but holds together when you squish it in your palm.
-Line your baking pan with butter and parchment paper (click here to see what a parchment paper sling is), press your cookie base into the bottom of the pan and press down to make sure it’s evenly packed.
-Prebake for 15-20 mins or until the edges start to become golden. Remove from the oven and set aside while you prepare the filling.
-Reduce oven heat to about 325/335 F.
The Curd Filling:
1 medium lemon, thin skinned, seeded and sliced thinly into rounds
1 + 1/3 cup sugar
100 g (8 TB) butter, room temp
2 TB cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
-Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. If you’re using a blender as I did: put the wet ingredients at the bottom of the blender first so the blade catches it right away.
-When the mixture looks smooth pour it out over your shortbread base. If you have a handheld torch, this is a good time to torch the top of the curd lightly to remove the bubbles created from the blender. If not: spoon some of the bubbles off by hand.
-Place the bars in the oven and bake for 30-45 mins, being sure to rotate (slowly!) after about 25 mins, so that it bakes evenly. I baked for about 35-40 mins and then turned the oven off, cracked the door open, and left the bars in for another 5 mins. This will all vary depending on your oven, whether or not you’re baking on a stone or not, etc etc. So just be sure to tap the side of the pan to see if it’s done before removing fromt the oven.
-You’re looking for a slight jiggle in the center, without any rippling! If your curd has a little bounce to it and jiggles like jello: you can remove it. If it jiggles around the edges but ripples in the center: keep baking and checking in 5 minute increments until the center is done.
-Remove the bars from the oven and rest at least one hour before placing in the fridge overnight to set up completely. Run a hot knife around any edges of the pan that aren’t covered with parchment paper, and gently lift out of the pan, slice up and enjoy!
** Note: I used a round 8 inch pan and couldn’t make a parchment paper sling, so I had to unstick the edges and invert to remove from the pan. Using a square or rectangle cake pan means you can run the parchment paper up the sides of the pan and then just lift the bars out afterwards. Better for the novice!
And a little peek at this past weekend’s street performer’s festival Buskerfest, in Toronto.