Lemon Bars with Almond Shortbread Crust

I’m going to call this phase in my baking life Baking in the Time of Coronavirus, in homage to Colombian author and Nobel prize winner Gabriel García Márquez. Truth be told, I’ve never read Love in the Time of Cholera, but I did read (and very much enjoy) One Hundred Years of Solitude, a title that likely resonates with people around the world right now.

Although I’ve worked from home this past week, and imagine that I’ll do so for many days to come, Mike and his coworkers are on the front lines. These treats are for his friend and colleague Elizabeth, who enjoys lemon desserts. They’re adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction in two ways: first, I added almond extract to the shortbread crust, and second, I included the zest of two lemons in my filling. I hope she and the other folks at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System enjoy them, and continue to be grateful for all that they do.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour

For the filling

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup lemon juice (from about 5 lemons)
  • Zest of 2 lemons

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9 x 13 glass baking dish with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine melted butter, sugar, salt, vanilla extract and almond extract, stirring to combine. Add flour and stir to completely combine; press into the baking dish and bake for 20-22 minutes, until the edges are just barely golden brown.

In another medium bowl, sift together sugar and flour, then add eggs, lemon juice, and lemon zest, whisking to combine completely. Pour over crust and bake for another 22-24 minutes, until the center is set. Remove from oven and cool in the pan for a few hours, then place in the fridge to chill further before cutting. Cut into 24 squares and store in the fridge; you can keep these bars at room temperature, but they’re best served cold.

Blood Orange Bars

It’s blood orange season! Oh, how I love baking with these sweet, ruby-red citrus treats. I bought a bag at the supermarket a few days back intending to make some curd, but decided that blood orange bars would be a better experiment.

If you’ve ever had a lemon bar, you know the unique joy that the sweet/tart combination of filling set against a tender crust brings. Blood oranges are sweeter than lemons, and therefore yield a more mellow citrus flavor. This recipe is adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction, using less sugar than her lemon bar variety. Next time, I might actually include some blood orange zest in the filling and see what happens.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour

For the filling

  • 1 2/3 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 6 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup blood orange juice, at room temperature*

*It took four blood oranges, about the size of tennis balls, to yield 1 cup of juice

Preparation

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line a glass baking dish with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine melted butter, sugar, salt, and vanilla extract, stirring to combine. Add flour and stir to completely combine; press into the baking dish and bake for 20-22 minutes, until the edges are just barely golden brown.

In another medium bowl, sift together sugar and flour, then add eggs and blood orange juice, whisking to combine completely. Pour over crust and bake for another 22-24 minutes, until the center is set. Remove from oven and cool in the pan for a few hours, then place in the fridge to chill further before cutting. Cut into 24 squares and store in the fridge; you can keep these bars at room temperature, but they’re best served cold.

Lemon Almond Bars

I’ve baked a lot of bars this summer. Why? Perhaps because they’re easy, in that you usually just need a few bowls and one pan. No need to prep your dough and roll it, or scoop individual portions for cookies. You make them, press or spoon them into your pan, and about a half-hour later you have a nice batch of treats.

Some bars are more complicated than others, especially those with a bottom crust, a filling, and a topping or glaze. While this sounds complicated, in most cases it’s really not. These lemon almond bars, a King Arthur Flour recipe, were easy to make and taste even better after they’ve had a few days to “age.” These treats actually remind me of a pie in bar form; the bottom crust might seem very thin, but it’s really all you need with the filling.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

For the filling

  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped roasted unsalted almonds
  • 1/4 cup flour

For the glaze

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • zest from 1 medium lemon
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.

Make the crust: In a large bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, butter, and salt. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients until you get a crumb-like texture that sticks together when you scoop up a handful. Press into the bottom of your baking pan and bake for 12 minutes.

While crust is baking, make the filling: In a medium bowl, combine eggs, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, and vanilla extract; stir in almonds and flour. Once crust is baked, pour filling over top, smoothing out as much as possible. Bake for 20 minutes, until the top looks set.

While the filling is baking, make the glaze: in a small bowl, combine powdered sugar, butter, and lemon zest; slowly stir in lemon juice to make a very watery, runny glaze.

Remove bars from oven and allow them to sit for 2-3 minutes, then pour glaze all over the top, spreading gently with an offset spatula; the glaze will soak into the bars right away. Allow bars to cool completely before cutting; store in an airtight container for 3-4 days.

Makes 24.

 

 

Linzer Cookie Bars

I’ve never had a linzer torte, or even a linzer cookie. Until I made these linzer  cookie bars, I had no idea how delicious the combination of almonds, cinnamon, raspberry jam, and lemon zest could be. Granted, these things are all delicious on their own, but together in bar form you get a whole new level of flavor.

A linzer torte is actually a pastry from the Austrian city of Linz, involving crust made with ground hazelnuts and a jam filling. The linzer cookie is adapted from the tart with similar ingredients. And the bar version, thanks to the geniuses at King Arthur Flour, is an easy, tasty twist on both the pastry and the cookie. I used almond flour instead of ground hazelnuts, but you could swap hazelnuts or even walnuts for the nut flour in this recipe. The end result is a wonderful combination of flavor and texture that is part pastry, part cookie. This is one of my favorite recipes I’ve made in a while, and I look forward to making them again.

