July 17, 2017

Pink Lemonade Bars

Lemon bars are the quintessential summer dessert. They're light, refreshing, and packed with citrus flavor with just enough buttery crust to satisfy your dessert cravings. I'm a crust girl, so this is miles better than pie since it's about 2 parts lemon filling to 1 part crust, as opposed to the filling-heavy pies I usually bake. Not that my pies are bad, but sometimes I want some extra crust. Plus these lemon bars are extra special because they're pink! The secret is a few spoonfuls of raspberry jam, which adds a different kind of tartness and of course that gorgeous color.

This crust is a cross between a pie crust and shortbread. It's not as delicate and flaky as a typical pie crust, but it's not nearly as dense and crumbly as a shortbread. I use the same process as for a pie crust: pulse the dry ingredients in a food processor to combine, add the butter, then add a bit of liquid just to pull it together. However, there are a few notable differences. I use powdered sugar for a smoother texture than regular sugar, and I use softened butter instead of chilled cubed for a more cohesive dough. A secret trick is to use vodka for a lighter dough; it evaporates faster than water for a flakier dough.

As for the bars themselves, it's a fairly typical base. I use both lemon juice and lemon zest, but I rub the zest into the sugar so it perfumes the whole mixture. The natural oils in the zest are absorbed by the sugar for more uniform flavor. That mixture is whisked together with the juice and the jam, which I heat with a bit of water so it melts the lumps and mixes in more smoothly. I then add a few eggs and some flour, which turn it into a custard and allow the mixture to set properly. If you've ever had a lemon bar, you know that texture I'm talking about. You want to take it out of the oven when it just barely jiggles in the center.

I've found that if you can stand to let this chill in the refrigerator overnight, they'll cut much more cleanly. Of course, if you cut them shortly out of the oven you'll get bits stuck to the knife that you can nibble on discretely. All imperfections are easily hidden with a good shake of powdered sugar, but make sure you do that shortly before serving or the sugar will take up moisture from the bars and lose that nice powdery finish. You can always forgo the powdered sugar entirely and allow the pink color to shine, but for me the powdered sugar is part of what makes lemon bars so special.

2 1/4 Cups Flour
2 Cups Sugar
1/2 Cup Powdered Sugar
Pinch Salt
2 Sticks Butter, Softened
1 T Vodka or Water
1 T Lemon Zest
1/2 Cup Lemon Juice
1/4 Cup Raspberry Jam
4 Eggs

Heat oven to 350F.

Combine 2 cups flour, powdered sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse in the butter until small lumps remain, then add the vodka or water.

Press the dough into a greased 9x13" pan and bake for 22-24 minutes or until just golden.

Heat the raspberry jam in a small pot with 2 tsp water.

Rub the lemon zest into the sugar. Whisk in the lemon juice and raspberry jam. Whisk in the eggs. Sift in the remaining 1/4 cup flour.

Pour the filling into the cooled crust and bake for 30 minutes or until just set.

Makes 18

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