We had been enjoying a very mild August weather; the transition into September had been promising with chilly mornings and humidity-free days. I was already starting my mornings daydreaming of cold weather stews and soups, gently poaching duck legs in duck fat to make duck confit and making flaky crusts for apple pies – so much so that I have mentally transported myself into autumn by evening. My daily reverie was completely obliterated this past weekend when an unusual balmy day escalated into an oppressive heat wave that turned parked cars into frying pans.
This presented a problem as we were having a party of grilled kebobs to celebrate the end of summer – little did we know that summer was not quite ready to leave. We had to move the time of the gathering from lunch to dinner as the noon-time sun would be beating down on the back deck where the grill was. Another dilemma was what dessert would be appropriate to follow the inevitable satiety of a kebab dinner and appealing enough to eat on a hot day: not chocolate, ice cream would be too heavy, maybe fruits? A light pana cotta was an option but since all the time I had was to make it the morning of the get-together, there would not be enough time to chill it. I rummaged through my trusty dessert books like Pure Dessert, The Sweet Life et al. for inspiration but nothing seemed to catch on. I do have some macarons…but that would be too predictable of me. Finally, I pulled out Tartine.
My thoughts flitted back to my San Francisco visits where I always made it a priority to visit this beloved neighborhood bakery. Each time I visited, there were lines out the door but that never fazed me – everything was worth the wait from their ham and cheese croissants to their chocolate friands and from their fresh fruit tartlets to their yummy lemon bars. Panic always gripped me whenever it was my turn to order … decisions needed to be made quickly lest I hold up a line of equally eager customers and turn them into a menacing mob. So I just point and point and point and realized I had eaten again with my eyes as I left the pastry display case with boxes of goodies that would surely send me into a sugar coma by the end of the day.
My thoughts reluctantly left San Francisco to refocus back on the task at hand but not before pulling back a thread of inspiration.
Cold lemon bars…tart enough to whet a sated appetite and when served cold, perfect for that hot summer day!
I had everything I needed to make this dessert except lemons. I surmised that the newly opened Whole Foods wouldn’t be such a zoo at 9:00 am on a Sunday morning so I bravely set forth and sure enough there were but a few cars in the parking lot. I stilled myself to just go for the lemons when I stepped into its grand entrance, but my good intentions quickly dissipated as I saw the reduced price on the figs. And didn’t the hubby also mention he wanted some balsamic vinegar. I bought three. I walked towards the seafood area and wished I had a good reason to bring home a whole fish – they looked extremely fresh with eyes so clear they surely just made it off the boat.
Incidentally, here’s a picture of the shock and awe our Whole foods did on its second day of opening. I think it was a whole swordfish minus the head.
Passing the array of yoghurts, milk and eggs, I made a beeline for the meat case. Do I really need more meat? I looked longingly at their dry-aged beef display. There was only one thing to do – hightail my ass out of there.
So back to the lemon bars, an exciting moment came after discovering which brand of my assortment of egg trays had the most orange of yolk. Aren’t they lovely?
Lemon Bars on Brown Butter Shortbread
From: Tartine by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson
One 9-by13-inch baking pan; twelve 3-by-3 ¼ -inch bars
- 2 oz/55g Confectioner’s sugar
- 7 ½ oz/215 g All-purpose flour
- 6 oz/170g Unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2oz/55g Pine nuts (optional)
- 2 ½ oz/70g All-purpose flour
- 1 pound/455g Sugar
- 9 oz/280 ml Lemon juice
- 1 small lemon Zest
- 6 Large whole eggs
- 1 Large egg yolk
- Pinch salt
Confectioner’s sugar for topping
Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a 9-by-13 inch baking pan.
To make the crust, sift the confectioner’s sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the flour and stir to mix. Add the butter and pine nuts (if using) and beat on low speed just until a smooth dough forms.
Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and press evenly into the bottom and ½ inch up the sides of the pan. It should be about ¼ inch thick. To help even out the crust, use the flat bottom of any cup, pressing down firmly. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake the crust until it colors evenly to a deep golden brown, 25 to 35 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees if the crust appears to be baking unevenly.
While the crust is baking, make the filling: Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Add the sugar and whisk until blended. Add the lemon juice and zest and stir to dissolve the sugar. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the whole eggs and egg yolk with the salt. Add the eggs to the lemon juice mixture and whisk until well mixed.
When the crust is ready, pull out the oven rack holding the crust and pour the filling directly into the hot pan. (It is easiest to pour the custard into the pan if the pan is in the oven.). If the crust has come out of the oven and cooled before you have finished making the filling, put it back in for a few minutes so that it is hot when the custard poured into it. Reduce the oven temperature to 300F and bake just until the center of the custard is no longer wobbly, 30 to 40 minutes.
Let cool completely on a wire rack, then cover and chill well before cutting. Using a sharp knife, cut into 12 squares or as desired. If you like, dust the tops of the squares with confectioner’s sugar. They will keep in an airtight container or well covered in the baking dish in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
These bars were very easy to make. It needs 1 cup of lemon juice which amounts to about 4 regular sized lemons. Because we were having a party later I tried to reduce the mess I made as much as possible. For example, after weighing my confectioner’s sugar I immediately sifted it into a mixing bowl so I could use the same bowl to weigh the flour. And keep your measuring cup handy as you can use this to tamp down the crust when you are at that step. My crust took around 40 minutes to turn a dark golden brown. I had around 4 cups of egg mixture which I transferred to a large glass measuring cup to facilitate pouring. I had to take out the crust to remove the pie weights because I did not fancy picking them up one by one in the oven just in case I accidentally spilled them into the hot cavity.
These bars were delicious. The buttery crunchy crust complemented the tangy flavor of the lemon-infused custard. This was definitely a perfect sweet ending to the hot days of summer!