Saturday, January 16, 2010

Meyer Lemon Bars

Hints to really great lemon bars:
  • A key to crisp crust, un-gummy next to the filling, is to put the filling into the warm crust. Be sure to follow chilling time for purposes of hydration. (This works for pumpkin pie, too.)
  • Bars can be made ahead, but begin to loose their lemony goodness after 1 day and the crust does soften somewhat.
  • Sifted confectioners' sugar on the finished bars is troublesome and showy on the dark clothes of diners. Plus, it always seems to disappear into the bars after a little while.
  • Using a kitchen scale saves time and dishes and it's more accurate, anyway.
With appreciation to Susan Logozzo for her May 1998 article in Cook's Illustrated. I reduced her sugar amount slightly to compensate for the Meyer lemons' sweetness.

Meyer Lemon Bars
Yield: two dozen 1.5- to 2-inch squares

The Crust
14 oz all-purpose flour (1 3/4 cups)
2.5 oz confectioners' sugar (2/3 cup)
1 oz cornstarch (1/4 cup)
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 oz unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), frozen and grated, plus additional for greasing pan

The Filling
4 large eggs
9 1/4 oz granulated sugar (1 1/4 cups)
3/4 oz flour (3 Tablespoons)
finely grated zest from 4 Meyer lemons (1 - 2 Tablespoons)
5 oz strained Mayer lemon juice (2/3 cup)
2 1/2 oz whole milk (1/3 cup)
1/8 teaspoon salt
  1. For the crust: Lightly butter 13-by-9-inch baking dish and line with one sheet parchment or wax paper lengthwise in pan. Dot paper with butter, then lay second sheet crosswise over the first.
  2. Mix flour, confectioners' sugar, cornstarch, and salt in medium bowl. Toss frozen butter to coat. Rub pieces between fingers until flour turns pale yellow and coarse. Sprinkle mixture into lined pan and use fingers to press into 1/4-inch layer over bottom, reaching about 1/2-inch up pan sides. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
  3. For the filling: Meanwhile, whisk eggs, sugar, and flour in medium bowl, then stir in lemon juice, milk, zest, and salt. Blend well.
  4. To finish: Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Sitr filling mixture to reblend, then pour into warm crust. Bake until filling feels firm when touched lightly, about 20 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack. Cool to near room temperature, at least 30 minutes. Grasp edges of the cross-wise paper and lift bars onto cutting board. Fold paper down and off edges. Cut serving size bars using knife or pizza cutter, wiping clean between cuts, as necessary.

Meyer Lemon Adventures

Recipes below are for Meyer Lemon Syrup, Dried Whole Meyer Lemons, Meyer Lemons in Salt and Juice, Brine-Boiled Meyer Lemons, Pickled Meyer Lemons, and Meyer Limoncello.

From Uncle Merrill and my sister, Melanie, I was the happy recipient of 14 pounds of Meyer lemons on New Year's Eve. Stowing them carefully in my backpack, I made it back to the frozen north and began processing.

In my research, I found maturation -- time -- to be one of the common themes. As usual, the main preserving media are oil, salt, alcohol, and sugar, plus generous amounts of water in the processing.

Elusive and difficult to describe, the taste and value of Meyer lemons hasn't stopped people from trying.

David Karp (Splendid Table, 1998): The complex flavor and aroma hints of sweet lime, lemon, and mandarin.

Alice Waters (Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook, 1999): Meyer lemons are sweet, thin-skinned and famous for their ethereal perfume.

Kay Rentschler (Cook's Illustrated, 2000): The Meyer, with its floral notes, more complex flavor, and greener, grassy finish, took some getting used to.

Amy Scattergood (Los Angeles Times, 2008): Plump, smooth-skinned, colored an unmistakable dark yellow -- canary yellow, the color of egg yolks or the sun at noon -- they're sweeter than other lemons, with an intoxicating aroma that has hints of honey and thyme.

Four Winds Growers, the California developers of the Improved Meyer lemon: It is slightly sweeter than the classic commercial varieties (Eureka and Lisbon). Its soft skin develops an orange hue when fruit is fully ripe, and its distinctive, mystical flavor combines lemon with a hint of tangerine.

