I adore lemons. They’re always rolling around my kitchen somewhere, and definitely always on my shopping list. I use them on savory dishes, salad dressings, and of course, desserts. I’ve been making this recipe forever.
This recipe is by Rose Levy Beranbaum, whom I consider to be the mad scientist of baking. Her recipes are thorough to the max. This two-tone cookie is one of my favorite things to make with lemon. The ratio of shortbread to lemon curd is perfect. Not too sweet, not too sour curd paired with buttery rich shortbread.
Oh, by the way, if you have a lemon tree, let me be your best friend, pretty please? I’ll give you a cookie?
The Ultimate Lemon Butter Bar
courtesy Rose Levy Beranbaum
Makes 1 1/2 dozen 2 2/3-inch by 1 1/3-inch bars
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold) (5 ounces = 142 grams)
2 tablespoons powdered sugar (0.5 ounce = 14 grams)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar (0.75 ounce = 25 grams)
1 1/4 cups bleached all-purpose flour (dip and sweep method) (6.25 ounces = 180 grams)
Lemon Curd Topping
4 large egg yolks (2 full fluid ounces = 2.5 ounces = 74 grams)
3/4 cup sugar (5.25 ounces = 150 grams)
3 fluid ounces (use a liquid measuring cup) lemon juice, freshly squeezed (about 2 1/2 large lemons) (3.25 ounces = 94 grams)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened) (2 ounces = 57 grams)
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons lemon zest (finely grated) (4 grams)
2 tablespoons powdered sugar for dusting (0.5 ounce = 14 grams)
8-inch by 8-inch by 2-inch baking pan, preferably metal (if using a glass pan, lower the oven temperature 25°F.), bottom and 2 sides lined with an 8-inch by 16-inch strip of heavy-duty aluminum foil.
Food Processor Method
Cut the butter into 1-inch cubes, wrap it, and refrigerate. In a food processor with the metal blade, process the sugars for 1 minute or so, until the sugar is very fine. Add the butter and pulse in until the sugar disappears. Add the flour and pulse in until there are a lot of little moist crumbly pieces and no dry flour particles remain. Dump the mixture into a plastic bag and press it together. Remove the dough from the plastic bag and knead it lightly, until it holds together.
Electric Mixer Method or by Hand
In Scotland, it is said that the best shortbread is mixed with the fingers and that each woman’s fingers lend something distinctive and special to the finished cookie. I find that the texture is more delicate when the dough is mixed with the fingers rather than in a machine. For either method, use superfine sugar for the best texture and be sure to soften the butter.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugars. In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy. With your fingers or with the electric mixer, mix in the flour until incorporated. If using the mixer, add the flour in 2 parts.
For Both Methods
Place 1 oven rack in the middle of the oven.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Pat the dough into the prepared pan. Use a fork to prick the dough all over. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned and the top is pale golden (do not brown).
While the shortbread is baking, prepare the Lemon Curd Topping.
LEMON CURD TOPPING
Have a strainer, suspended over a bowl, ready near the range.
In a heavy noncorrodible saucepan, beat the egg yolks and sugar with a wooden spoon until well blended. Stir in the lemon juice, butter, and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for about 6 minutes, until thickened and resembling hollandaise sauce, which thickly coats a wooden spoon but is still liquid enough to pour. (A candy thermometer will read 196°F.) The mixture will change from translucent to opaque and begin to take on a yellow color on the back of a wooden spoon. It must not be allowed to boil or it will curdle. (It will steam above 140°F. Whenever steaming occurs, remove the pan briefly from the heat, stirring constantly to prevent boiling.)
When the curd has thickened, pour it at once into the strainer. Press it with the back of a spoon until only the coarse residue remains. Discard the residue. Stir in the lemon zest.
When the shortbread is baked, remove it from the oven, lower the temperature to 300°F., pour the lemon curd on top of the shortbread, and return it to the oven for 10 minutes.
Cool the lemon curd–topped shortbread completely in the pan on a wire rack. Refrigerate the pan for 30 minutes to set the lemon curd completely before cutting into bars. Place the powdered sugar in a strainer and tap the strainer with a spoon to sprinkle a thick, even coating, entirely covering the lemon.
Run a small metal spatula between the sides of the pan and the pastry on the 2 sides without the aluminum foil. Use the foil to lift out the lemon curd–covered shortbread onto a cutting surface. Use a long, sharp knife to cut the shortbread first in thirds, then in half the other way, and then each half in thirds. Wipe the blade after each cut. The powdered sugar will start to be absorbed into the lemon curd after several hours, but it can be reapplied before serving.
Store: In an airtight container at room temperature, or in the refrigerator or freezer.
Keeps: 3 days at room temperature, 3 weeks refrigerated (individually wrapped in plastic wrap to prevent drying), or 3 months frozen.