Thursday, 4 September 2014

Brown butter shortbread lemon bars

Brown butter shortbread lemon bars

Ask me what’s my poison and, as a teetotaller, my response will be a cup of tea. That this is both unsurprising and unexciting, I know already, but still, it’s a grown ups’ drink at least, right? Ask my best friend the same question and the answer you’re likely to get is lemon squash.

No, my best friend– henceforth to be known as Lemony Squashit - is not eight years’ old, but a fully grown adult... One who also supplements daily pint glasses of lemon squash with snacks of Chewit sandwiches (a tower of alternating flavoured Chewits squished down into one big, sticky globule, ready to take out as many teeth as possible in one fell hit). Huh.

Brown butter shortbread lemon bars

Okay, so perhaps I’m being a little unfair here. Each to their own, right? Besides, as much as I sanctimoniously pride myself on eating healthy food and fresh fruit and veg every day, there is no denying I too have a penchant for foodstuffs I gorged on as a child (Starburst, toffee bonbons, kola kubes…) and that, moreover, I love my ‘dirty foods’: give me a fish finger sandwiches complete with plasticky processed cheese and a generous dollop of mayo and you have yourself one very happy girl; better still if it’s followed up with a pot of ready-made, processed rice pudding, heated briefly in the microwave please, so as to zap it fully of the few nutrients it may have contained prior to being nuked.

Brown butter shortbread lemon bars

So really, who am I to judge if Lemony Squashit’s drink of choice is one that I thought only children under the age of about 12 drink? Indeed, rather than knocking it, perhaps the next time I settle down to a fish finger sandwich, I’ll accompany my meal with a big glass of lemon squash. So long as I have a pink candy-striped straw to drink it with.

In homage to Lemony Squashit and also as a final farewell to summer, here are some brown butter shortbread lemon bars, taken from the famous San Franciscan bakery, Tartine.

Brown butter shortbread lemon bars

The name of these bars is a little confusing in that the butter is not browned prior to being used to make the biscuit base; rather it browns and develops a nutty, caramel depth when the biscuits are twice-baked in the oven. In any case, the rich buttery flavour of the shortbread is a perfect match for the lemon curd custard that is baked on top of it. I added desiccated coconut to mine to complement the lemon and add a little more texture to the bars.

Makes 20-25 bars

For the brown butter shortbread:
55g icing sugar
215g plain flour
170g unsalted butter, softened/room temperature
55g desiccated coconut (sweetened or unsweetened), plus extra for sprinkling

For the lemon curd custard:
70g plain flour
455g caster sugar
280ml lemon juice (you’ll need 6-8 lemons for this and a lot of patience whilst juicing them!)
Zest of one lemon
6 large eggs plus yolk of one large egg
Icing sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 180C (160C for a fan oven) and grease and line a 9 x 13” baking pan with baking paper.

To make the crust, sift the icing sugar and flour together into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and desiccated coconut and beat on low speed just until a smooth dough forms.

Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and press it evenly into the bottom and about 1/2 an inch up the sides of the pan. It should be about 1/4 inch thick. This might be a bit painstaking but can’t be helped along by using the bottom of a glass to press the crust down firmly.

Take a strip of parchment paper that is large enough to cover the entire surface of the biscuit crust and with a pair of scissors, snip little slits into the paper at random places (this will help to release any steam when the crust is baking. Place the paper over the crust and then cover it all with baking beans.

Bake the crust until it starts to turn a golden brown colour, which should take 25 to 35 minutes.  If the crust doesn’t brown a lot, don’t worry too much, it will bake further once the filling has been added.

Whilst the crust is baking, make the filling by sifting the flour into a large bowl (ideally one that also acts as a pouring jug). Add the sugar and whisk to mix, then add the lemon juice and zest and whisk to dissolve the sugar.

In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the whole eggs and egg yolk, then add them to the lemon juice mixture and whisk until well mixed.

When the crust is ready, remove it from the oven and remove the baking beans and top sheet of parchment.  Pull out your oven shelf slightly and place the crust back onto it, then pour the filling directly onto the crust (it’s much easier to pour the custard into the pan when the pan is already in the oven). Sprinkle your extra desiccated coconut over the custard.

Reduce the oven temperature to 150C (140C fan) and bake it until the centre of the custard is just set, which should be another 30 to 40 minutes.

Allow to cool completely on a wire rack, then chill well before cutting.

Cut the baked bars into squares or rectangles then dust the tops with icing sugar. They will keep in an airtight container or well covered in the baking dish in the refrigerator for up to four days.

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