27 February, 2011

Lemon springs eternal.

Remember last April, when my daughter and I were candying violets?  The violets are once again everywhere.  The garden doesn't keep a calendar, it feels what it feels, and right now, here, it's all about the warming touch of the sun and a breeze that could be described as nearly balmy.
Seems hardly believable to see the first signs of spring on the tail end of grim February, but the garden appears to be as ready for the close of winter as I am. The leaf buds, beginnings of flowers and general greenness are spreading like a virus.  (I myself have been coughing my way into my third week of a cold. Isn't it lovely how children share everything, even their school-incubated, upper respiratory messes?)
Even if I'm dragging, there is enormous solace in the bright light and lengthening days. I think our rabbit and chickens, who live outdoors, would absolutely agree.  As the hens are still laying, the kids collect three eggs a day, and I'm on permanent watch for good egg recipes. 
Unfortunately, there's otherwise nothing of great interest in my garden or at the farmer's market, if you don't count root vegetables. 

Except.  Nearly forgotten in my little orangeraie, the citrus trees have wintered, and they haven't been idle.  At this very moment, my Meyer lemon treelet is draped in sun-drenched fruit, as is my regular lemon tree. I also happened to have a couple of Bergamot oranges in the fruit bowl...
So here's my quantitative reasoning:
Eggs + lemons + almost spring-like weather = the perfect time to make lemon curd.

I wish I'd known to send a Valentine to David Lebovitz, blogging pastry chef and author extraordinaire.  He so deserves it. You see--thanks to observant reader Nadège--I tried his lemon bar recipe, and I just haven't been able to stop making it.  It involves using the entire lemon, rind and all, to get a lemon bar with a gorgeously complex, mouth-filling pucker and richness.  It is such an excellent way to make a lemon sing.  I've tweaked the recipe a bit: I brown the butter that goes in the crispy crust to really amplify its savor, and I've also upped the lemon factor.  I find one Bergamot orange and one standard lemon work best, though I received praise for the Meyer and regular lemon combo as well.  I know, a lemon bar isn't a traditionally French recipe per se, but really, it's just a "fun-size" tarte au citron, n'est-ce pas?

Just like my kids--and David--I like to share.  I'll keep my cold, but you can have the recipe.
Barres au citron (Lemon Bars, adapted from the recipe by David Lebovitz)

Makes one 20 cm/8 inch pan, or about 16 bars.

140g (1 cup) flour
50g (¼ cup) sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
115g (8 tablespoons) browned butter (a.k.a. beurre noisette)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 lemons, organic (1 regular + 1 Bergamot/Meyer...)
200g (1 cup) sugar, superfine/castor *
4 ¼ teaspoons cornstarch
¼ teaspoon salt
45g (3 tablespoons) butter
3 large eggs, room temperature

Powdered/confectioner’s sugar

Begin by making the beurre noisette (the process is described here). Pour from pan into a small, pre-cooled dish and place in refrigerator to cool.

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). As David recommends: “Overturn an 8-inch square pan on the counter and wrap the outside snugly with foil, shiny side up. Remove the foil, turn the pan over, and fit the foil into the pan, pressing to nudge the foil into the corners”. Set aside.

Combine the flour, 1/4 cup (50g) sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, vanilla and 8 tablespoons beurre noisette in a bowl, stirring until you have a smooth--if sticky--dough. Spread the dough evenly in the foil-lined pan, using your hands or a spatula, filling the corners thoroughly (and being careful not to rip the foil with your fingernail as I did the first time). Bake for 25 minutes, or until a deep-golden brown.

While the crust is baking, melt the 3 tablespoons of butter and set aside to cool. Cut one lemon in half, remove all the seeds, and cut the lemon into chunks. If using a Meyer lemons, note they have lots of teeny sliver-like seeds, be sure you've removed them all before dropping the pieces into the food processor. Juice the remaining lemon, and cut the remaining, empty rind into chunks. Put the chunks of lemon in a food processor along with the extra-fine sugar* and 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, and let the processor run until the lemon chunks are pretty tiny. Add the corn starch, salt, and 3 tablespoons (45g) melted butter, and blend until smooth. Lastly, add the 3 eggs and blend until just combined; try to avoid letting the mixture get too foamy.

