See that beauty of a Meyer lemon up there?
Yup, I grew that.
That might not seem so remarkable until you realize that I’m the woman otherwise known as “Black Thumb Jung.” Yes, that’s what my dear husband calls me. With the utmost affection, of course.
Admittedly, I’m not the world’s greatest gardener. I have killed ivy and cactus, after all, which are supposedly indestructible. Just not in my hands, though.
I wasn’t born a gifted gardener like my late-Mom was. She could grow anything — even tubs of sweet, juicy tomatoes inside our family house, which too often was enveloped in dreary San Francisco fog to give those delicate seedlings a fighting chance outside.
But that’s not to say that I don’t give it the ol’ school-girl try. Every year, I fill my backyard planters with new soil, new plants, and a bushel of hope. Yes, the utmost optimism that something, anything will actually go on to live and flourish. Usually, at least a few things do. Oh sure, I’ve lost my share of cilantro, tarragon, roses, snapdragons, and butter lettuce that blossomed brightly, then in an instant just died out. Gosh, was it something I said?
Fortunately, a few things actually do go on to thrive. I can grow basil like there’s no tomorrow. Rosemary and I get along just like that. And I once had a tomato plant that not only produced for a full summer, but somehow managed to endure a rainy, cold, neglected winter only to sprout beautiful round orbs once again the following year. Go figure.
So, last year, I planted a dwarf Meyer lemon tree, and waited with bated breath. Sure, many of my friends already have such trees and are only to eager to load me up with their abundance of lemons. But there’s just something wonderfully satisfying about growing your own.
I watched as the blossoms turned into little, hard green spheres that grew and grew, and slowly started turning taxi-cab yellow. I picked the first few last month, all the while beaming with pride.
So, what to do with these special lemons that I grew with my very own black thumb?
Why, make lemon bars, of course.
San Francisco Pastry Chef Emily Luchetti’s, to be exact.
In her book, “Classic Stars Desserts” (Chronicle Books), she writes that these lemon bars are so incredible that complete strangers have written to her saying that they’ve tried loads of lemon squares recipes, but that this one was the most lemony and most perfect of all. My friend Charlen, to whom I had given a copy of the book as a gift, also raved about them when she made them.
So, how could I resist?
There’s a full cup plus 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice in these lovelies. The Meyer lemons, which are less tart than Eurekas, also lend a very appealing floral quality.
On the bottom is a buttery shortbread crust. In the middle, the smoothest, thickest, most velvety lemon curd-like filling made with six eggs for extra richness.
The bars bake up with a thin, ivory-colored, crisp-chewy top. Once cooled, refrigerate them to let them firm up even more. Then, cut them into squares and dust with powdered sugar.
They’re not too sweet. They’re not too tart. Even my husband, who often forgoes lemon desserts because he finds them too sour, declared these bars just right.
They have a perky, bright taste and the look of pure sunshine.
They’re the best lemon bars ever, and the perfect finale for my noble lemons.
(Makes 24 squares)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
6 ounces (12 tablespoons) cold unsalted, butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
6 large eggs
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
About 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
To make the crust: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine flour and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on low speed until mixed. Add butter and continue to mix until butter is the size of small peas, about 30 seconds. The mixture will be very dry. Gently press mixture evenly onto the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan.
Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool to room temperature. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.
To make filling: In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and granulated sugar until smooth. Stir in lemon juice and then the flour. Pour filling on top of crust.
Bake until lemon filling is set, about 40 minutes. Let cool to room temperature and then put in the refrigerator for 1 hour or keep at room temperature for 3 hours before cutting. Cut into squares measuring about 2 1/4 inches and dust the tops with confectioners’ sugar.
Planning Ahead: The squares may be made a day in advance, covered, and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before serving.
From “Classic Stars Desserts”
More fun with lemons: Make Your Own Preserved Lemons
More fun with lemons: Make your Own Meyer Lemon Vanilla Bean Marmalade