Quick, name some lemon desserts.
Were lemon bars and lemon meringue pie on your list? While lemon does well in many, many different desserts (not to mention in lots of savory dishes), lemon bars and lemon meringue pie must be two of the most common and the most popular. Everyone has their favorite, though the zesty lemon flavor comes out easily, loudly in both. Bars tend to be more portable and somewhat easier to eat, while the meringue on top of the pies cuts the acidity of the lemon with some light sweetness. To please fans of each – as well as citrus lovers in general – I combined the two into Lemon Meringue Bars.
The bars are pretty much like mini lemon meringue pies. The main difference is that they have a shortbread type of crust that is sturdy and supports the lemon filling very well. They have an excellent lemon flavor without being too tart, even without the topping, but the topping is really what sets these apart from your garden variety lemon bar.
The crust is my favorite type to bake because the filling goes into it while it is hot, streamlining the baking process because you don’t have to wait for anything to cool before moving on to the next step. The crust is also fairly thick, so it stays crisp and flaky on the bottom, even while the very top of it almost blends right into the lemon filling during baking. The unusual way it combines with the lemon filling also means that there is no jiggly, oozing center making these bars too messy to eat without a fork.
Finally, while I sincerely hope that none of you have a problem with this, I should mention that depending on the humidity in your area, you might get some weeping on the meringue topping after it cools. There are two ways to beat this. One option is to do a cooked meringue, like the one I typically use to top off my lemon meringue pies. It takes a bit longer, but is definitely a good option. The alternative (the cheater’s version, really) is to use a very soft, slightly moistened pastry brush and simply lift off the droplets of sugar water. If you have a light hand, it’ll work perfectly and leave you with a clean meringue topping.
Lemon Meringue Bars
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp lemon zest
3/4 cup butter, chilled and cut into chunks
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
4 large eggs
1 tbsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp baking powder
4 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 350F.
To make the crust, combine flour, sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor (or a large mixing bowl, if you prefer to work by hand). Pulse in butter (or rub in with fingertips) until butter is well distributed and the mixture resembles moist sand. Pour into a 9×13-inch baking dish and spread evenly. Press down to create a firm, even layer.
Bake for 20 minutes or until edges are lightly browned.
While crust is cooking, prepare the filling. Combine all filling ingredients in a large bowl and whisk together until smooth (can also be done in a food processor). When crust is done, pour filling into hot pan and return to oven.
Bake for about 17-20 minutes, until filling is set. Edges may be lightly browned, depending on the pan.
While filling is baking and getting close to finished, prepare the meringue. Beat egg whites to soft peaks in a large, clean mixing bowl, adding the sugar and salt in gradually while beating, beginning when the egg whites are foamy. Spread evenly onto hot, cooked filling and return pan to oven. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned at the peaks.
Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing. Use a slightly damp knife to cut through the meringue cleanly when ready to cut into bars.
Makes 24 bars.