I’ve never been a huge lemon bar fan. I know sacrilege. I mean, they seem to be at every party or bake sale. But no matter how many I tasted, I was always left cold. Give me a brownie instead thank you. Until I sank my teeth into these! It must be the pistachio (which, as a side note, I think is the most underused flavor in American desserts). The nuts break up the intensity of straight lemon curd, still leaving you with a pungent lemon flavor but one that doesn’t cause your lips to pucker. It also tempers that day glow yellow which is so pretty but not something I am 100% comfortable eating.
As I mentioned before, from time to time I take classes at the local culinary school. The original recipe comes to us from Cara Tannenbaum who taught a wonderful class based on her new book In a Nutshell: Cooking and Baking with Nuts and Seeds. While the book isn’t technically a gluten-free cookbook, about 2/3 of the book happens to be gluten free and I always recommend going straight to nuts for improving any gluten-free recipe. I originally learned the advantages of using nuts from Michel Richard in his book Sweet Magic: Easy Recipes for Delectable Desserts. (See The Best Chocolate Cake Ever for more details.) Plus, you can always substitute a gluten-free flour blend for AP flour where needed (except probably the crackers).
Now back to the bars. The Daily News called Chef Cara “the Citrus Sage” and with one bite I think you’ll agree. So I asked her for a little advice since my curd was not turning out as magical as hers. I figured the answer must be in measuring a tablespoon of zest. I don’t know about you but I never really know what that means. How much do you pack it down? It can vary widely and I guess for the most part it truly depends on your taste. So what was the wise woman’s taste? Lightly pack lemon zest into a tablespoon, “just a tap, tap.” She is also a believer in using a Microplane Zester and is very careful to add no pith.
Adapted from Cara Tannenbaum’s Pistachio-Lemon Squares from In a Nutshell: Cooking and Baking with Nuts and Seeds
30 minPrep Time
50 minCook Time
1 hr, 20 Total Time
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour mix C
1 cup + 2 tablespoons ground pistachios (5.25 to 5.5 ounces), divided
4 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed and strained lemon juice (3 ounces, approximately 1 1/2 lemons)
2 tablespoons lemon zest (approximately 2 lemons)
- In a large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until softened (about 2 minutes). Scrape down the bowl.
- Add the confectioner’s sugar and vanilla extract and beat until light in color (about 2 minutes). Scrape down the bowl.
- Turn the mixer down to low speed and add the flour mix and 2 tablespoons of ground pistachios. Mix until thoroughly combined. Scrape down the bowl.
- Set aside the dough and let it rest on the counter for 30 minutes. Tip: Gluten-free flours do not absorb fats as well as wheat flour. Resting the dough gives the flours more time to soak up the butter so the end result is not crumbly or greasy.
- Meanwhile, position the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F degrees.
- Grease a 9 x 13-inch pan and line it with 2 sheets of parchment paper in a crisscross pattern. Make sure the parchment paper overhangs the edges of the pan so you can easily lift out the bars when it done. Tip: Use parchment paper if possible. I found the lemon curd stuck to the foil.
- After 30 minutes, press the rested dough into the bottom of the pan using your palm or the back of a glass.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until it is light brown.
- While the dough is baking, make the filling. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs enough to break them up but without forming a foam. Tip: Stir slowly!
- Add the granulated sugar and whisk only until combined. Again, stir slowly so there is no foam!
- Add the lemon juice and zest and whisk only until combined. Tip: DO NOT overmix and stir slowly! Too much mixing will cause a coarse foam to form on top of the bars during baking. It is like biting into hard lemon sugar.
- When the dough is ready, remove it from the oven. (Leave the oven on.) Cover the dough with the remaining cup of ground pistachios.
- Pour the lemon filling over the pistachios and bake for another 25 to 30 minutes.
- Remove from the oven and place the pan on a cooling rack. Allow the bars to cool in the pan for at least 20 minutes. Cover the bars with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- Lift the paper out of the pan using the overhang on the sides and cut into 18 bars, 12 squares or 24 triangles.
- Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.
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