Lemon bars hold a special place in my heart because it was with a batch of lemon bars that I won the 1988 Fourth of July Parade Baking Contest in my hometown of Orinda, CA. I was nine years old. There I stood onstage next to the second- and third-place winners, women three and four times my age. It was a moment of glory!
I wish I still had that winning recipe. It was from a recipe book compiled by the PTA moms at my elementary school and sold as a fund-raising tool, not the kind of thing you could easily find reprinted for sale on Amazon.com these days. If any of my classmates from Sleepy Hollow Elementary (or their mothers) out there still has a copy stashed away somewhere, I will pay top dollar for it.
Meyer lemons are in season right now, and in my neighborhood they are hanging off their branches in heavy clusters. One family down the street puts a fresh crop out in a straw basket on the sidewalk every Saturday, free for the taking. The lemons I used in this recipe were picked just days ago, and their freshness adds a magical zing to these bars. Meyer lemons have a thinner skin than those year-round varieties you find in the grocery store, which is why you can chop one up—skin and all—and throw it into the curd in this recipe.
Pansies are blooming now, too, and this pretty pink one is from the flower pot outside my front door. Pansies and their cousins, violas, make lovely garnishes, as long as they haven’t been sprayed with a pesticide or other chemicals. Grow your own to be sure.
Make the Crust
Butter, for coating the pan
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Zest of 1 Meyer lemon
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
Make the Filling
1 whole Meyer lemon
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
Juice from 3 Meyer lemons (you should get about 1/2 cup juice)
Powdered sugar for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Coat the bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch baking dish with a thin film of cold butter. In a food processor, pulse flour, powdered sugar, salt and zest until combined. Add the butter and pulse until mixture resembles sandy crumbs. (If you don’t have a food processor, mix flour through zest in a medium bowl with a whisk, then cut in butter with a pastry cutter or two knives.) The dough should resemble course meal. Transfer to a baking dish and press into an even layer with your fingertips, or use the bottom of a greased jar or ramekin. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, or until lightly golden around the edges.
Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees.
To make the filling, clean the food processor bowl and return it to the base. Trim off ends and cut the whole Meyer lemon into small chunks, removing the seeds. Add to the processor and pulse until roughly chopped. Set aside.
Whisk together the sugar, flour and salt. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then whisk in the lemon juice. Whisk the egg mixture into the sugar mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chopped whole lemon. Pour the filling over the hot crust and return to the oven.
Bake 28 to 30 minutes, or until center is set but still gooey when poked with a toothpick. Cool completely. Sift powdered sugar (if using) over the dish. Cut into 12 or 16 bars and serve.
Store covered, at room temperature, for up to 48 hours.