I have a confession to make. I never bake for the holidays. Although I’m getting better at it, baking has often been a frustrating endeavor. My creations always fall short of my vision for them. Besides that, there has never really been any need to. My mom and grandma always bake a plethora of cookies and bars in the weeks leading up to Christmas, mostly the traditional Eastern European kind that a lot of North Americans would find unfamiliar. There is a rugelach type of cookie, dusted with powdered sugar, squares made from phyllo and custard, kolache made from a yeast-risen dough and containing sour cream, or the linzer style sandwich cookies, a combination of nut-laden pastry and jam.
As impressive as these cookies are, I think I’ll leave them to the pros– at least until I get my baking skills up to par. For now, I’m going to stick with tried-and-true American recipes. I thought a pan of classic lemon bars was a good place to start. They may not be a traditional offering at the holiday table, but the splashy taste of lemon is always festive, don’t you agree?
Lemon bars have been on my mind ever since I met my writing group for lunch last weekend at the Vancouver Art Gallery. This little upscale cafeteria is a lovely place to stop for a homestyle dessert or something a bit more substantial. One bite of their buttermilk lemon bar and I knew I had to make some of my own.
In the end, I opted for a classic lemon bar from Dinner with Julie, one of my favorite blogs. No matter what I crave, I can always count on Julie. She’s a food writer with impeccable taste and a prolific blogger. Besides writing books, her job, and raising a family, she manages to blog several times a week. I don’t know how she does it.
These bars seem decadent but they’re surprisingly low fat; according to Julie, they contain less than 5 grams of fat and only 168 calories each. Good to know. That means a little more room for all those Christmas cookies.
Classic Lemon Bars
Makes 9 bars
For the base:
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 scant cup all-purpose flour
For the topping:
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg
1 large egg white
grated zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
icing sugar, for sprinkling
1) Cream butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Add flour and salt and blend until crumbly and well-combined. Press mixture evenly into the bottom of an 8’x8″ pan that has been sprayed with non-stick spray.
2) Bake 8 minutes, or until edges are barely golden.
3) Stir together the sugar, flour, baking powder and salt in the mixing bowl. Add egg, egg white, lemon zest and juice. Stir until well blended and smooth. Pour over base.
4) Bake for 25 minutes, until slightly golden and bubbly around the edges. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Sprinkle with icing sugar and cut into bars.