I’ve spent a good many years making lemon bars from the basic box mix that you find at the grocery store, the ones with the light, cookie-like crust and the sort of spongy lemony middles. I know they’re nothing to write home about; they’ve never been the kind of dessert that makes my taste buds dance or leaves other people asking for the recipe. But sometimes (particularly in the hot and steamy summer months) you just want something as sweet and lemony as it is fast and easy, and the trusty boxed lemon bars always seem to fit that bill.
For our Memorial Day cookout, the weather called for a not-so-easy-breezy 86 degrees, and the summer-approved lemon bars were just what we needed. It’s no secret I’m on a made-from-scratch kick, and luckily the New York Times cookbook had a great recipe for homemade lemon bars. Woo hoo! As it turns out, there is such a thing as a lemon bar to write home about (unless, of course, you’re already home, in which case a formal letter isn’t necessary), and the secret is in the ingredients. Rather than rely on the expected combination of uncomplicated crust and basic lemon filling, this recipe throws a culinary curveball with a brown sugar, egg, vanilla and coconut mixture smack between a simple crust and tart lemon glaze. In fact, the lemon glaze is the only lemon-filled layer of the entire dessert — but it packs more than enough zing to satisfy your citrus spot.
From The Essential New York Times Cookbook (Amanda Hesser, p. 690)
• 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
• 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 3 large eggs
• 1 ½ cups lightly packed dark brown sugar
* ¾ cup chopped pecans (optional: I opted out.)
• ¾ cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
• 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
• 2 ¾ cups confectioners’ sugar
• grated zest of 2 lemons
• ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl, then mix in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal (a simple fork works well for this). Press into a 12-by-18-inch baking pan. Bake until golden, 15 to 20 minutes.
Mix the eggs, brown sugar, coconut and vanilla (and pecans, if using) until combined. Pour over the partially baked pastry crust, and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes, until the topping is firm.
Mix confectioners’ sugar with lemon zest and lemon juice until smooth. Spread over the bars. Let cool, then cut into 1-by-1 ½-inch squares. (Bars can be frozen.)
How did you celebrate Memorial Day this year? Did you barbecue with friends? Head out for a picnic with the family? Whip up a fun new dessert? Let’s hear it!