I've been spoiled by the weather in Rome this Winter. Temperatures have been mild, I've been wearing my light Spring jacket since January, and last week, it was so warm that it felt like Summer was around the corner. My friends and I had lunch outside and -- gasp! -- my freckles even came out. Nope, Rome is nothing like New England, where my parents have faced snowstorm upon snowstorm so far and the weather doesn't really warm up until June. You can imagine then how a recent bout of gray, gloomy, and rainy weather here in the Eternal City would then be a shock to the system after so much sunshine and warmth, so I did what anyone would do in my situation: I made a pot of soup, got out my rain boots and umbrella, and of course, made lemon bars.
Lemon bars, you might ask? While the instinct might be to curl up with a chocolate-y and indulgent dessert when the skies are cloudy, I find that lemon bars are just what you need to ward off a downpour. They are sunshine in the form of dessert, bright and fresh and tart, a happy golden yellow that reminds you that Spring is imminent. A colleague of mine -- sick with a cold -- also claimed that these bars were just the pick-me-up she was looking for to wake her up and get her through her morning work routine, which makes me think that these bars also totally qualify as medicine (citrus fruit has Vitamin C, doesn't it...?)
So, what makes these so good? These bars are boldly lemon-y -- not for the faint of heart -- with a generous amount of lemon zest in the filling to take the citrus flavor to another level, as well as a good dose of (freshly squeezed, please!) lemon juice. The filling is perfectly smooth and tart and dreamy, and reminded me of a glass of lemonade. The crust is buttery and just sweet enough, reminiscent of shortbread in texture and taste, and the 1:1 crust to filling ratio here is perfect. A dusting of powdered sugar over the top makes these especially pretty and the sweetness provides a slight contrast to the lemon filling. Added bonuses? These are perfect for that one friend we all have who "doesn't like chocolate" or for the other friend who "really doesn't like sweet desserts," and would also be an excellent addition to your Easter menu this year. Enjoy everyone!
2 cups flour
1 cup powdered sugar
2 sticks butter (224 grams, or 1 cup)
1/8 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup lemon juice (I used about 3 large lemons)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons lemon zest (or 1 tablespoon if you want a sweeter bar)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9 x 13 inch pan with a little butter and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, flour, and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and mix it together with the dry ingredients. Using a pastry cutter or your fingers, cut the butter into the flour mixture until a crumbly dough forms. Alternatively, you could also use a food processor for this. Pat the dough mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake the crust for about 20 minutes. Let cool slightly.
Prepare the filling. Whisk together the lemon juice, flour, zest, sugar, and eggs until well combined. Pour the filling over the crust and put the pan back into the oven. Bake the lemon bars for another 20-25 minutes, or until the filling is set. Let the bars cool completely. Cut into squares and dust with powdered sugar. Makes 16 squares.