Dessert bars and squares are like the middle children of the Sweet World. I happen to know this world pretty well. We’ve become very, very close over the years. Which is why I get the sense that bars and squares feel they get the shaft. They’re not quite like cake, with its fluffy and flirty ways, and yet, not quite like cookies either, who are always so cute and chewy – especially when dropped by the spoonful. And even though brownies have similar curves (or lack thereof), their built-in chocolately, gooey, richness make them stand out. But dessert bars and squares get ignored. The folks at Merriam-Webster’s dictionary don’t even consider them an actual word. (Go ahead, try to look them up. I’ll wait).
All of this will change today. I will spend all day, today doting on the dessert bar I love most. Unfortunately, it’s also the same bar I’ve had many dubious encounters with. Sometimes so sugary sweet that I can actually feel cavities forming with every chew, or so alien-yellow and slimy that I know it can’t be digestible. Those days of needless disappointment are officially over for the infamous Lemon Bar. I know everyone has a favorite version, so here’s mine to throw in the mix.
These Lemon Coconut Bars are the best I’ve ever eaten. The coconut is key. No, actually, toasting the coconut is key. It provides such fantastic flavor and a bit of chewiness to the crust – something ordinary confectioner’s sugar can’t accomplish on its best day. The filling is bright and light, with a harmonic blend of sweet to tart. You know you’re eating real lemons, but not in an alarming pucker-your-lips type way. Lastly, the ratio of filling to crust is always up for wild debate, but I prefer mine to be fairly equal – so each bite resembles a tiny symphony in my mouth – with conductor, musicians and audience all in tune. I’m through doting on my favorite middle child….for today.
Duo Music Pairing: Gonna Make You Love Me, Ryan Adams and Lemonheads, If I Could Talk I’d Tell You
Tweaked from Bon Appetit and Cooks Illustrated, yields about 16 bars
I only had evaporated milk lying around and I’m thinking it added an unexpected little somethin’ extra special to the bars. To get nice, clean edges when cutting through bars, use a sharp knife and wipe clean between cuts.
- 1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 tsp table salt
- 3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut, toasted, cooled
- 6 tbsp chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 2 large eggs , beaten lightly
- 1/2 cup + 2 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp grated lemon zest from 1 large lemon
- 1/3 cup lemon juice from 2 large lemons, strained
- 2 1/2 tbsp evaporated milk
- pinch of table salt
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 8x8x2-inch metal baking pan with foil, leaving overhang. Butter foil, being careful not to rip the foil. Combine flour, sugar, and salt in processor; blend 5 seconds. Add coconut and butter; process until mixture resembles fine meal and begins to clump together. Gather dough and press evenly over bottom of prepared pan. Bake crust until golden at edges, about 20-25 minutes.
for lemon filling:
Meanwhile, whisk eggs, sugar, and flour in medium bowl, then stir in lemon zest, juice, milk, and salt to blend well.
Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Remove crust from oven. Stir filling mixture to reblend; pour into warm crust. Bake until filling feels firm when touched lightly, about 20-25 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack; cool to near room temperature, at least 30 minutes.
Using foil as aid, transfer lemon coconut bars to work surface. Flatten foil edges. Cut into as many bars or squares as your little heart desires. Top with sifted powdered sugar. Any leftover bars can be sealed in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to two days – though I recommend eating them the same day, at room temperature. They’re never the same after they’ve been refrigerated – the crust becomes too hard and the filling too stiff. And oh, only plan on topping with powdered sugar right before you eat.
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