Whole Lemon Bars

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For as much as I talk about Smitten Kitchen recipes around here, it’s a little embarrassing that I’m only now cooking things from her new cookbook. I unwrapped it pretty much the second it arrived in the mail, flipped through all the pretty pictures, but then with my planned Thanksgiving recipe testing and then actual Thanksgiving recipes, all those pages stayed pristine. But I always knew what recipe would be first – the Whole Lemon Bars.

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It’s no secret that I love lemons, vinegar, anything acidic. I re-engineered lemon square earlier this year since most of them are too sweet for me. So I was hopeful that these would be pretty puckery. After all, they have a whole lemon, peel, rind and all. That’s got to count for something.

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First the good – as weird as it might seem, the whole lemon works and the pith doesn’t make it bitter since there’s a fair amount of sugar to balance it. All the rind floats up to top to create a layer of candied peel which would take a lot of zesting otherwise. Plus, unlike most recipes that require a double-boiler to cook the lemon curd, this one just requires a food processor. Much easier, less cleanup, and more time to get ready for whatever party you’re bringing these to.

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But – oh I hate that’s there a ’but’ – this recipe has the same problems as most lemon bars for me. It’s just too sweet or rather, it’s not sour enough, at least for me. Besides the added treat of the candied peel, it tastes pretty much like a lemon bar. Delicious, but not puckery. Still, they disappeared fast enough.

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Whole Lemon Bars*
Lightly adapted from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

The Crust.
1 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
8 tbs unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces

The Filling.
1 medium size lemon, cut in half
1 1/3 cup sugar
8 tbs unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
4 eggs
2 tbs cornstarch
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Up to 1/4 cup powdered sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350F and line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper – put one piece along the bottom and up the sides in one direction and then use a second piece to cover the bottom and the other sides. Lightly butter or spray the paper and set the pan aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, or in a large bowl with room to work in, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. With the processor on medium, add the butter chunks and stir until the mixture is sandy and will stick together when squeezed in your hand. You can also accomplish this in a bowl by hand using your fingertips to work the butter into the dry goods.

When the mixture is crumbly press it into the prepared pan to form an even crust that goes slightly up the sides of the pan. Prick the crust all over with a fork and then bake it for 10 minutes. Then check on it and poke down any bubbles and bake for another 10 minutes until it’s lightly browned and slightly darker around the edges. Set the crust aside to cool but keep the oven on.

Now the lemon – this is where the directions get a little technical. Deb suggest that if your lemon has more than 1/4 inch pith you should remove the pith and peel from half the lemon and then cut it all into slices. My lemons didn’t have too much pith so I just sliced them and removed the seeds. But if I had more pith I’d probably follow these instructions.

Clean out the bowl of the food processer and add the lemon slices and the sugar. Turn the processer onto medium speed and process for several minutes, until the mixture is smooth and consistent – no lumps! This took close to five minutes in my teeny food processor. Then add the butter and process until it’s well mixed. If your butter is cold, like mine was, it will form little curds of butter throughout the mixture and it will look kind of gross and a little curdled. Never fear! There’s nothing wrong, it’s just unmelted shards of butter. They’ll melt in the oven and it will all be delicious.

Once the butter is mixed in, add the eggs one at a time, then the corn starch and the salt and process briefly until combined. Pour your sort-of-gross (but delicious) mixture into the par-baked crust and bake for 35-40 minutes or until the edges are lightly brown and middle jiggles just a little bit. If you like a less gooey bar, bake it for an extra few minutes until the top is a little browned as well.

Remove the pan from the oven and let the bars cool completely before removing them from the pan. Seriously, warm lemon bars are runny. Then slice them into small squares and sprinkle with as much powdered sugar as you like – put the sugar in a sifter or strainer for more even distribution.

* In the pictures I made a double recipe which works just as well but isn’t necessary.

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4 thoughts on “Whole Lemon Bars

  1. Hey Deanne! I’m not sure how appealing this might be for you, but the tartness you’re after is from citric acid; you can find this at chic groceries or Whole Foods-style markets sometimes branded just as “Citric Acid” and other times branded as “Sour Salt”. I’ve seen it in spice aisles at Piedmont Grocery, or in the aromatherapy/holistic/herbal section of Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl. It’s also easy to find online. You might try either mixing some in your batter or mixing it into sugar that you sprinkle on top of the bars to kick up the tartness. Go easy…it’s pretty potent stuff.

    • That is a great idea and I actually have a bottle around from some other cooking projects. I completely forgot about it. Thanks!

  2. Just made these tonight, and doubled the recipe because the only pan I could use was. Larger than 8×8, plus I wanted to have plenty of goodness to enjoy.
    This was really easy to do, and deeeelish! I used 1/2 whole wheat flour, which is just “ok”. Glad I didn’t use all whole wheat. I guess it’s a bit “healthier”, but it’d be tastier with plain, terrible for you white flour. Thanks for posting!

    • Hey Kate, glad there was so much deliciousness. Have you tried using white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry flour? Plain whole wheat can taste bitter and feel grittier but the other alternatives are less noticeable. Might be worth trying half whole wheat pastry flour next time to compare the difference.

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