Ingredients

For the crust and topping

  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • generous 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups almond flour
  • 2 cups flour

For the filling

  • 1 1/4 cups raspberry jam
  • zest from 1 medium lemon

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.

To make the crust and topping, cream the butter, sugars, salt, vanilla, baking powder, cinnamon, and almond extract until fluffy. Add egg and beat well, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl a few times. Add almond flour and flour, mixing until just combined.

Reserve 1 cup mixture for topping and spread remaining mix in the bottom of the baking pan, pressing it flat with your fingers to get an even layer. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until the edges are golden and the middle is set.

While the crust is baking, make the filling: place jam and lemon zest in a small saucepan over low heat and stir until smooth and just hot. Remove the crust from the oven and spread it evenly with the jam. Break up the reserved crust mixture into crumbs with your fingers and sprinkle evenly over the jam layer.

Bake for another 22-25 minutes, until the jam bubbles around the edge of the pan and the topping looks set; the bars won’t brown except at the edges. Remove from oven and cool completely on a wire rack before cutting into bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 4 days. Makes 24.

Peach Pie Crumb Bars

What can you do with overripe peaches? Since I haven’t learned to make jam (yet), I decided to bake these fun peach pie crumb bars. I found this recipe at Just So Tasty and adapted it just slightly, omitting the icing on the top and using a combination of yellow and white peaches.

Since I don’t like cooked fruit, I actually didn’t try them, but Mike assured me that they were delicious. I suspect that these bars would be delicious with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or perhaps some fresh whipped cream. Next time, I think I’ll cut back on a few of the peaches and stir some raspberries or blackberries into the filling.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup unsalted butter, melted

For the filling

  • 6 small (or 4 large) peaches, peeled and chopped
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons water

For the crumb topping

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 x 8 baking pan with parchment paper, extending the paper over the sides.

In a large bowl, combine flour, powdered sugar, and salt. Add melted butter and mix well to form a soft dough. Press into the bottom of the pan and bake for 15 minutes, until edges are golden.

While the crust is baking, prepare the filling and crumb topping. In a large bowl, combine peaches, sugar, cornstarch, and water, tossing to coat completely. In a medium bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter; stir until the mixture looks like wet sand.

Remove crust from oven and pour filling over top, then top with crumb mixture. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from oven and cool completely before cutting. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Makes 12 bars.

Coconut Bars (Version One)

I’ve had many a coconut bar over the years, but never made them until yesterday. This version from the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion is billed as a less-sweet version of a more classic coconut bar, and it offers delicious flavor and great texture.

I’ve listed these as “version one” because there are several other recipes that I’d like to try, and I imagine some are much sweeter than this one. The subtle flavor profile of the topping – a delightful blend of toasted pecans, coconut, and dark brown sugar – is a nice balance to the shortbread-like crust. It’s definitely a good option if you’re looking for something with great flavor that’s not too sweet.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups flour

For the topping

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.

Make the crust: in a mixing bowl, combine butter, brown sugar, and salt; cream together until light and fluffy. Add flour and beat until just combined; the texture will look like coarse crumbs. Press into the bottom of the baking pan; bake for 15 minutes, until edges are light golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly while you make the topping.

To make the topping, in a medium bowl, whisk flour, salt, and baking powder; set aside. In a mixer, beat eggs until they’re light and lemon-colored. Add brown sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth. Add flour mixture, coconut, and pecans; stir to combine.

Pour topping onto crust and spread evenly with a small offset spatula. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the top is lightly browned. Remove from oven and cool completely in the pan before cutting.

Makes 24 bars.

Coconut Caramel Chocolate Bars

Back when I could eat chocolate, this was exactly the kind of treat I would have loved. Reminiscent of the Samoa Girl Scout cookie, it combines toasted coconut, chocolate, and caramel – a wonderful flavor and texture combination.

I adapted this recipe slightly from the original, titled Coconut-Caramel Candy Bars, in the King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion. I used caramel baking bits, rather than chopped up caramel candies, and a slightly higher quantity of bittersweet chocolate chips to cover the tops of my bars completely with chocolate. The end result is a beautiful (and according to Mike, delicious) creation.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking poader
  • 3 cups shredded sweetened coconut, toasted*

For the topping

  • 1 cup caramel baking bits
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips

*To toast coconut, place it in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees, stirring every 3-5 minutes, until browned. My coconut took about 15 minutes to toast; keep a close eye on your coconut, as it can burn quickly. 

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, and 2 1/2 cups toasted coconut; set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter, brown sugar, vanilla, and egg. Stir in flour/coconut mixture until well blended.

Press crust mixture into the prepared baking pan and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and top with caramel bits; return to oven and bake for 10-15 minutes more, until caramels are melted and slightly bubbly (mine didn’t bubble much, so that’s okay). Remove from oven and sprinkle with bittersweet chocolate chips; allow to sit for 5 minutes, then spread chocolate evenly over the bars. Sprinkle with remaining toasted coconut. Allow bars to cool completely; cut into 24 squares.