Saturday, October 2, 2010

Lemon Bars with Crumble Topping

Have you ever gone to a cafe', or a bakery, or just any eatery in general and saw one of their perfect looking desserts behind the glass display and thought to yourself, "oh my gosh, I HAVE to try THAT"? Then you get all excited, thinking of what it will taste like, how someone could come up with it, how you totally should spend that $2 dollar price tag for it on something that matters like AA batteries for your camera, and how darn cute it looks all nicely presented amongst the other desserts. You savor the moment when you ring it up, sit down, take a quick sip of your freshly brewed coffee and finally, you dig into your 2 dollar treat without skepticism.

And for a brief moment there is a quiet line between the excitement, and then the disappointment that follows.

You get mad. You bite your cheek. You stare at it and say, "that's...not what I expected" and you push your plate away and ask if someone else wants it. For the rest of that evening, you are sad and let down that you didn't get what you expected or wanted. And then your husband/boyfriend/best friend/girl friend/family member is all like, "OH MY GOSH THIS IS DELICIOUS" and you stare at the dessert being gobbled up with longing eyes until you collapse in a pit of tears and shake your fist at the dessert Gods for doing this awful thing to you and making you waste 2 dollars and now you can't buy the camera batteries and everything is ruined forever.

Orrrrrrr... maybe that's just me who does that.

Seriously, though, I think we've all had that happen to us once. As you can probably tell, it happened to me recently. I had seen a "lemon crumble bar" in the display of the cafe' I regularly go to on my break. I've tried most of their desserts already but this one in particular stood out to me because not once had I ever considered a lemon bar with a crumbled topping before. Sure, you have your raspberry oatmeal bars with the oatmeal streusal on top, and your muffins with a brown sugar crumble... but lemon bars? I never considered. Never thought about it. So I was both deathly curious and excited to try it.

Except, when I did, the lemon bar didn't taste good at all. It tasted like biting into chewy, not crumbly, shortbread, with a dry, not sweet at all topping, and a very dense lemon custard in the middle. Even the lemon flavor was not very prominent. I could taste no sign of a zest or anything like that. And after baking many lemon bars before, I could not understand why this one tasted nothing like the ones I had made or eaten previously. Disappointed, I gave the rest to a co-worker that loved it and said I was crazy.

I may be crazy, but that lemon bar wasn't lovely at all. And I was not about to sit there in wonder about what it could have tasted like. I was going to find out. And I did.

Besides the caramelized crust due to a little too much time in the oven, this lemon bar was exactly what I was expecting, and more. Prominent lemon taste, with lemon zest in the shortbread crumble on top. Simple ingredients. Easy to make. And worth the time to go make it myself. I was really happy with the results of the topping with the lemon bar. Totally balanced each other out, and a small slice is more than satisfying. Not too sweet or too tart. I was tempted to go back into the cafe' with this tart and let them sell this instead. But then that might not be the best idea in the world.

It may be a good lemon bar but I don't think it warrants banishment from coffee. Actually, I don't think anything is worth banishment from coffee.

Lemon Bars with Crumble Topping

Shortbread Base Ingredients:
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon icing sugar or powdered sugar
1 stick of cold butter

Lemon Filling:
2 large eggs
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup FRESH lemon juice (no bottled stuff here, people!)
1 tsp lemon zest (zest of two small lemons)

Crumble Topping:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
zest of one small lemon
4 tablespoons butter, softened
powdered sugar (optional)

1. Preheat your oven to 350F. Then, make the shortbread base. Whisk flour and powdered sugar together until combined. Using a pastry cutter (or your fingers), add the cold butter in by small amounts until the dough is crumbly. Press into a greased 8 or 9in. tart pan. Poke the crust with a fork all over.

2. Place crust into oven for 15 minutes or until a pale golden. Leave on a cooling rack to cool.

3. To make the lemon filling, mix the eggs together until frothy with a handmixer or kitchenaid. Add the sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Pour into cooled shortbread crust. Bake for around 18 minutes.

4. While the filling is baking, make the crumble topping. Combine the sugar and lemon zest together first to let the sugar draw out the flavors of the zest. You can do this by pinching the sugar and zest together with your fingers until the sugar is lemony and fragrant. Add in the flour, whisk to combine. Add in the butter until your dough resembles a crumbly mixture.

5. After 18 minutes have passed, take the lemon bars out and sprinkle the crumble evenly over it. Return back to the oven and bake for an additional 5-8 minutes.

6. Once your topping is slightly golden, take the lemon bars out to cool. Sift powdered sugar over it before serving. Store in refrigerator or at room temperature (I like mine cold from the fridge).


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