Lemon Meringue Bars
It is Minnesota and there is about 6 inches of snow on the ground, not exactly the time of year for a fresh fruit dessert. So what do we Northerners do when we want something sweet and bright but can't find berries that aren't from the freezer or even a decent apple. We turn to citrus. Of course it doesn't grow here, not even in the summer, but it travels well and there is such amazing variety. For the lemon bars I actually use a combination of lemons, limes and Meyer lemons (for their perfume). The combination is more interesting and has a zing to it that one fruit alone won't give. The recipe I started with comes from a cook book from one of my favorite bakeries in San Francisco, Tartine. They start with a brown butter shortbread studded with pine nuts and bake a smooth tangy lemon curd on top. It is a perfect combination of rich and refreshing. I pretty much follow their recipe exactly except I mix-up the citrus a bit and add a topping of toasted meringue. Oh yeah, I also double the recipe so I have plenty to give to my neighbors! My pictures of this recipe are of a double batch, so don't be thrown off if mine look larger than yours. From Tartine (p.149) Crust 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar 1 1/2 cups all-purpose 3/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature 1/2 cup pine nuts Filling 1/2 cup all-purpose flour 2 1/4 cups sugar 1 cup lemon juice (I add some lime and Meyer lemon to mix) zest from one small lemon 6 large eggs 1 large egg yolk pinch salt Swiss Meringue 1/2 cup egg whites 1 cup sugar pinch salt Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x13" baking pan. To make crust, sift the confectioners' sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add flour, butter and pine nuts, mix with a paddle attachment until a smooth dough forms. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan. Press the dough evenly over the bottom of pan and 1/2" up the sides. It should be no thinker than 1/4" thick. To help smooth the dough cover it with a piece of parchment and press it flat with the palm of your hand. Leaving the parchment paper in place cover with baking weights (I use a combination of beans and metal pie weights). Bake until crust is golden brown, about 25-30 minutes. (I ended up taking mine out after this amount of time, taking the pie weights off and baking it for another 10 minutes to achieve that color). Rotate the pan if the dough seems to be baking unevenly. While the crust is baking make the filling. Sift the flour into the mixing bowl (I forgot to sift and it was just fine!). Add the sugar, lemon juice and zest, whisk until the sugar has dissolved slightly. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and yolk with the salt (the salt helps to break down the eggs faster). Add the eggs to the lemon juice mixture and blend well. Pour the lemon filling over the golden brown crust while it is still hot and in the oven. The pan will be very full and impossible to lift back to the oven if you try to remove it. Just be careful! Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake until the center of the lemon curd is not longer wobbly, 30-40 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack, then cover and refrigerate. Don't try to cut until totally chilled! With a sharp knife, cut into equal squares and then into triangles. Dust with powdered sugar or pipe meringue on top for an extra treat! Once the lemon bars are chilled and cut then make the meringue. Bring about an inch of water in a saucepan to a simmer. Combine the egg whites, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Place the bowl over the simmering water and whisk the egg mixture until it is hot and all of the sugar has dissolved, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and place the bowl onto the stand mixer, fit with a whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until very think, glossy and stiff peaks when you lift the beater. When your meringue is ready use a pastry bag fit with a star tip to decorate the lemon bars with the meringue. Once all of the lemon bars are covered then use a blow torch (the kind you use for creme brulee) to toast the meringue. They will stay in the refrigerator for several hours but once they are covered with meringue and toasted it is best to eat them because they are impossible to cover without ruining the beautiful presentation. This never seems to be an issue in my house!