Friday, January 25, 2013

Kris' Lemon Bars and Coconut Lemon Bars

This post is to record my work on lemon bars.

I'm posting my recipe which I'm developing for a crowd...we seem to always be a crowd for one reason or another.  I'm working to tweak my lemon bars which I've been asked to bake for a wedding reception.  I will need about 200 bars.

Because I’ve never found a lemon bar recipe that I truly love, I decided to create my own.  I studied more than a dozen recipes from great cooks and blogs and put together a combination that I actually really do  love....I find myself going back for more and more.  I've written the recipe to show how I bake these bars...not with an ingredient and then a procedure list.

First make the crust, which is a shortbread/sweet-tart-dough type recipe.

This recipe will make 6 rectangle, 4" wide by a foot long tart pans....or a couple of baking sheets of lemon bars.

If using pans other than removable bottom tart pans, line pans with foil and butter the foil.

Preheat oven to 350^.

Place the following dry ingredients Into a food processor:

3 1/2 Cups AP flour
1 cup confectioners sugar
1  teaspoon salt
and half the zest of one nice size fresh lemon

Pulse these 3 times

Now add 1 ½ cups very cold butter cut into ½" cubes

Pulse 6 times
Place 5 yolks into a bowl and whisk with a fork; add 1-2 T icy cold water and 1 T vanilla, whisk again.  Add this egg mixture to the food processor with dry ingredients.

Pulse a couple of times to combine and make a dough that will hold together when pinched.   Mix well, but do not overmix.
Dump this crust dough out onto plastic wrap, divide in thirds, make 3 flat disks, wrap all 3 in plastic wrap, and refrigerate until it can be easily rolled on a very lightly floured surface.

Roll each disk into a rectangle long and wide enough to fill bottoms and sides of two  rectangle tart pans.  (Or divide your dough from the food processor in half, refrigerate, and roll out to baking sheet's OK to cut in half for ease of putting this dough into a larger pan...just press the seam together before blind baking.  this dough will actually roll up and then can be unrolled in the pan...just be careful.)

Cut rolled out dough in half vertically.  Remove ½ with a spatula and carefully place into tart pan, pressing onto the bottom and up the pan sides.  Remove excess dough from the rim by pressing down on the pan edge, which will cut off the excess.  Mend any holes or cracks, use little pieces of dough to reinforce corners.  Now place the unbaked crusts in the freezer for 20 minutes.  Remove from freezer and bake 20 minutes or until edges are just turning golden.  Remove from oven.  Patch any cracks with tiny pieces of leftover dough which will stick with a little water.  (If you press in the dough rather than rolling it out, it may crack while baking...but is easily mended.)

Turn down the oven to 325^.  Pour in the filling, (see below), not filling the pan too full as the filling will puff up a little during baking.

For the filling:

In a mixer bowl, beat 12 large room temperature eggs until frothy
Add 5 cups sugar and beat until creamy and fluffy...about 5 minutes (reduce sugar by ½ cup if using sweetened coconut or if using Meyer lemons which are sweeter)
Add the remainder of the zest of above lemon

While the mixer is working, in a separate bowl whisk together:
1 t salt
1/4 c corn starch
1 c flour

Add this dry mixture to the mixer bowl on low speed

Increase mixer speed and beat for a minute or two, then add, again with mixer on low
3/4 C whole milk
2 ½ C lemon juice

Use a bag or 4 C coconut if making coconut lemon bars.
Or divide the filling in ½ and use 2 cups coconut in ½ the filling, giving ½ regular lemon bars and ½ coconut lemon bars.  After filling the pre-baked crusts with coconut filling, sprinkle more coconut on tart tops.  The coconut topping will toast as the tarts bake, giving a lovely toasted coconut garnish to these tarts. (About 3 cups total coconut needed with the garnish making 1/2 the tarts regular and 1/2 coconut)

Fill the pre-baked still hot tart shells,  leaving a little room for the tart filling to expand.  Bake 20 minutes or until the middle is springy or spongy to the touch and crust is golden brown.

Remove from oven and cool on a rack for 20 minutes, then cool in the fridge until thoroughly chilled.  Remove tarts from pans, bam non-coconut bars with confectioners sugar, cut, and enjoy.  (If refrigerating and using these lemon bars later, dust tops with confectioners sugar just before eating...or it will melt into these moist bars and actually looks gross.)
There will be enough filling to fill at least 2 baking sheets  or about 8-9  above tart pans, especially with added coconut.

This method creates a thick, delicious filling that tops a rolled thin crust.  It is very lemony yet does not have a strange aftertaste, common with most lemon bar recipes.  The filling is creamy yet substantial and this bar cookie is not too crusty.  By using the long tart shells there is crust on each piece, making them easy to pick up and eat as finger food.

Cut 9 strips across the tarts and then cut each strip in ½ giving 18 servings per pan.

Assuming 6 tarts are made, this recipe makes 108  three bite bars, or it will make two baking sheets.  For tarts there will be extra filling for 2-3 more tarts, especially with the coconut addition.  This can be frozen for later use. 


Besides the mixing time I will need:

Freeze shells 20 minutes (don't need pie weights if thoroughly frozen)
Blind bake frozen shells 20 minutes
Bake filled tarts 20-25 minutes (sheet pans bake longer)
Cool 20 minutes
Refrigerate an hour or so before slicing

You can see that this project is one that needs some planning.  From beginning to end these bars will take about 3 hours if made as tarts...faster if made in 2 baking sheets, but longer baking time.

I took a platter of these bar cookies to a ladies meeting and everyone really enjoyed them.  I also took a platter to a neighborhood party, and again they were enjoyed.  I asked for critiques, telling my tasters I was tweaking my recipe to be wedding reception quality.  The only comment for change would be to cut the sugar in the coconut variety a little more as the coconut is very sweet.    

The regular bars cut beautifully with little refrigeration...I was in a hurry for my meeting which was soon after baking.  The coconut bars may not cut as beautifully with all that stringy coconut, but they were not refrigerated before cutting for the photo.

As I tweak my recipe, I'll also adjust this post.