brown butter lemon bars with roasted figs

I told a colleague recently that Oakland still feels like a Mediterranean vacation to me.  She shook her head, laughed, and informed me that I must be living in the “nice” part of the city.

I guess I’m easily impressed.  Washing dishes in my new kitchen (ugh. goodbye dishwasher, hello sink) I look directly at a small lemon tree wedged in the 12 inches of soil between the neighbor’s house and our driveway.  It still gives me chills.  citrus!  growing on trees!  in my driveway!  how did I get so lucky?

I’ve always thought that citrus is a winter thing, but I’m learning, with the fruit to prove it, that lemons grow and ripen all year long in California.  And with a inborn taste for anything puckering, I’ve been eating my weight in lemon lately.  Fresh figs too, though those I’m buying at the market rather than the driveway. Mostly I eat them sliced into yogurt for breakfast, but here they are roasted and set on top tart lemon bars.  The recipe is adapted from the Tartine book (an all time SF favorite), with browned butter substituted for regular and brown sugar instead of powdered.  The results, especially with the figs, are malty and caramelized, bright with citrus, and definitely reminiscent of a Mediterranean vacation.

One Year Ago: Potato Bread with Roasted Garlic and Rosemary and Sage.

Two Years Ago: Oatmeal Brown Butter (theme?) Pancakes.

Makes 24 bars.  I found the crust to filling ratio on these bars a little light on the crust.  Next time around, I’m planning to make a slightly thicker crust.  I provided both below – the thinner is the original Tartine ratio and the thicker a recipe scaled to 1.5x.

Brown Butter Lemon Bars with Roasted Figs

For the (thinner) Crust

  • 3/4 cup (6oz) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • pinch of salt

For the (thicker) Crust

  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp  (9oz) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • pinch of salt
For the Lemon Layer
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice, strained – 5-6 small lemons
  • finely grated zest of one small un-waxed lemon
  • 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour

For the Figs & Topping

  • 6-8 ripe figs, sliced thickly
  • maple syrup, agave, or honey for drizzling
  • Powdered Sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 9×13 inch baking pan and line with parchment paper.
Brown the butter in a small sauce pan over medium heat.  It will melt, bubble, then become quiet and begin turning brown and smelling very nutty – remove at this point and transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer or a large mixing bowl.  Set the bowl in the freezer and chill 15-20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the lemon filling by whisking the eggs, the yolk, and the salt together in a large non-reactive (ceramic preferably) bowl.  Add the lemon juice, zest, sugar, and flour and mix until well combined.  Set aside.
One the browned butter is cooled, add the sugar, flour, and salt.  Using a paddle attachment or hand-held electric beaters, mix until a crumbly dough is formed.  Scatter the dough into the prepared pan and pres down firmly.  I use a flat bottomed glass dipped in flour to even the crust.  Bake 30 minutes for the thinner crust or 40 minutes for the thicker (see head note), until golden brown, rotating half way though baking.
Remove the crust from the oven and pour over the lemon filling – you want to do this while the crust is still hot.  Reduce the temperature to 300 degrees and bake 18-25 minutes or until the filling is set and does not move when you shake the pan gently.  Cool to room temperature.
To roast the figs, set the oven to 400 degrees.  Spread the sliced figs on a parchment lined sheet pan and drizzle lightly with maple syrup, agave, or honey.  Roast 15-20 minutes until caramelized, then remove and cool.
Once the bars are cool, use a sharp knife to cut into 24 even squares. Dust liberally with powdered sugar and then top each with a roasted fig.  The bars, without the figs on top, keep well up to 1 week refrigerated, or if your kitchen isn’t too hot, out at room temperature.  Topped with the figs, you’ll want to serve these the same day before the figs start wilting/bleeding into the lemon bars.  I stored the figs separately and topped the bars just before serving.
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