Mmm, a shortbread base and a light, lemony topping. What could be a better tea accompaniment on a hot Irish day?
It’s still sunny here in Waterford, but I have to say the heat is much less intense today than it was for the last week. During the heatwave I had a sudden craving for lemon bars – the ones we used to sell at the cafe where I worked throughout university; the ones with a soft filling and a light dusting of powdered sugar on top. I had to have them.
I went to university in the small Nova Scotian town of Wolfville. You’ll find Wolfville in the Annapolis Valley. The “valley”, as we call it in Nova Scotia, is always ten degrees warmer than elsewhere in the province during the summer. I still long for those summer days (I remained in Wolfville, even when I wasn’t in school).
There would always be a large bunch of Acadia students staying in town during the summer. The ones who had to stay, to work on campus, and the ones who simply wanted to stay because it was a good time. Paddy’s Pub, on Wednesday nights, would always be full and there would be a trad session to go along with our craft beer drinking.
On weekdays, the cafe where I worked would be full of my friends and regulars, making for a fun work environment and a never-ending social life. When I’d have a day off, a big group of us would sometimes go tubing down the Gaspereau River; our beer cans trailing behind our tubes to stay cold in the water. Whoever was in the lead would shout “Asses up!” any time we were tubing through a particularly rocky section of the river. Someone would inevitably leave with a bruised ass.
The parties were epic. The fun was endless. I lived with several of my best friends; we’d BBQ on our balcony and take day trips into Halifax.
And these lemon bars continue to stick out in my mind. Our baker would only produce them once a week, and they would sell out immediately after we put them on display. That meant, for me, they were a rare treat – maybe one was broken during transport, maybe one (briefly) fell on the floor. Any bars that weren’t fit for customers were consumed by us, the staff. It was a lucky day when you could split a lemon bar with whomever you were working with.
This isn’t the exact recipe for those lemon bars, but it is very close. The base shouldn’t be over-mixed – it should be so delicate, it melts on your tongue (like a really good shortbread).
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup AP flour, sifted
1/2 cup icing (confectioner’s) sugar, sifted
Rind of two lemons
Juice of two lemons
1 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp AP flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking powder
Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting
- For the base: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees Celsius, no fan). By hand, mix the butter, 1 cup of flour, lemon rind and 1/2 cup of confectioner’s sugar until just combined. The mixture should be like a crumbly shortbread dough. Press this dough into a well-greased, 8 or 9 inch square pan. Bake the base for about 15 minutes, until golden brown.
- While the base is cooling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon juice, salt, vanilla, flour and baking powder.
- When the base is cool, pour the egg/lemon mixture over top. Return to the oven and bake for an additional 25-30 minutes at the same temperature. The lemon topping should be set with a slight wiggle in the centre (the wiggle will go away once cooled).
- When finished baking, cool completely in the pan on a cooling rack. Sprinkle with sifted confectioner’s sugar so the top is nicely coated. Portion into bars or squares.