Once you chose a career in a given field (food, for example), it is interesting to think back to your childhood, to the moments which potentially shaped your future self. For instance, I remember when my mother used to make lemon bars, methodically following my great-grandmother’s recipe, in attempts to replicate a version worthy of Nana herself.
I loved watching her sift the powdery confectioner’s sugar like falling snow over the sunny, yellow custard. Biting into that tart, sweet filling sent a chill up my spine, reminiscent of the first sip of lemonade on a sweltering summer day. But for all the love I held for her lemon bars, from a very young age, I remember wanting more from the crust. I had no idea what ‘more’ might entail, but I felt such a perfect filling required an equally substantial crust.
Today, this question that once seemed so complex would be solved with a rather simple answer - bake the crust longer in order to brown the butter, yielding a delicious, flaky, flavorful base. Nonetheless, the fact that such a thought once drifted through my mind, between playing dress-up and Barbies, seems somewhat impressive.
Lemon Bars on Brown Butter Shortbread
adapted from Tartine by Elizabeth M. Prueitt
yields 12 bars
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup (6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 ¼ cups sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Lemon zest, grated from 1 small lemon
6 large whole eggs
1 large egg yolk
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and line with parchment paper, allowing a slight overhang on the sides.
MAKE THE CRUST Sift the confectioner’s sugar and flour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and stir to combine. Add the butter and beat on low speed just until a smooth dough forms.
Transfer the dough to the prepared baking pan and press evenly into the bottom and ½ inch up the sides of the pan. It should be about ¼ inch thick. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. Bake the crust until it colors evenly to a deep golden brown, 25 to 35 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees if the crust appears to be baking unevenly.
MAKE THE FILLING While the crust is baking, sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Add the sugar and whisk until blended. Add the lemon juice and zest and stir to dissolve the sugar. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the whole eggs and egg yolks with the salt until completely broken down. There should be no distinguishable streaks of egg white or yolk. Add the eggs to the lemon juice mixture and whisk until well mixed.
When the crust is ready, remove pie weights and parchment paper. Return crust to oven, pull out the oven rack holding the crust and pour the filling directly into the hot pan. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F and bake just until the center of the custard is no longer wobbly, 30 to 40 minutes.
Let cool completely on a wire rack, then cover and chill well before cutting. Dust the tops of the squares with confectioners’ sugar and, using a sharp knife, cut into 12 squares, or as desired. They will keep in an airtight container or well covered in the baking dish in the refrigerator for up to four days.