Easy Lemon Bars

fresh_lemon_picture_167142We are having a little false spring here in North Carolina. The ice storms and snow are gone and at the moment we have temperatures in the low 70s. I say “at the moment” because I understand winter will return next week 😦 In the winter, I love to bake and bake and bake, but once the weather turns warm, I want to be outside. My menus turn to quicker meals, grilled foods and all things lemon. Every so often, we accumulate a ridiculous collection of cut lemons, especially when we start cooking using lemon zest. Since one of our goals is to not waste the food we have, I call on a familiar recipe to turn lemons into…well…lemon bars!

Lemon bars are one of those wonderful, southern desserts that combine creamy, sweet custard with tangy lemon flavor. Next to a lemon pound cake, and Italian limoncello, I think lemon bars are a perfect complement to sunny, southern days. These are pretty effortless, so if you are intimidated by making a custard, this is a great dessert for a first try. Note though, that these lemon bars will not be a bright yellow color like you see in restaurants or from a box mix. I don’t use food coloring because really, I don’t care how yellow it is as long as it tastes lemony. So these squares will be a delicate, pale yellow, but still pack plenty of sass. If the light color bothers you, add a few drops of yellow food coloring to the filling and you will be happy.

We used whole wheat pastry flour from a local farm for this recipe, but if you don’t have whole wheat on hand, unbleached all-purpose flour will work as well. We also use our yummy local farm eggs in the filling. While lemons are, of course, not local to North Carolina, we do buy organic lemons, especially if we are zesting them since that is the portion of the lemon in highest contact with pesticides.

I’m hoping to make some of these this weekend before our weather gets brisk again. I’ll sneak any little bit of summer in that I can!

Easy Lemon Bars

Crust

  • 1 c. whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 1/3 c. organic confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 stick of butter, cut into pieces and chilled

Custard Filling

  • 1 c. organic, granulated sugar
  • 3 large farm eggs
  • 3 Tbsp. whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tsp. organic, grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 c. freshly squeezed lemon juice from organic lemons (about 2 large lemons)

Topping

  • 1/4 c. organic confectioners’ sugar (optional)
    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    2. Lightly coat an 8 x 8 baking pan with cooking spray or oil.
    3. Make the crust by combining all the dry ingredients for the crust in a medium bowl. Add the chilled butter and incorporate using a fork, pastry cutter or your fingertips until the crust has the consistency of course meal.
    4. Add the crust mix into the baking pan and press into an even layer along the pan bottom.
    5. Put the pan in the freezer for 20 minutes, then cook for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
    6. Remove the baking pan from the oven and reduce the heat to 300 degrees.
    7. Make the filling by combining all the filling ingredients in a medium bowl and mixing with a wisk until smooth.
    8. Pour the filling over the warm crust and cook for about 20 minutes or until the filling is set.
    9. Remove the pan from the oven and cool for about 30 minutes. Cut and serve or (I like mine cold), pop the pan into the refrigerator for another 30-45 minutes.
    10. Cut into 9 large bars and put bars on a serving platter.
    11. Just before serving, sift confectioners’ sugar over the bars.

Happy spring baking!

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Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

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I’ll just admit it. I am not so much a pie maker. Perfect crust tends to elude me, and the tops of my pies are usually cattywampus and slightly caved in. That’s ok with me, though–as long as they taste good. And the ice cream doesn’t seem to mind, either.

This pie is the last in my experiments with rhubarb. It was sticky, sweet, tart and perfect with vanilla ice cream (or soy cream). It puts to shame those imposter pies that beckon to you in the grocery with their too sweet filling and their bland crusts. I think strawberry rhubarb pie is just like spring–fresh, slightly awkward, and gone too soon. Yum.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie (makes one pie)

  • 2 pie crusts from your favorite recipe
  • 3 cups fresh, organic or pesticide-free strawberries
  • 2 1/2 cups washed and chopped rhubarb
  • 1 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons quick cooking tapioca
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Zest and juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 egg white
  • Organic turbinado sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, mix berries, rhubarb, sugar, flour, tapioca, cinnamon, zest and lemon juice. Toss well and set aside.
  3. In a 9″ pie plate, unroll one of the pie crusts. Pat into the plate. Pour the berry mixture into the pie crust.
  4. Cut the butter into cubes and sprinkle on top of the berries.
  5. Beat the egg white with 1 tablespoon water. Brush the edges of the pie crust with the egg wash.
  6. Top with the second pie crust. Crimp the edges of the pie and trim excess crust.
  7. Brush the egg wash over the pie crust. Cut slits in the top to vent steam. Sprinkle top with turbinado sugar.
  8. Bake the pie for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake for 50 minutes more.
  9. Let cool and serve.
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