It is no exaggeration to say that my father shaped me culinarily. My love of spicy, International foods comes from him, as does my insatiable curiosity for anything in a bottle with a foreign language on it. (This has led to an unsustainable refrigerator door problem, but more on that later).
Many a morning there was a demonstration of this hot sauce, that salami, France’s most popular caper, and and perhaps the breakfast of champions. He had an artisan’s palate but also a taste for the common thing, like a taco, slice of pizza or a Hostess lemon pie.
As a family, we obsessed for decades over the Hostess Lemon Pie. Why? Probably because of its inside, which contained a near-perfect lemon meringue filling, its flavor straddling the razor’s edge between the sweet and sour line and its outside: a sugar-glazed crunchy and soft pie crust that never crumbled. (That was 35 years ago– I make no claims for today’s product). Trying to recreate that taste and mouth-feel of the lemon filling (less so the crust) has been a goal of mine for quite a while.
This recipe makes lemon bars that come pretty close, although it’s up to you whether you want to take some sugar out or add some lemon for extra tartness. In my last attempt, I used a combination of bottled organic lemon juice and fresh squeezed. You must have a lemon squeezer to even attempt this. I recommend this one because years of fishing out bitter lemon pits has taught me it’s a best practice.
After looking through about two dozen recipes, many in really old cookbooks, I stopped at the Magnolia Bakery cookbook. Since I have daughter named Magnolia and she is my junior sous chef, it seemed appropriate to appropriate their recipe. I misread the recipe though and made the crust they envisioned for a jelly roll pan in my 9 x 13 pan. So, too much crust (as the photo above reveals). I want more lemon filling than crust, so I have conveniently halved their recipe here. (For pop-tart like crusts, you can try the hand pie recipe)
Also, I found that I needed not only more lemon but some vanilla and salt to add depth of flavor to the bars; I want the filling to delight, not just amuse you.
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, soft
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 2 cups sugar
- 6 large eggs at room temperature
- 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1/8 tsp salt
- ~6 teaspoons lemon zest
It’s simple: make the crust and cook it. Make the filling while the crust is cooling and add it. Then bake everything together. Then try not to eat it while you’re waiting for it to cool. You can’t do it.
- Preheat the over to 350 degrees.
- Line a 9×13 pan with parchment paper; spray with PAM.
- Combine crust ingredients and when combined, press down with wax paper/cling wrap or a sprayed-with-pam spatula to form crust of consistent height.
- Bake for about 13 minutes or until golden brown.
- Remove from oven and begin working on filling.
- Beat all “Lemon” ingredients together in the bowl of an electric mixer. When fully incorporated, pour over baked crust. (There is another lemon filling like pudding that involves stovetop hijinks but this isn’t it).
- Bake new combined crust and lemon filling at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until filling is set.
- Let cool in pan, and then if there’s any left, chill for 30 minutes.
- Sift powdered sugar over remains before serving.