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?)
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...
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
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.