lovely lime (or lemon) bars

These limes bars were the result of a happy accident–they were meant to be lemon. I’ve loved my mother’s recipe for lemon bars, pulled from a Christmas issue of either Ladies Home Journal or Good Housekeeping years ago, since I was a little girl. We are first and foremost a chocolate dessert family, but these bars often made their way onto the sweets table at New Years Open Houses and potlucks, providing a welcome bright and citrusy contrast to the chocolate. Having made these lemon bars for a fall baby shower and reminded myself of how much I liked them, they seemed like the perfect dessert for an for an impromptu Saturday night dinner party. And they would have been, if I had remembered to buy lemons.

lime bars-1

When I went to the grocery store for this particular dinner, I had a lot of citrus on my list. Hal had asked for grapefruit, oranges, and limes for drinks, and I needed at least six lemons for the bars. Also on the list were ingredients for boeuf bourguignon, creamy polenta, and my current favorite salad. I left the store feeling really impressed with my efficient shopping skills…until I realized I had gotten twice as many limes as needed, and missed the lemons all together. Whoops. After some foot stamping and swearing over the idea of having to go back out to the store with so much cooking to do, Hal gently suggested just subbing limes in for the lemons. A quick google reassured me that it would work, and I let go of my lemon plan and got to juicing limes. And the end result was just as we had hoped–all of the things I love about classic lemon bars, with a little extra tartness from the limes. Though rest assured, there is still plenty of sweetness to balance out the tart.

lime bar filling

The recipe that my mother has been using for decades is a really classic version of a lemon bar. A cookie base topped with an almost custard like citrus filling, the whole thing dusted with powdered sugar. No fancy bells or whistles, but a solidly delicious treat. This time around, I of course changed up the flavor with lime, and added cinnamon (another Hal suggestion: to his thinking, lime and cinnamon are great together in cocktails, so why not desserts?). I also made one alteration to the process of the original recipe, and it was a goodun. The cookie base requires melted butter. Two whole sticks worth. And at this stage of my young life, if I have to melt butter for any reason…I’m gonna brown it. SO worth it. Browning the butter gives a depth of flavor to the cookie base that absolutely ups the tastiness. Taking the time to brown the butter also–and this has been true for me before–gave a nice little standing still and focusing on only one thing respite in an otherwise run around and cook day.

Photo 18

This is the kind of baking that makes your house smell ridiculously good. Browning butter is one of my favorite smells (no surprise there) to begin with, but when you add in a mainly sugar and butter cookie base and all of that citrus zest and juice? Yum. Since these bars aren’t served warm, I made them early in the day to give me some more wiggle room with the rest of my cooking schedule. It’s almost a shame–having something like this going in the oven when company comes over would make you look like a baking genius. As it is, pulling them out at the end of a meal still makes you look pretty baller. And these were an especially great cap to a heavy winter meal. Not that lime bars are exactly a light treat, but the citrus flavor gives the suggestion of lightness…even as you’re eating piles of butter and sugar. I’d recommend these for a dinner party, any kind of potluck, or just on those occasions when you’re in the mood for an other than chocolate dessert. Either with lime or lemon, you can’t go wrong.
lemon bars, for contrast. much more vivid color than the lime.

lemon bars, for contrast. much more vivid color than the lime.

lemon or lime bars, depending on your grocery list
(adapted from a long ago Ladies Home Journal…or possibly Good Housekeeping)

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted and browned
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour plus one tablespoon
6 eggs
1/2  cup lime juice
2 teaspoons grated lime rind
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (omit if making lemon bars)
confectioner’s sugar for sprinkling

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan with aluminum foil, and grease the foil (I’d use either some of that spiffy baking spray, or a smidge of the melted butter).
Crust: Stir butter (thought it’s not necessary, I definitely recommend taking the time to brown the butter), sugars, vanilla and salt in bowl. Gradually stir in flour until smooth. Press dough into bottom of prepared pan.
Bake in 350 degree oven 35 minutes (we disagree with the original recipe a bit here–start checking at 20 mins, just to be safe) or until edges just start to brown.
Filling: Whisk sugar and flour in large bowl. Whisk in eggs until smooth. Stir in lemon juice and rind.
Spread filling over crust. Bake in 350 degree oven 35 minutes, until set. Cool in pan on rack.
Using a small sieve, dust pan with confectioner’s sugar. Cut into bars in the size that pleases you most!

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