Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cake of the Week: Earl Grey Lemon Bars

The first time I made lemon bars was for my 8th grade French class. I am now (and must have/should have been then) fully aware that lemon bars ne sont pas français (though calling them barres du citron and translating the recipe into French was good enough for my culture points!). Despite the cultural inconsistency,  my bars stood out among the baguettes and brie and Nutella and crêpes and I was subsequently asked to make them for every fête français for the rest of my French class career (i.e. through 10th grade).

So we know that lemon bars are not French. But what are they? Well, I think it’s safe to say (from some preliminary googling) that these are a decidedly American creation. Lemon curd and shortbread both originate in Old England, but apparently it took until 1963 for the team at Betty Crocker to put them together into this match made in heaven. These “bar cookies” (or "little bites of lemony joy," as I prefer to call them) have been gracing picnics and potlucks and grandma’s tables ever since. Love.

As a nod back to the ingredients’ English roots, this lemon bar recipe adds a bit of the aristocracy – there’s Earl Grey Tea in both the crust and the lemon curd itself. Earl Gray is a black tea flavored with bergamot orange, a winter citrus fruit grown in Italy. The tea flavor is subtle but definitely adds something to these already delicious bars.

I made these for a work potluck, so I doubled the recipe and baked them in a 9x13 pan.

Earl Grey Lemon Bars

(Original recipe from I Can Cook That.)
Printable recipe.
For the Crust:
  • Cooking spray 
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour 
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar 
  • 2 Earl Grey tea bags, divided 
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt 
  • 8 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into pieces 
For the Filling:
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 1 or 2 lemons’ worth)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar 
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour 
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon rind 
  • 3 large eggs 
  • 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. First prepare the crust. Line a 9-inch square metal baking pan with foil that extends over the edges. Spray with cooking spray. 
  2. Combine the flour, 1/3 cup powdered sugar, 1 teaspoon tea leaves from a tea bag, and salt in a bowl. If there is more than one teaspoon of tea leaves in the tea bag, just discard the remaining leaves. 
  3. Add the pieces of the butter to the flour mixture.
  4. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter (or food processor or your fingers) until the mixture resembles coarse meal.
  5. Add the mixture to the pan and press down. 
  6. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
  7. While the crust is baking, zest your lemons and set aside. Squeeze the lemon juice into a medium microwave-safe bowl. (I squeezed them over a mesh sieve to catch all of the seeds). 
  8. Microwave the juice for 30 seconds on high. Steep the remaining tea bag in the hot lemon juice. Cover the bowl and steep for 10 minutes.
  9. Squeeze out all the juice from the tea bag back into the bowl. Add the lemon zest and eggs to the juice. Whisk until combined.
  10. In a small bowl, combine the granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, and the baking powder.
  11. Add the sugar mixture to the lemon mixture and stir with whisk until well combined.
  12. When the crust is finished, remove from the oven and pour the lemon filling onto the hot crust.
  13. Bake at 350 degrees for 23 minutes, or until set.
  14. Remove the pan from the oven, and place on a wire rack. Let cool for 30 minutes. Remove the squares from the pan by lifting the foil. Remove the foil from the squares, and cut into 16 equal bars.
  15. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.