This was the most wonderful type of kitchen experiment – the kind that started with a group of friends, drinking wine, and discussing the pure simplicity of something sweet….perhaps to go with it.
Our small team in Berkeley has recently grown to encompass one new, fabulous member. She is creative and straightforward, and has an excellent sense for the delicious side of life. It was her that originally suggested that we actually try to get the “bubbly INTO the lemon bars” while the four of us were taking a little pause from the constant waterfall of itinerary work that has been flooding our desks these past weeks. The sun was shining outside, the air brisk, and the wind still a bit too chilly for us to step outside to enjoy our weekly ritual of drinking something white, brut and bubbly on Friday afternoons. Brilliant idea, dear girl, BRILLIANT.
Immediately, each of us had this little smile cross our faces as if we’d come up with a master plan to wave a wand, whisk away the wind, and intensify the sun – and I was certain I saw a way to do so through a vivid, creamy yellow, not quite pucker-worthy square of lemon bar. That early spring night, I stopped by the market, quickly soaking up the bright oranges, crisp rind scents, and fresh wafting of the bumpercrop of kumquats, blood oranges, cara caras, bergamot and lemons that filled the crates in the aisles. Indeed, a vibrant, sweetly tart treat would be just what we needed to break through the grey of early spring. I gathered an armload of tiny, local meyer lemons and farm fresh eggs, dumping them onto the counter in our apartment, turning on some music, and getting to work.
Almost certainly, everyone has access to “A” lemon bar recipe; every baker with a mother or a grandmother has a legacy concoction of lemon, butter and sugar that has won awards somewhere in their lineage, the most spectacular objective being a square of brilliant yellow, dusted with just the right amount of sugar that is at once, intensely tart and contrasting perfectly to the sweet and buttery cookie below. I played with a couple of batches and formulas with less than stellar results; an unremarkable cookie crust, runny or uneventful lemon topping, and shameless placement of too much butter all earned demerits. Why can’t there be more LEMON in the lemon bar? And the cookie + lemon must be just the right balance. And what about more pop? The essence of this dessert is effervescent and uplifting….and that is exactly what I found once my kitchen wound down at 11pm, empty bottles of bubbly stacked up in the corner with discarded egg cartons and one very dirty pinstriped apron.
The recipe below is absolutely a treat – but a worthy one. Because I used organic meyer lemons that are a bit more floral and sweet than others, I found I preferred to reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe by just a smidge. Unlike other recipes out there, you don’t want just the juice but the WHOLE LEMON….so elect to use one that is unsprayed or waxed. And, if you’re in California, one plucked off the neighbors tree might be just the ticket, frankly.