Thursday, April 30, 2009

Literally, almond joy! - Toasted Almond Lemon Bars (Cookie Carnival)

As life picks up, my blog seems to have fallen quiet for awhile! It's been weird not having blogged in some time, so I'm happy to come back with my Cookie Carnival entry for this month! This month we baked up some Toasted Almond Lemon Bars (thanks to Holly from Phemomenon for hosting this month!). Now, I've had some troubles with lemon squares before -- they never quite set up right or weren't lemon-y enough or were too sweet. So I was a bit nervous about how this one would turn out... I have to say though, this is probably one of my most favorite "cookie" recipes EVER. I mean it, EVER. I'll say, that these probably aren't for everyone, but for someone who LOVES LOVES LOVES anything almond, these are the perfect combination of citrus-y goodness and almond-y sweetness. But I'm getting ahead of myself... first the recipe:

From The Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy

Makes 1 dozen bars

For the Crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup sliced blanched almonds, lightly toasted
1/2 teaspoon salt
20 Tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

For the Lemon Filling:
4 large eggs
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 7 lemons)
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar for sprinkling

To Toast the Almonds:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the almonds in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly golden and you can smell them. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Before You Start:
Position a rack in the center of your oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 x 13 - inch pan with nonstick vegetable cooking spray. Make a parchment "sling" by cutting two pieces of parchment paper, measuring 16 1/2 inches long by 12 inches wide (you can also use aluminum foil). Place one piece across the length, and the other across the width of the pan, with the excess hanging over the edges. You will use this sling later to lift the finished bar from the pan. Spray the sling with the cooking spray.

To Make the Crust:
1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the flour, sugar, almonds, and salt to combine. Add the cold butter in pieces and pulse until the dough comes together in a ball.

2. Turn the dough out into the prepared pan and press evenly into the bottom and 1 1/4 inches up the sides. (This crust, once it is baked, needs to act as a liner in which to pour the liquidy lemon filling. So be sure to do a good job of pressing the dough up the sides - no cracks!). Cover the dough with a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil, and fill with pie weights ( you can use dried beans or uncooked rice as pie weights as well). Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly golden. Carefully remove the pie weights and the liner and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until the whole crust is golden. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

To Make the Filling:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until smooth. Add the almond extract and flour, and whisk until smooth. Add the lemon juice, and whisk to combine.

To Complete the Bars:
1. Pour the lemon filling into the prepared crust. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the filling is firm and lightly golden. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

2. When cool use the parchment sling to lift the entire bar from the pan and onto a cutting board. Slice into twelve 3 x 3 1/2 - inch bars. Remove from the pan and, using a small sifter, dust with the confectioners' sugar.

The bars keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. For longer storage, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze well wrapped in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil for up to 3 weeks. Do not unwrap before defrosting. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.

Alas, I forgot to take pictures of my lemon bars along the way... which quite speaks to the lemon bars themselves. I served the one batch THREE times in the course of a week! First, of course, Mr. J and I had to try them for ourselves (fresh and warm... I couldn't wait for them to cool ALL the way)... second, for my parents at our pre-Easter gathering (my dad loves lemon anything), and third, at Mr. J's family's Easter dinner.

I ran into some... let's call them technical difficulties. I apparently didn't read the recipe close enough (although I swear I read it multiple times!) and thought that the almond crust was meant to be just the bottom layer with the lemon filling as the top layer. For whatever reason - i.e. excitement to make these - I didn't realize that the crust was actually supposed to SURROUND the lemon filling until I already started baking the crust. No matter! The lemon filling still firmed up nicely on the crust (my fear was that it wouldn't firm up and would just ooze out) -- the crust was just a bit thicker than it should have been, but I didn't care, the crust was yummy.

These lemon bars were just delicious. The almond extract flavor was a (pleasant) surprise to everyone who tasted the bars, which was nicely complemented by the almonds in the crust. I loved how the sour lemon flavor balanced with the almond extract sweetness. Really, I could have eaten the whole tray. I admit that I think I might have loved these more than some of my family members, but these honestly were some of the best "cookies" I've ever tried. If you are a fan of almond, these are the bars for you.


PheMom said...

I really liked them too! I am so glad you enjoyed them!

The Duo Dishes said...

Many thanks for sharing this recipe because lemon/citrus is totally our thing!

Natashya said...

I do love lemon, they sound delish!

Tangled Noodle said...

Sound delicious! I also have had problems making lemon bars so I haven't attempted them in years. Maybe it's about time to try again.

kate said...

i'm so glad you enjoyed them so!

The Food Hunter said...

They sound great. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

Jackie said...

Thank you everyone for your comments! I definitely urge people to try these. They are perfect as a summer treat...

Anonymous said...

The bars sound fantastic - the combination of lemon and almonds is hard to beat! Glad your back.