Thursday, December 8, 2011

Snap to It (Gingersnap Crusted Lemon Bars)

A long time ago, when we lived in Worcester, we made a habit of frequenting a little grocery called The Living Earth, especially because of it's amazing local and organic restaurant: Evo. Sunday brunch was our prime target, but I have to say the ultimate treat is the lemon bars they sell in the deli. Tender, tart, sweet, buttery, heady with the fragrance of fresh lemons... sheer perfection.

Can't hardly wait
I just love lemons, they're like little drops of sunshine, and you can sneak them into almost anything to instantly perk things up and add some brightness. So I was especially happy last Christmas when our good friends Geoff and Laura sent us a Meyer lemon tree from White Flower Farm. In addition to being tasty, they also make for beautiful houseplants, though they're likewise quite happy to chill out on the patio through the summer. The trouble is, this is our first fruit-bearing season, and the progress has been frustratingly slow.

Waiting on you
I had always imagined triumphantly celebrating my tiny harvest with lemon bars, but being ludicrously impatient, a quick trip to the store soon remedied the situation. According to Serious Eats, the peak season for lemons is actually November through March, but I always think of it as a summery flavor, so I decided to try and winterize my recipe by swapping crushed gingersnaps for the traditional sable cookie crust.

Make it snappy
Like so many of my baking experiments, however, things went slightly amiss, and in my excitement I added pretty much twice the amount of butter that is typically recommended. I thought it looked awfully wet packing it into the baking dish, but the real surprise was when I opened the oven, expecting my glorious, gingery crust to instead discover a caramel liquid mixture sloshing in the pan. As luck would have it, this turned out to be what I was taught in kindergarten to call a "happy mistake."

Once I finished pouting and returned to the kitchen, I discovered the liquid had become solid once more. Partly because I didn't want to go out to buy more gingersnaps, and partly because I was curious, I went along with it. The result is pretty much indistinguishable from your standard, delicious lemon bar, but with a warm gingery kick in the finish and the extra buttery richness. Or, as I believe our friend Sandy put it, "the best thing I've ever tasted."

Highly praised
Gingersnap crusted lemon bars
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

If you want to experiment a little more, I think a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger stirred into the filling couldn't hurt, or some finely diced crystallized ginger would make for a more distinctive topping than powdered sugar alone.

For the crust:

2 c gingersnap cookie crumbs
1/2 c sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 sticks of unsalted butter

For the filling:

6 extra-large eggs, plus 3 yolks
2 1/2 c sugar
2 tbs lemon zest
1 c lemon juice (about 6 lemons)
1 c whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 c powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350° F and lightly butter a 9x13" baking dish.

Grind the cookies in a food processor, then whisk them together with the sugar and salt. Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat, then stir into your crumb mixture until fully incorporated. The mixture will be very damp.

Channeling my inner Paula Deen
Press the crust into the bottom of the baking dish and place in the refrigerator to chill. Once it's firmed up and cool, swap it into the oven and bake 15-20 minutes and enjoy the wafting scent of buttery gingersnaps. Be very careful removing the crust from the oven, it will be a viscous, lumpy (and 350°) liquid. Cool on a wire rack until set.

While the crust transmogrifies back into solidity, zest and juice the lemons.

The fruit of my labors
Whisk together the eggs, sugar, zest, lemon juice, and flour until smooth and pour onto the prepared crust. Bake 30-35 minutes, until the center is set with very little jiggle. Cool completely on a wire rack and dust the top with powdered sugar.

Ready at last

To make it extra easy to cut and serve these bad boys, chill the baking dish once it's cooled to room temperature, then use a knife soaked in hot water to cut out 12 squares, wiping the knife between slices. Then slice each square diagonally to yield 24 buttery, gingery triangles.


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