Remove the crust from the oven once fully baked, reducing the heat of the oven to 150C (300F). Gently pour the lemon mixture over the hot crust and bake for 20-25 minutes or just until the filling is barely set (it should no longer jiggle when shaken). Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. Place the pan in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to ensure that the curd is fully set. Lift the whole, baked lemon treat out of the pan by carefully pulling the foil. Cut the bars into squares or rectangles. Sift powdered sugar over the top just before serving.

These bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for three days.
* Make your own extrafine/castor sugar in seconds: just pulse regular sugar a few times in a food processor before adding the lemon chunks and juice.


  1. Hope you are feeling better soon. We had it over here for two weeks, and my kids don't even go to school.

    The lemon bars look divine. I shouldn't have much trouble finding lemons this time of year, and my boy LOVES lemon. Perhaps we'll give it a try.

  2. Tammy,
    I love your photos as always. What is the coral bud?
    And this was timed perfectly for me for two reasons: I made a coconut cake with loads of egg whites and need something to do with the yolks (thanks!) and I love lemon curd and lemon bars and really just about anything lemon so I'll be making this version.
    Your garden is gorgeous.
    aidan x

  3. I saw this recipe on DL and have been meaning to make it too, just haven't got round to it yet (and live too far north to have my own lemons to spur me on). BTW, why are you blitzing the sugar? Ordinary French sucre en poudre is what I would call castor sugar, and not the coarser granulated sugar which is regular sugar in the UK and Australia.

  4. okay, that does it! I am buying a food processor today. I saw a recipe on another site last week that also needs a food processor and I'm going straight to Amazon to buy one. One of those tools I hate living without. The pictures are beautiful. I just can't master food photos. Can you tell me what is the difference between a Meyer lemon and regular lemons.

  5. Hi Rose,
    Thanks for the get-well wishes! Kids are magnets for viruses, period.

    Hi Aidan,
    The coral bud is flowering quince. It's a large shrub, makes fruit that is only edible after cooked, in marmalades, etc, but not as prolific as a real quince. The flowers are the main interest. So glad you'll use up those yolks in time and that you love lemon! Be careful, you will have to tweak things a bit, at least use one whole egg to have some white otherwise only yolks may be too thick, don't you think? Eyeball and taste--and let me know how it turns out!

    Hello Susan,
    I don't have to blitz the sugar. I just put those instructions in for anyone in places where castor sugar is harder to find, that way they avoid having to hunt for it. The recipe's worth finding lemons for, if you are or know a lemon-lover.

    Go Delana!
    Food processors are awful nice to have around, and even some of the inexpensive ones do the trick quite nicely. A Meyer lemon, they say, is a cross between a lemon and a mandarin, originally from China. The color when fully ripe has a slight orangish tinge, but it's the scent that is so memorably intense. It's less acid too, but yeah, really that incredible fragrance slays me, especially when being picked off the tree. I brought just three for a friend, and the car was just suffused with this wonderful smell! Same thing when I brought these lemon bars to a neighbor...

  6. Indeed, kids are germ finders. I once saw my two year old son lick a railing in a NYC subway. We got the worse cold we ever had.

  7. LOVE lemon curd. On english muffins. And of course I'd never turn down a lemon bar. What a treat to have your own meyer lemon tree.

  8. Hi Rose,
    Wow, licking a railing, hard to beat that story. Did he report on its taste?

    Hello Rachel,
    Yes, it IS nice having your own citrus tree, but notice I just did a close-up. Because the Meyer lemon tree's actual size would, uhm, underwhelm you. I can better call it a large plant.


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