I have a big, and slightly scattered family (in French we say une famille recomposée, a ‘recomposed’ family), which results in a lot of separate, but equally food-centric, Christmas celebrations. Last night was Christmas number three, with the Belgian family. In Denmark we celebrate on the 24th, with pork and duck (in my family at least), gravy, caramelised potatoes and pickled red cabbage, finishing off the meal with ris à l’amande for dessert, a rich rice pudding with cream and almonds, and served with warm cherry sauce, not at all what you need after a heavy meal, but awesome none the less. We put one or two whole almonds in the pudding, and those who find them have to keep mum whilst everyone else keeps eating and hoping to get the almond. And then the winners get a present, usually something edible 🙂 nothing says Christmas like a little friendly competition 😉
Once Christmas dinner has been consumed, we dance around the tree and sing Christmas songs and carols (and by dance, I mean hold hands in a circle around the tree whilst sort of walking at a brisk pace). It sounds insane, but it’s a great way to digest all the Christmas food and wake up a bit before giving presents! I once had two American friends join me and my family for Christmas, and whilst it’s always slightly embarrassing to introduce non-Danes to some of our traditions, particularly the dancing one, they seemed to enjoy it 😉 as do my brothers’ significant others, none of whom are Danish. Anyways, my point… Christmas number three. On Christmas day we have a big Christmas lunch, just to firmly cement the indigestion and food hangover from the previous night, and by the 26th, I’m a little ‘Christmas food’ed out’. So for the 26th, I decided to make a lemon dessert, something not at all Christmassy, and hopefully a little lighter.
I was given Deb Perelman’s the smitten kitchen cookbook for Christmas (I’ve been wanting to get it since last Christmas!), and in it there is a super quick and easy recipe for these whole lemon bars, no muss, no fuss, heavy on the lemon. I love anything lemony, although I’d never tried lemon bars before. And these are really lovely, the crust sort of caramelises a little bit, and although they didn’t win me over with the very first bite, I kept going back for another taste, and then another, and quickly realised, these are kinda great! And quick, and simple to make, and.. what’s not to love. Everyone at Christmas number three loved them too, so this recipe’s a keeper.
I was lazy and didn’t want to clean my blender twice, so I made the crust by melting the butter and mixing it into the flour and sugar with a fork, before pressing into the tin. This made the crust very ‘shortbready’, a positive in my book. I’ve included Deb’s instructions below as well, in case you’re feeling less lazy! I really like the slightly chewy, caramelly shortbread layer though, and it was super easy to cut too. Anyways, enough rambling:
For the crust, you will need:
- 125 g (1 cup) flour
- 65 g (1/3 cup) sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 115 g (8 tbsp / 1 stick) butter, melted
For the lemon filling:
- 1 medium lemon (mine was about 120 g)
- 265 g (1 1/3 cups) sugar
- 115 g (8 tbsp / 1 stick) butter, cut into chunks
- 4 eggs
- 2 tbsp (15 g) cornstarch
- 1/4 tsp salt
Preheat your oven to 180ºC/350ºF.
Line a 20 cm / 8 inch square baking tin with baking parchment.
Mix the flour, sugar and salt, add the melted butter and stir with a fork until the butter has been absorbed into the flour (Deb doesn’t melt the butter, but whizzes everything together in the food processor, before pressing into the baking tin).
Press into an even layer in your baking dish. If the dough is too warm and buttery, place in the fridge for about ten minutes before continuing to press into your tin. Prick little holes in the dough with a fork to prevent it from bubbling up, then bake for about 15-20 minutes until nice and golden (mine was done after 15).
Whilst the crust is baking, make the filling. Cut your lemon in half; if the pith (the white bit between the peel and the flesh) is thicker than 1/2 cm/1/4 inch, to avoid the lemon squares tasting too bitter, cut the peel off of half of the lemon, cutting the flesh into smaller pieces after removing the pith; slice the other half lemon (including pith), and add this and the pith-less lemon chunks, peel and flesh, to the blender. If, like on my lemon, the pith is less than 1/2 cm, just slice the lemon in thin slices and add to the blender (remember to remove any seeds).
Add the sugar to the lemon slices, and whiz until you have a smooth purée. Add the butter chunks, and whiz again until you have an even mixture. Finally, add your eggs, salt and cornstarch, and whiz in little bursts until everything is blended together.
Pour over the crust, and bake for 35-40 minutes (mine was done after 35), until the lemon filling is turning golden, and only wobbles slightly when you gently shake the pan.
Let cool for a bit (5-10 minutes), then put in the fridge and allow to cool completely. When the pan and its contents have cooled, lift the bars out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Slice into little or medium-sized squares (I cut mine into 30 little two-bite squares).
I prefer to eat these completely cold from the fridge, with a generous layer of icing sugar!
Keep for a few days in the fridge, covered. 🙂