Monday, February 6, 2012

Lemon Bars with a Macadamia Shortbread Crust

18 years ago my husband and I shared our first Valentine's gift with each other.  We were both 17 years old, we were seniors in high school and had only been dating for a few weeks.  As you can imagine, we were trying hard to impress each other in our new relationship and didn't have a whole lot of money to do it.

I still have the gift that my then-boyfriend, now-husband gave to me.  It was a pretty silver heart pendant with cut out scrolls through it.  I still wear it occasionally, even.  He did an awfully good job for his first time out and he definitely managed to impress me.  Maybe that's why I've let him stick around for so long- seems he knew me so well even way back then.

For me, Valentines Day happened to fall in between jobs as a salesgirl at Express in the mall and ice cream scooper at Friendly's.  Needless to say, I couldn't afford to go out and buy a great gift.  So I did what I do best- bake.  That year it was two dozen cookies.  One batch of peanut butter with chocolate chips and another of double chocolate chip.  If I remember correctly, his father sampled a few and declared me "a keeper"!  What more could a girl ask for?

These days, we don't do big gifts for each other.  A nice dinner out or a great bottle of wine with a home cooked meal and a card seem to do the trick.  But maybe I'll whip up some of those peanut butter and chocolate chip cookies and wear my heart pendant for old time's sake.  Or perhaps something new and unexpected would fit the bill- like these lemon bars.  Don't the blackberries on top look like little hearts?  Just right for Valentines Day.  And I happen to know a certain someone who loves lemon curd so much that he steals the bowl from the fridge and eats it like pudding....

Lemon Bars with a Macadamia Shortbread Crust
I used a couple of sources of inspiration for these bars.  The first was Rose Levy Berenbaum's recipe for lemon bars that I've been using for years (you can find it in on Epicurious).  I love the crust so I followed her method and simply added macadamia nuts to the mix to make them a touch more special.  Her filling involves making a cooked lemon curd, which I just wasn't in the mood to do.  I found an interesting method on David Lebovitz's blog that used an entire lemon, pith and all to make the lemon topping.  Not being quite brave enough to try that (somehow I can never seem to get over the bitterness of foods like marmalade that make use of whole lemons), I adapted it slightly with excellent results.

For the shortbread crust:
1 cup salted macadamia nuts
2 tbs powdered sugar
2 tbs granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
10 tbs butter, cold

For the lemon topping:
1 large lemon or two small ones (I used Meyer lemons, but feel free to use whatever lemons you have)
3 tbs additional lemon juice
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
4 tbs cornstarch
3 tbs very soft butter
16 blackberries or raspberries

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.  Line two sides and the bottom of an 8 x 8 inch baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil so that you make a "sling" that you can use to lift out the bars.

Make the crust by combining the macadamia nuts and both sugars in a food processor.  Pulse until the nuts are finely chopped.  Add the butter and pulse until the butter is in small pieces.  Add the flour and blend until the mixture begins to come together.  Press the shortbread into the bottom of the baking pan.  Bake until just lightly golden at the edges, about 25-30 minutes.

In the meantime, make the lemon filling.  Use a vegetable peeler of zester to remove the yellow zest from the whole lemon.  Set aside.  Using a sharp knife, cut the white pith off of the lemon and discard the pith.  Slice the lemon and remove the seeds.  Add the seeded lemon slices and the zest to a food processor along with the sugar and lemon juice and blend until the pulp is finely chopped.  Add in the cornstarch and  eggs and blend until smooth.  Pulse the softened butter into the filling and set aside until the shortbread is ready.

Once  you pull the crust out of the oven, pour the lemon filling over it.  Quickly arrange the berries into 4 rows of 4 over the filling and return the pan to the oven.  Bake for about 20 minutes.  The filling will no longer jiggle and will be lightly golden at the edges.  Remove the pan from the oven and set it on a baking rack.  Cool the lemon bars completely in the pan. 

To remove the bars from the baking pan, run a knife along the edges and use the parchment or aluminum foil to lift the bars out.  Cut into 16 squares.  Before serving you can lightly dust them with powdered sugar.  They will keep for 2 or 3 days in an airtight container.


  1. Wow the mac nut shortbread makes these lemon bars spectacular!

    1. The shortbread crust was good all by itself- I've been using it for years. The macadamias make it a bit more tender and give it a creamy nuttiness that balances the tart lemon really well. What I was surprised about was how that one little blackberry on top of each one really made these bars stand out!