Now we might think lemon bars are too ordinary to be worthy of discussion. Who has not learned to make them in a long-ago junior high school home ec. class? Who has not enjoyed them at dozens of Fourth of July picnics and PTA bake sales ever afterward? Here we are, on At First Glass's fourth anniversary, mucking about with (appropriately enough, to be sure) preschool-level treats while grander blogs are fishing ("crabbing") for their own Dungeness crabs, making green lentil soup with curried brown butter, or serving up orange-clove chocolate chip pancakes with coffee-clove syrup.
Yet I submit them, for a variety of reasons. They are simplicity itself. They are a delight to prepare, requiring the use of only one mixing bowl, which can do double duty for the preparation of both crust and filling. There is no need to fuss with softening or creaming butter, nor with greasing a baking pan. Made with fresh squeezed lemon juice, they are the most scrumptious morsels imaginable -- as with so many delicious things, it is their great buttery richness which satisfies you and prevents you from devouring the entire plateful.
And why else? Once upon a time, I made these for some evening PTA function. They lay, all anonymous and humble and ready for any hand to choose among them. People milled about in the blaringly lit, crowded gymnasium, mothers, fathers, grandparents, children. Preschoolers. I happened to be standing chatting with someone, when I saw a woman pick a lemon bar, take a bite of it, pause, and then throw it in the closest garbage can.
Witnessing that, I could only guess that this poor soul had never tasted good, properly made lemon bars before. Are they available in a box mix? Probably. Was that all she knew? Perhaps. It must have been the intense, unaccustomed flavor that put her off -- or perhaps she didn't like lemon and didn't realize until too late what these were. But how could anyone not know? Had she missed that day in Mrs. Pemberton's home ec. class? Is her name legion? All the more reason for me to do my small part today in getting the word out, to dear poor souls everywhere, about this great, commonplace, origins-lost-in-the-mists-of-culinary-prehistory cookie bar.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Have ready two 8 x 8 x 2 baking pans, ungreased.
Mix together in a large bowl:
2 and 2/3 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
Work in with your fingers until the mixture is moist and crumbly:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
Divide the dough in half simply by taking it up in fistfuls and putting it alternately in the two pans. Pat the dough down and bake each pan 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven.
While the dough is baking, mix in the same mixing bowl
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
4 Tablespoons flour
6 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
Pour the filling over the partially baked crusts. Return to the oven and finish baking for 18 to 20 minutes, until the bars shrink away from the sides of the pan and the edges toast just a little. Let them cool before sprinkling with powdered sugar.
Postscript: do we dare mess with such beauty? Years ago, as Chicago Baking Examiner, I shoehorned this recipe into Examiner.com's random "Vodka month" theme by suggesting a vodka icing to replace the dusting of powdered sugar the bars usually receive. A plain sweet icing starts with 3 Tablespoons of hot water in a bowl, to which about 2 and 1/2 cups powdered sugar is added; you beat the mixture until it reaches a good consistency for spreading or drizzling. Any liquid may be substituted for the hot water, depending on the flavors in the baked treat you plan to glaze. And so, -- vodka with lemon? Or gin ....