Words and image by Dana.
There seems to be so much tragedy in the news today, it’s all too easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless by it all. Back in 2011, when the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and consequential tsunami struck Japan I was done with feeling like a numb spectator. I didn’t know a lot of people in my new town, hadn’t much money to offer, and I didn’t have a lot of free time with a newborn and 2-year-old begging for my attention, but I did have a marketing past and a passion for baking. With the help of a few friends, Whitby Bakes for Japan was created, a community bake sale and raffle raising funds for the Japanese Red Cross Society. On the day of the event we had 50+ volunteers show up, many local businesses donate raffle prizes, hundreds of fresh baked goods arrive, and swarms of charitable shoppers arrive to our local suburban community centre. In a mere 3 hours we had raised over $3000, as well as creating more than 1000 paper cranes which OshKosh B’Gosh Clothing Co. had agreed to match each crane with an item of clothing shipped to a Japanese shelter. It was an incredible day, one that allowed me to see just how influential a simple charitable idea could be during a time of tragedy.
Leading up to the bake sale I ran a poll on theHot Pink Apron Facebook page asking what items are an absolute must on the bake sale table. The #1 response… drum roll please… Lemon Bars. Honestly, I would have thought banana bread, cupcakes or the classic chocolate chip cookie before lemon bars but the people had a love for the sweet lemon, and after tasting these I think you will too. Buttery crust paired with a lusciously smooth yet sharp lemon custard is a match made in dessert heaven. I prepared 4 batches of these for Whitby Bakes and they were gone within the first hour.
Note: Always zest your lemon before juicing. Real-Lemon concentrate can be used in a 1:1 ratio.
- 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (Note: I often make a gluten-free version of these using Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All-Purpose flour)
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup pine nuts (optional)
FOR THE FILLING:
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 1/4 cups sugar
- 1 cup plus 2 tbsp lemon juice
- lemon zest, grated from 1 small lemon
- 6 large whole eggs
- 1 large egg yolk
- salt pinch
- confectioners’ sugar for topping
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) . Butter a 9″ x 13″ baking pan.
- To make the crust, sift the confectioners’ sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the flour and stir to mix. Add the butter and pine nuts (if using) and beat on low speed just until a smooth dough forms.
- Transfer the dough to the prepared pan and press evenly into the bottom and 1/2 inch up the sides of the pan. It should be about 1/4 inch thick. To help even out the crust, use the flat bottom of any type of cup, pressing down firmly. Line the crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights. (If you don’t have pie weights simply use a few cookbooks to weigh it down and flatten.)
- Bake the crust until it colors evenly to a deep golden brown, about 10 to 15 minutes, Rotate the pan 18o degrees if the crust appears to be baking unevenly.
- While the crust is baking, make the filling: Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Add the sugar and whisk until blended, Add the lemon juice and zest and stir to dissolve the sugar. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk the whole eggs and egg yolk with the salt.* Add the eggs to the lemon juice mixture and whisk until well mixed.
- When the crust is ready pull out the oven rack holding the crust and pour the filling directly into the hot pan. (It is easiest to pour the custard into the pan if the pan is in the oven.) If the crust has come out of the oven and cooled before you have finished making the filling, put it back in for a few minutes so that it is hot when the custard is poured into it. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F (150°C) and bake just until the center of the custard is no longer wobbly, 30 to 40 minutes.
- Let cool completely on a wire rock, then cover and chill well before cutting. Using a sharp knife, cut into 12 squares, or as desired. If you like, dust the tops of the squares with confectioners’ sugar. They will keep in an airtight container or well covered in the baking dish in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
*Note: Whisking eggs with salt helps to denature (relax) the protein in the eggs and breaks them up more quickly and thoroughly. Do this whenever you need to whisk eggs thoroughly and there is also salt in the recipe. You can also do this if you are making an egg wash, adding a small pinch of salt for each egg you use.
Remember, the first step in helping others is to get involved! Volunteer, race for a charity, host a bake sale, motivate yourself, your family and your community to benefit the lives of those in need. I promise you will not regret it. If the lemon bar story hasn’t inspired you, crank these up, a few songs that always gets me in the mood to be a better person (and sing, and dance, and bake). Enjoy! xo
I’ve heard rumours that R.E.M. actually toyed with the title “People Eating Lemon Bars” but decided “Shiny Happy People” was a more broad approach. I guess they ran out of lemons.
… Of course The Beatles’ entire Abbey Road album never hurts either.
For more coverage on Whitby Bakes for Japan, check out: www.hotpinkapron.com/2012/03/whitby-baked-for-japanAdd to favorites