This week's Sweet Melissa Sundays was chosen by Rebecca of Indecisive Baker: toasted almond lemon bars. It wasn't all that long ago that lemon desserts really weren't among my favorites (read - I avoided them at all costs) but these days I can't get enough. As for the almonds, oddly enough I don't really like whole nuts in my desserts, but almond extract is a completely different story. It is one of my very favorite flavorings. This recipe includes almond extract in the filling as well as toasted sliced almonds (chopped pretty finely in the food processor) in the crust. All that to say that even though I haven't had many desserts combining lemon and almond, I was pretty sure this one would be quite tasty!
I scaled the recipe back, making only 1/4 of it using a loaf pan instead of a 9x13-inch pan. While the recipe is fairly easy, I struggled with the crust for reasons that still aren't clear to me. Both times the dough seemed soft after I pressed it into the bottom of the pan, so I stuck it in the freezer to firm it up a bit before baking. I weighted the crust down with pie weights sitting on a piece of aluminum foil I'd sprayed with cooking spray. The first time I baked it, the crust stuck to the foil and completely fell apart. The second time I watched it like a hawk in the oven, checked every few minutes to avoid the disaster of the first go-round. While it was more successful on the second try, it still shrunk more than I'd hoped it would. Luckily, the filling was a lot less finicky. Lemon juice, eggs, sugar, almond extract and flour are whisked and poured into the crust. Since I'd scaled the recipe back so much I only needed to juice one lemon (as opposed to the 7 suggested for the full recipe). Though the filling was thin and runny, it firmed up perfectly in the oven. My baking time for 1/4 of the recipe was about 20 minutes.
After refrigerating the bars to make them easier to cut, I sliced my mini batch into 8 bars. I've since eaten quite a few of them because they're really delicious! Lemon was definitely the prominent flavor, but I could also taste both the almond extract in the filling and the almond pieces in the buttery crust. I didn't find them too tart or sweet - they struck a wonderful balance for me. Thanks to Rebecca for hosting this week! You can find the recipe on her blog here or on pages 78-79 of The Sweet Melissa Baking Book.