March is about the time when you start to get tired of winter. It’s been a long hard cold series of months and you just start to get a vision of something fresh and bright coming around the corner. Spring is nearly here, peaking it’s warm shiny face from under the snowy blanket, but it’s not quite here yet. You can tell the warmth is struggling to arrive. And that’s when I like to make lemon bars. Specifically these lemon ginger bars on salted shortbread with meringue topping.
Now these are your lemon bars brought to the next level. I made them back in December, for my dessert party and in truth, because lemon is in season all year round, they are season-less. You can make them in the wintertime when you are looking for a bright spot of fruit in a season full of gingerbread and chocolate. You can make them in the fall when the leaves are changing and you want a change of pace from cinnamon or pumpkin. You can make them in the summertime, chilled when you want something cool, biting and refreshing after a warm day lazing about in the sun, when it’s too hot to do anything else. Think portable lemonade in bar form.
Or you can make them now, with spring just around the corner, almost here but not quite. When the only fruit that has been season for awhile is citrus and you are beginning to get tired of it. Because these lemon bars, they’ll remind you that not all citrus desserts and snacks are the same. Some are cloyingly sweet, some too tart, and some like these, are fresh and smart, like the sassy girl next door that you had a crush on.
Well some of you had a crush on that girl. I had a crush on the nerdy boy down the street. But that’s neither here nor there.
But oh these lemon ginger bars. An amalgam of numerous recipes, they look fancy with a capital cursive F, but deep down, they are as basic and comforting as the corner coffee shop, open 24 hours with, complete with the checkerboard tablecloth and the waitress with the beehive blue hair. I invite you to pull up a seat, order a cup of joe, flirt with that sassy girl two tables over (or in my case the nerdy boy) and try these bars. You won’t regret it.
Lemon Ginger Bars on Salted Shortbread with Meringue Topping
These lemon ginger bars are mostly inspired by the Tartine Cookbook with some additional flare from the Ad Hoc Cookbook, and Shauna over at Gluten Free Girl. They look fancier than they really are though. The only extra addition to them is the meringue on top, adding a nice billowy marshmallow sweetness to the bright bite of the lemon and ginger. Be sure to cut the bars before you pipe the meringue on to them, as that will leave the meringue all nice and pretty when you present them, but easy to serve and eat.
Salted Shortbread Crust
1/2 cup (55 g) pine nuts
1/2 cup (55 g) confectioners’ sugar
1 1/2 cups (210 g) all purpose flour
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) SALTED butter, at room temperature
Lemon Ginger Filling
1/2 cup (70 g) all purpose flour
2 1/4 cup (450 g) granulate white sugar
1 cup of lemon juice
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
Zest from two medium lemons, finely grated
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
6 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
generous pinch of salt
1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (275 g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
3 large egg whites at room temperature
generous pinch of salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Preheat the oven at 300˚F and line a baking sheet with silpat or parchment paper.
2. Once the oven has preheated (usually about ten minutes, but ovens can vary) spread the pine nuts on the sheet evenly and toast them in the oven for about 8-10 minutes or until they are golden brown and fragrant. Be sure not to over toast them, as they can burn quite easily.
3. Once the pine nuts are toasted, remove them from the oven and bring the oven to 350˚F. Let the pine nuts cool to the touch.
4. Spray a 9” by 13” baking pan lightly with cooking spray. Line the pan with parchment paper, making sure to leave a couple of inches of parchment paper overhanging the edges of the pan. The cooking spray will help anchor the paper to the pan.
5. Sift the confectioners’ sugar into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the flour and, using a whisk, stir the flour and sugar vigorously to blend well together.
6. Add the salted butter and the toasted pine nuts and beat on low speed until the dough comes together smoothly.
7. Press the dough into the baking pan with the parchment paper. You want to spread the dough evenly on the bottom and up the sides ever so slightly (about 1/4” to 1/2” if you can). I then take the bottom of a flat cup and just sort of flatten out the dough all the way around to help facilitate even baking.
8. Line the crust with parchment paper again, and then fill with dry beans, dry rice or pie weights if you have them. Bake the crust in the oven for about 25 to 35 minutes or until the crust is a deep golden brown, rotating halfway through to make sure the crust bakes evenly.
9. As the crust bakes, prepare the filling by place the sugar and flour in the bowl of standing mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment. Take a whisk and stir the flour and sugar vigorously to blend well together. Then add the lemon juice, grated ginger, lemon zest and whip together briefly to dissolve the sugar.
10. Place the eggs, egg yolk, vanilla, along with the salt, in medium bowl and beat with a fork or whisk to blend together. Pour into the lemon mixture and whisk until well blended together.
11. When the crust is golden brown, open the oven door, and partially pull out of the oven the rack holding the pan. Lift the parchment paper holding the beans/rice/pie weights directly up and place it in a bowl. Put it aside to cool. Then pour the lemon filling mixture directly onto the hot crust and push the rack back into the oven carefully, with the pan still on it.
12. Close the oven door and reduce the temperature to 300˚F. Bake for an additional 30 to 40 minutes, or until the filling is set and no longer wobbly in the center.
13. Cool the lemon bars on a wire rack until it reaches room temperature and then chill it overnight for the lemon filling to set.
14. When you are ready to serve them, take the lemon bars out of the refrigerator and grasping opposite sides of the parchment paper lift the bars straight out and place them on the serving platter. Then, using a large flat pancake spatula, first loosen the lemon bars from the parchment paper and then gently slide the parchment paper out from under the lemon bars, leaving them on the serving platter. Cut the bars into the size you prefer to serve them at.
15. Then make the meringue. Place the 1 1/4 cups of sugar and the water in a medium pan. Turn the heat to medium and stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring the syrup to the thread stage (the syrup forms thin threads when dropped in cold water), 220˚F if you have a candy thermometer.
16. While the syrup is heating up, place the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar in the bowl of standing mixer, fitted with a wire whisk. Whip the egg whites on medium speed until they start to get foamy. Increase the speed to medium high and slowly sprinkle the remaining two tablespoons of sugar over the egg whites as fluff up. Whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks.
17. Once the sugar syrup has reached 220˚F, bring the pan over to standing mixer, and slowly drizzle the syrup onto the egg whites, as the mixer is turned on. You want to avoid hitting the whisk itself, so drizzle the syrup on the side of the bowl. Once all the syrup is incorporated, add the vanilla extract and continue to whip until stiff peaks form and the bowl has cooled.
18. Spoon the meringue into a pastry bag fitted with a round tip. If you don’t have pastry bag you can spoon the meringue into a ziplock bag, seal it and then cut a corner of it off to pipe the meringue through. The ziplock bag might be a little unwieldy to pipe, so be careful with it (you may need two of them to use all the meringue). Pipe the meringue in small circular fashion, into spiral strips down the lemon bar. Continue to pipe the meringue into strips until all the lemon bars are covered.
19. Take a kitchen torch and run it across the top of the meringue to brown it. If you don’t have a kitchen torch, you can place the lemon bars under a broiler for 30 seconds to a minute, just be careful that you don’t overheat your serving dish!