Back to School – Lemon Bars

the accidental heart that Lainey bit into her apple last week

It’s back to school time.  Our big kids started back early this year:  August 1.  Our preschooler still has a couple of weeks of summer left. Last year, she didn’t start until after Labor Day, which she appropriately called “Later Day”. Ironically true for us. It was “later”, much later than her brother and sister’s start date. We joked about “Later Day” for a month.

I love back to school time.  A return to a rhythm, a schedule and more structured days.  I’m passionate about school supplies.  In fact, I always buy some for myself as I am shopping for the kids. It’s hard for me to resist new pens, index cards, glue sticks and composition notebooks!

The first day of school is always momentous.  We take photos on the front steps.
We take an apple to the teacher and some zinnias from the garden, while they still remain.
Though this year, our oldest started middle school and the students are so independent and have several teachers.  He took an apple for the teacher and set it on his desk, but I faced the fact that for Asher, the time for first day flowers might be over. It’s all part of us learning how to navigate life in middle school. Luckily we several more years of elementary school life.
At our elementary school, the teachers have work days before school starts and parents sign up to bring food for lunch and breakfast for the faculty.  It’s such a treat to cook for a group of teachers who are thankful for homemade goodies and are working hard to get ready for the start of another year.  I always tell our teachers at the beginning of the year that I am not available to be a room mom or go on many field trips because I am teaching my college classes at the same time that my kids are in school.  However, I can cook for them.  And I try to live up to that commitment.  I tell them I will support them, back them, pray for them, and bake for them!
So, I signed up to bring wraps and lemon bars.
Lemon Bars are a favorite of mine. There was already a chocolate-something spoken for on the sign-up form, otherwise I might have done something chocolate-chippish.  That sounds like comfort on a work-day. So my next best thought was refreshing Lemon Bars.  I grew up with Lemon Bars as a standard party dessert. A few years ago I tried Barefoot Contessa’s recipe.  It’s divine.  I made a couple of adaptions (i.e. – 2 lemons instead of 6 to be zested).  This is now my go to lemon bar recipe.
I got great feedback from the faculty. One of our beloved teachers called and left me a voicemail about how hard it was to stop eating them.  She said she would have eaten more if no one was watching. They evidently hit the spot.
Lemon Bars (adapted from Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook)
Add Timer
For the crust:
2 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
For the filling:
6 extra-large eggs at room temperature
3 cups granulated sugar
grated zest of 2 lemons
1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 cup flour
powdered sugar, for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
For the crust, cream the butter and sugar until light in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine the flour and salt and, with the mixer on low, add to the butter until just mixed. Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and gather into a ball. Flatten the dough with floured hands and press it into a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking sheet, building up a 1/2-inch edge on all sides. Chill.
Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.

For the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour over the crust and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the filling is set. Let cool to room temperature.  Dust with confectioners’ sugar and cut into triangles.
A few tips:
*There is something valuable about having the eggs and butter at room temperature.  It really makes a difference in how well things are blended.  If you don’t have time to get your eggs to room temp. you can always place the eggs (still in their shells) in a bowl of warm water and soak them for a few minutes.

*If you, like me, usually have salted butter instead of unsalted butter on hand, you may use it and cut the salt back. In this case, you might omit the salt altogether since it’s only 1/8 teaspoon.

*When you need to chill the crust dough before spreading it in the pan, you can always freeze it for a few minutes instead. Just make sure you set a timer, or you might forget and have frozen crust!  You can also speed along the cooling of the finished product by placing it in the refrigerator instead of having to wait as it cools on the counter.
*My friend Melissa S. loves Lemon Bars and requested them when her baby girl was born.  I forgot to put the powdered sugar on top.  We knew something wasn’t right the minute we tasted them.  Then we realized I had forgotten the powdered sugar.  I quickly sprinkled powdered sugar on them and they were great.  (So don’t forget that step- it not only looks so pretty but adds a sweetness and texture to offset the tart…as if 3 cups of granulated sugar wasn’t enough).
*Growing up we called these Lemon Squares.  However, I like cutting them diagonally and making them triangles or sometimes long and skinny, making them rectangular.  Hence, bars, rather than squares. Squares just seem so restrictive!


*The night I was making them for the teacher work day, Dave was out of town and the kids were in bed when I discovered that I was quickly running out of sugar.  The recipe calls for 3 cups of sugar and I had less than 2 cups.  I knew I couldn’t leave the house and had to get these made.  I was mid-stream,  so, I improvised and used the Turbinado sugar that I use for sprinkling on muffins and it worked.  The color is a little more brownish than is normal, but they tasted terrific.  (Just so you know)!

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