Lemon Syrup
Yield: 24 oz

12 oz sugar (1.5 cups)
8 oz water (1 cup)
zest of 6 lemons (about 1 tablespoon)
10 oz strained lemon juice
  1. Combine zest, sugar, and water in small pot. Stirring constantly, bring to boil. Cover and remove from heat. Cool to room temperature.
  2. Strain cool syrup into jar. Add juice. Seal and chill.
Dried Whole Lemons
Yield: 12 dried lemons

12 lemons without blemishes
  1. Wash lemons thoroughly and discard any with blemishes. Remove any parts of the stem without damaging the lemon skin. Dry.
  2. Place lemons on parchment paper sitting directly on oven rack, not on a cookie sheet. Heat oven to 145 degrees F and cook undisturbed for 48 hours. Increase heat to 175 degrees F and cook for 36 more hours. Lemons are fully dried when skins have shrunken slightly (some wrinkling will occur) and become hard to the touch.
Lemons in Salt and Juice
Yield: half gallon lemons
Following Claudia Roden (2000).

12 whole lemons
1/2 cup salt
8 oz lemon juice
  1. Wash and dry lemons, discarding any stems. Slice each lemon almost into quarters from the north pole. Leave the south pole intact. Spreading the quarters apart, generously sprinkle salt on cut edges. Pack into wide mouth half-gallon glass or ceramic container with tight-fitting lid. Process all lemons in this manner. Press lemons together. (Roden says "squash them.")
  2. Seal and let lemons rest for 4 days. Press lemons together again so they are covered with their own juice. Add fresh lemon juice if necessary and reseal. Store in a cool place. Repeat each day for two weeks, topping up with lemon juice as necessary.
  3. After 2 weeks, the lemons should be rather limp and the skins marginally translucent. Store, sealed in a cool place for another 2 weeks undisturbed, but ensuring that juice covers all.
  4. If harmless white mold develops, just rinse off. To use lemons, discard the pulp and rinse.
Brine-Boiled Lemons
Yield: 1 pint
Following Claudia Roden (2000).

8 lemons
8 Tablespoons salt
  1. Wash and dry whole lemons, discarding stems. With sharp knife carefully incise each lemon's skin from pole to pole without cutting into the pulp.
  2. Place lemons in pot with salt and water to cover. Keep lemons submerged using a heavy plate and boil for 25 - 30 minutes or until skin is very soft. Remove from heat and cool.
  3. When cool enough to handle, remove pulp with a spoon and pack skins into wide-mouth jar. Cover with fruity olive oil. Seal and gently tap to release trapped air bubbles. Top up with oil to cover, if necessary.
  4. Seal and let rest for 1 week.
Pickled Lemons
Yield: 1 pint
Following Claudia Roden (2000).

12 lemons
1/2 cup salt
1 Tablespoon smoked paprika (pimenton de la vera)
  1. Wash and dry lemons, discarding any stems. Following line of equator, thinly slice. Sprinkle generously with salt and place in single layer in wide, shallow colander. Cover lightly with dish towel and set over pie plate or deep dish to catch exuding juice.
  2. After 12 hours, carefully toss lemon slices and lightly sprinkle with more salt. Discard exuded juice and replace the plate and dish towel. Let rest for another 12 hours.
  3. Discard seeds and arrange slices in wide-mouth pint jar, lightly sprinkling a little paprika on each side of each slice. Cover with fruity olive oil. Seal and gently tap to release trapped air bubbles. Top up with oil to cover, if necessary.
  4. Seal and let rest for 3 weeks.
Yield: 3 pints

12 lemons
1 750ml vodka
7 oz sugar
8 oz water
  1. Wash and dry lemons, discarding any stems. Zest the lemons carefully, avoiding the bitter white pith. Place in quart jar and add all the vodka. Seal and store in cool place. Shake the jar twice daily for 2 weeks.
  2. Combine sugar and water and bring to boil, stirring constantly. Cover and cool to room temperature.
  3. Strain vodka and discard exhausted zest. Add syrup to vodka and fill 3 pint bottles. Seal and store in freezer.