Spring time is coming, though winter is loath to release her icy grip, and to help spur on thoughts of the upcoming seasonal change, I thought I’d bring to bear a favorite dessert of mine, lemon bars. These no nonsense bars are all about the tartness of lemon with a crunchy bar carrying their weight, almost perfect. But I wanted to elevate the lightness of them by adding an airy whipped cream and emphasis the crunch with some toasty coconut. I think I fell onto a fantastic dessert perfect for springtime (and EASTER)!
While perfecting this particular recipe during the seemingly endless taste testing, my wife’s highly specialized baking knowledge really helped refine the recipe. As the typical A-type, alpha male firefighter that I am, I’m sometimes impervious to criticism (constructive or not) on my work. But her unquestioned experience and refined palette helped to mold this recipe to what it is today. Thanks girl!
Some after the fire critiques: There is a little bit of down time with chilling and baking so I’d suggest making this early in the day (which also gives the bars more time to set up). The mascarpone is added not only to boost flavor to the whipped cream, but give it body so it holds up and doesn’t fall flat. In the video, I add the mascarpone and powdered sugar at the same time I added the heavy cream. I'd advised that you whip the heavy cream a good 30 seconds prior to adding the rest (as noted below in the recipe). Also in the video, the coconut got a little too toasty. A mild toasting will do just fine (as displayed in the final photo above).
*Adapted from Cooks Illustrated
A/P Flour (1¾ Cup)
Powdered Sugar (⅔ Cup)
Cornstarch (¼ Cup)
Salt (1 tsp.)
Unsalted Butter (12 Tbs. or 1½ sticks at slightly cooler then room temp.)
Cooking Spray (or an additional Tbs. of Unsalted Butter for the parchment paper)
Lemon Zest (from 3-4 lemons)
Lemon Juice (1 Cup from 3-4 lemons)
Milk (Whole ½ cup)
Eggs (6 lightly beaten)
Sugar (1½ Cups)
A/P Flour (4½ Tbs.)
Salt (¼ tsp.)
Heavy Cream (1 cup chilled)
Mascarpone (6-8 ounces at room temp.)
Lemon Zest (from 1 lemon)
Powdered Sugar (2 Tbs.)
Salt (⅛ tsp.)
Coconut (Shredded 1 cup)
Food Processor with steel blade
13” x 9” Baking Dish
Pre-heat oven to 350°F with the rack in the middle position. Lightly butter the baking dish and line with one over-large sheet of parchment paper. Note: use two parchment papers crosswise with butter in between if your parchment paper is not large enough to cover the dish with overlap for handles.
Place the flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch and salt in the food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and then process to combine or until the mixture resembles coarse meal (and is a light yellow color). Pour into the prepared baking dish and using hands, press into an even ¼” layer that tampers to ½” tall on the sides (like a wave coming towards you from the shore). Place in the fridge for 30 minutes to solidify. Then immediately place into the oven and cook until golden, approximately 20-25 minutes. Reserve.
Reduce oven temp to 325°F.
While the crust is baking, whisk the eggs, sugar and flour in a bowl until combined. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, milk and salt to blend. When the crust comes out, pour the lemon mixture over to cover then place into the oven to bake for an additional 20-25 minutes or until the center is set (doesn’t giggle). Transfer to a wire rack (or your stove top) to cool for 45-60 minutes.
Place the coconut on the baking sheet and bake until slightly golden 5-8 minutes. Reserve.
Place the heavy cream in a well-chilled bowl and whip for 30 seconds. Add the lemon zest, powdered sugar, mascarpone and salt and mix until soft peak are formed. Reserve.
To assemble the Lemon Bars
Place the whipped cream and smooth out a small layer over the lemon bar then sprinkle with the toasted coconut to barely cover. Pull the lemon bar out of the baking dish and transfer to a cutting board. Carefully fold the parchment paper down. Using a knife or large pizza cutter, slice the bar into desired sizes. Eat immediately or store covered in fridge for an additional 2-3 days. Indulge.