Thursday, January 20, 2011

Ginger Meyer Lemon Bars

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Meyer lemons. What's the deal? I'll tell you what the deal is—they're delicious. The little special lemons are a hybrid of a lemon and an orange. They're small, juicy, and sweeter than your usual lemon. Over the past few years they've become the little darling of the culinary world. They're not necessarily that easy to come by either, at least, not if you're going to your regular grocery store in Columbus. They tend to be a specialty item, offered for a brief time, and also kind of pricy.

That all changed two weeks ago when I walked into my Kroger one fateful Wednesday. There was a produce fixture full of bags of meyer lemons... for $1.25 per bag. Each bag contained 6. Um, hello? This is amazing! I grabbed a bag. Then turned around for a second bag. Then went back later for the 3rd. That's right. Three bags of glorious little meyer lemons in my grasp for whatever baking project I see fit. Oh, sweet glory be.

The decision was hard. What do I do? What should I make? I considered limoncello, but since that involves the lemon peel, meyer lemons don't really get me anywhere on this. Do I make a tart? Sounds reasonable enough. But wait... I could also make LEMON BARS. I don't make them very often. Maybe once or twice a year, if I have time? I think it is the perfect opportunity. Meyer lemon bars... with a hint of ginger. Now doesn't that just sound delightful??

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I planned to try out a recipe from The Craft of Baking. I've had this book for a little over a year and haven't dived nearly deep enough into it. While my usual lemon bar recipe is solidified (and awesome), I wanted to try something new. Research, you know? After reading the instructions for the crust, I gave up. Sort of. I settled on a crust from a Martha Stewart recipe, but kept The Craft of Baking's recipe for the lemon goo. Turns out, the crust in TCoB is made like pie dough—chilling, rolling, etc. Yeah, I didn't have time to mess with that. I wanted to do this in one Saturday afternoon in under 3 hours, including oven time.

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Martha's crust is divine. It's insanely buttery and rich, as opposed to crumbly and painfully sweet like most recipes. I used an 8x8 pan, for which I cut the crust recipe in half. Also, I replaced the wheat germ with cornmeal. I'm a sucker for cornmeal, and it seemed crazy enough to work. In the past I've done straight flour, which works also.

Now for the lemon goo. This recipe doesn't use much lemon juice, there's a good amount of sugar, and I used meyer lemons. What does that mean? They're not uber tart. They're pretty mellow for lemon bars, actually. I would've preferred a slightly larger pucker, but everyone else truly loved them. Also, you can vary the amount of fresh ginger—that's entirely up to you. I like a punch, so I lean more towards 1.5-2 grated tbsp. If you want just a little essence, I'd err towards 1 tbsp.

:::Lemon Bar Filling:::
Adapted from "Little Lemon Bars," The Craft of Baking

4 large eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
Zest of 2 lemons
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (approx. 3 lemons), strained
1-2 tbsp freshly grated ginger
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt

Prepared your crust and bake as directed (again—follow Martha's recipe, but cut the crust amount in half for your 8x8 pan). Start blending the filling ingredients. Juice your lemons and strain the juice to get rid of the pulp. Zest two lemons (use two of the fruits you just juiced), then grate your ginger. If you want a strong ginger kick, go for 2 tbsp. If you want it milder, use just 1 tbsp. TIP: You can keep fresh ginger in the freezer. You don't even need to thaw it if you're going to grate it—you can just pull it out and grate as needed. I don't know about you, but I can't go through an entire piece of ginger root before it goes bad. The freezing tip (from Melissa D'Arabian of Food Network) is a big ingredients and money saver! Next, blend the juice, zest, and ginger into the eggs and sugar. In a separate small bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, and salt together, then pour into the egg mixture. Mix until just combined.

The crust should be baked until lightly golden. Pour the lemon bar filling onto the baked crust, then pop back into the oven for 30-40 minutes at 350°. The top should be firm to the touch when finished. Transfer to a cooling rack, cool completely, then sprinkle with confectioners' sugar.

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I still have about 8 lemons left in my refrigerator. I've been using them randomly—in cocktails, or just as straight juice added to mug of hot water (I'm telling you—healthy and tasty!). But what to do with those last few? A tart? Pancakes? Oh, the possibilities!

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