Lemon Meringue Bars (or, Bribing My Baby)

by Carilyn on July 18, 2020

I don’t love lemon meringue pie, but Grant was about to head back to D.C. after being stuck with us for three months, and he loves lemon meringue. So, there it is. Poor guy, the courthouse was evacuated, and his judge pushed all her clerks to get out of D.C., and even though he was grumpy about it, Tim and I were thrilled. It is not very often you get to have your twenty-four year old come home for an extended stay, at least when you know he doesn’t intend to move back in permanently.

We spent the first month of the quarantine pretending we were on vacation, swimming, eating, and drinking too much. It was fun, but it was impossible to forget that we were locked down for a horrible reason. Grant had to continue to work from here, so our living room became an office, complete with a copier, fax machine, two computers, a landline, and a whole lot of mess. I tried not to act like it was driving me crazy, which became near impossible when he also took over part of the dining room table. There is A LOT of stress practicing law under the best of circumstances, but especially when your office mate keeps yelling at you to make your bed, pick up your shoes, and stop eating all of her Red Vines.

After the first month, we managed to settle into a pretty good routine (despite the mess in multiple rooms of the house). We all went about our business during the day, and came together for our traditional “Don’t Do Drugs Dinner” every evening at 6:30 just like when the kids were growing up. I loved having another palate to cook for, pulling out some of Grant’s favorites that I had quit making when it was just me and Tim. Meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Glazed ham and carrots. Pot roast. Wine chicken and pasta. Butter chicken and rice. All of the cooking helped immensely with the stress of worrying about our world.

Especially the desserts. Desserts, for me, are better than medication for anxiety. Give me a layer cake, a sugar cookie, or a cream puff, and I will forget that the apocalypse may be banging on the door. But notice that lemon meringue pie is not on the list of “desserts that work better than Xanax”.

The problem for me with lemon meringue pie is the lemon. And the meringue. Hmmm. I’m not a fan of the taste (sour), or the consistency (gelatinous). But I love my son more than life itself, so off I went, looking for some inspiration.

First thing, I knew I didn’t want to make a standard pie crust. Making the lemon curd and meringue was already going to be a half day endeavor, and I had a lot of miles to get done. Solution, graham cracker crust. Besides being a massive time saver, graham cracker crust adds more sweetness to the dessert, mitigating some of the tartness of the curd. Desserts should be sweet, amiright? So, I’m lazy and have a sweet tooth – no surprise there.

This recipe is fairly easy as far lemon meringue pies go. No separating eggs. No dough resting. No soggy bottom from putting lemon curd on pie crust. When I was searching for recipes, I saw Deb Perlman (Smitten Kitchen) had a lemon meringue BAR. Genius (she always is – I LOVE her). Making it into bars rather than a pie seems like you get a better ratio of everything. I know this is not mathematically accurate, but it FEELS like you get more sweet graham crust with each bite, and in these stressful times, I’m willing to convince myself of just about anything if it makes me feel better.

Grant has gone back to D.C., and I miss him terribly, so I may just make these bars again to remind me of the weird “vacation” we had while being locked in our house.

 

Lemon Meringue Bars

(from Smitten Kitchen)

Crust

9 graham cracker sheets – 1 sleeve – broken up

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

 

Filling

1 whole lemon

juice of 1/2 lemon

4 large egg yolks

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

 

Meringue

4 large egg whites

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line an 8×8 baking pan with parchment, making sure to leave extra above the rim so you can pull the bars out easily.

Put the crust ingredients into a food processor and pulse until you get a sand like texture. Press into your pan, covering the bottom and extending up the sides a bit. Bake about 10 minutes, until golden. Let cool.

Start your filling while the crust cools.

Trim the stem off the lemon and cut into thin slices. Remove seeds. In a blender (or your food processor – cleaned), blend all the filling ingredients until very smooth. Pour over the crust (it can still be a bit warm – no worries) and bake for 30 minutes. You want it to be bubbly and brown around the edges. It will not be completely set. Cool for 10 minutes, and then run a sharp knife around the edges or you will never get the bars out after the meringue is on top. Cool completely and then put in the freezer or refrigerator until fully chilled.

Once chilled, remove it from pan and take off the parchment paper. You don’t want to set the paper on fire when you torch/bake the meringue. Put the soon-to-be bars on a baking sheet.

Make the meringue by combining all the ingredients into the metal bowl of your stand mixer, and then place it over a saucepan of simmering water. Whisk continuously until the sugar is completely dissolved (160 degrees). Move the bowl to your stand mixer, and whisk on high speed until glossy and very stiff – about 3 minutes.

Spoon onto the lemon layer and use your spatula/spoon/knife to create a wavy texture. Brown with a kitchen torch, or put under the broiler until just golden – don’t over brown.

Cut into squares.

 

 

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