I’m planning to use these lemon bars as a bribe, and I have already been promised that I will be successful. On Wednesday afternoons I volunteer in my church’s kitchen, helping to prepare a meal for Wednesday night’s church activities. I work with a wonderful crew of dedicated people, including Elaine, a spunky 97 year-old who has faithfully been coming to chop vegetables for the salad bar for years. Elaine is quite the character. She says she is in her second childhood now, so she can relax and not worry about what other people think. Her energy and sense of humor have blessed me, and she is always happy to see me on Wednesday afternoons because she L-O-V-E-S to eat dessert, and she knows I L-O-V-E to make dessert. Sometimes I even let her lick the beaters if I have to finish up the topping on a dessert after I get there. And of course she rubs it in with some of the others–that she got to lick the beaters and they didn’t.She’s a bit of a stinker. One of Elaine’s first questions for me each Wednesday is always, “What did you make this week?” She’s getting spoiled too now because I will tell her one thing that I brought, and she always immediately says, “and?” She knows I can’t stop at just one dessert. It is Elaine that I am bribing with the lemon bars. I asked her if she’d let me take some pictures of her and tell you more about her sometime because I think she’s a little taste of heaven. I asked her if I could visit her over spring break, and I promised to bring lemon bars because she “loves anything lemon.” She said, “Of course,” so I am hoping to share more about her with you sometime soon.
This recipe for lemon bars has been a hit with more than just Elaine. My boyfriend Terry, who is usually a diehard chocolate fan, could not keep his hands out of the last pan I made, especially the pieces with the slightly crunchy edges. I also have a friend whose parents from Minnesota have been staying in Colorado for the winter, and the week before they were going to head back home, I asked them if there was any special dessert they’d like me to make them during that last week. My friend’s mom lit up immediately, and said, “Those lemon bars you made a few weeks ago were really good,” and her husband concurred. Try them out to see if you agree; I particularly like them chilled in the refrigerator. The fresh lemon seems fitting for spring and the bars would make a great addition to an Easter meal.
[This recipe is one I have adapted from a 1993 edition of a church cookbook from the Covenant church in my hometown. My mom gave it to me for my 21st birthday and included a note inside the cover letting me know that I now had “no excuse” for not knowing how to cook. The recipe is attributed to two women, one of them being my Aunt Betty.]
Fresh Lemon Bars:
- 2 cups flour
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Finely grated zest from one lemon
- 1 cup butter, softened
- 2 cups white sugar
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- Finely grated zest from one lemon
- 4 large eggs
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (approximately 3 lemons)
- Sprinkle with powdered sugar
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease or spray a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.
- Prepare your lemons. Use a microplane or cheese grater to zest two lemons and then juice three or more lemons to get 1/2 cup juice. (My “assistant” helped make the bars today, so those are her little hands. I strongly recommend finely grating the zest; you want the flavor without the “floaties.” And if you don’t have a juicer like the one pictured above, I strongly recommend one of those too as long as it is metal. I have tried other types of juicers that left me frustrated and avoiding recipes that called for fresh juice. This juicer is quick, easy, and extracts a lot of juice.)
- Crust: In a small bowl, stir together the flour, powdered sugar, salt, and the finely grated zest of one lemon. Cut in the butter until it is pretty well blended and uniform, similar to coarse sand. Press evenly into the bottom of the pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden. (Note: The recipe says until “golden,” but mine never really changes color. I can tell it is baked and kind of set. 20 minutes has always worked for me; golden would probably be over-baked for me.)
- Filling: In a small bowl, combine the sugar, flour, and baking powder. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat eggs until light. Stir the flour/sugar mixture into the eggs until well blended. Finally, stir in the zest of one lemon and the fresh lemon juice and combine well.
- Pour the filling over the pre-baked crust while the crust is still hot.
- Bake for an additional 30 minutes or until bars are set. Allow to cool completely and then sprinkle powdered sugar over the top of them. If you can resist the bars long enough, chill them to make them easier to cut (optional).
- Store extras in an airtight container in the refrigerator or at room temperature.
Source: Adapted from Lemon Bars Deluxe in the 1993 Dassel Evangelical Covenant Church Covenant Sampler