earl grey tea + lemon bars.

Summer vacation (for me) is almost over for me. I’m okay with that. I think of vacation as a time to relax, regroup, and reorganize for the coming (rest of the) year. Every year when I come home from vacation, I’m totally psyched for fall. Fall is my season; I love – rather, am in love – with the weather, the scent, the crispness, the mindset, the everything of autumn. I love the chill the air takes in the afternoon. I see kids back in school and I wish I were there also (nerd alert). As much as I enjoy summer for what it is, I find myself getting restless for cooler temperatures. The only drawback I can think of about the return of fall is this: I cease to make things from lemons.

I don’t know what it is with me. It’s not as if lemons become unavailable to me – they don’t – but I just can’t make desserts with them anymore. They’re such a spring/summer flavor, and I’m typically infatuated with things like pumpkins and spices and pecans and other fall-ishness; lemons just don’t quite fit into that set of flavors.

So I felt I needed to make a supremely lemon dessert for you, and for me, before I start to tuck lemon recipes away in my mind for next spring. Each year I try out a new one, inevitably I love it, and it gets added to the rotation. earlier this year I made these lemon buttermilk cookies, which were a lovely and subtle way to showcase one of my favorite fruits in a cookie. Now, though, it’s time to let them go crazy.

Because I’m stuck in seasonal limbo right now, not knowing whether to savor the rest of summer or anxiously await the fall, I give you these bars, which are a little of both. Lemons to remind you of the best of summer; of pools and sun and beach and heat. Earl Grey tea to remind you that chillier temperatures and fallen leaves are on their way soon enough.

I found this recipe as I was wandering through the July Cooking Light Magazine, as I often do. I’m a magazine addict of sorts, and Cooking Light is one of my favorites for healthy recipes and for inspiration; it’s packed with good food ideas every month, but my mind gets especially blown during the summer and fall seasons. Truth be told, I think their minds get blown while writing it during those months due to all the fresh seasonal produce they have to work with. I don’t blame them.

When I first tried this recipe, I wasn’t thrilled with the results. Maybe it was me. It was one of the first things I cooked in my vacation kitchen, and I didn’t have my bearings yet. When you spend a good portion of your time cooking or baking, you unconsciously develop a sort of rhythm in your own kitchen. You don’t think about it, it’s not an obvious thing, but it’s a dance you do over and over again, and it’s part of you. I forget that, no matter how well-stocked and well-planned the kitchen I enter, it’s not mine, and it throws me off for a second. I thought my semi-failed lemon bars were a casualty of that. After going over the original recipe, I wasn’t so sure. The crust was delicious and a total flavor and textural success. I just didn’t love the lemon filling the way I should have. It wasn’t me; it was the ingredients. Something was off.

So rather than give you something I wasn’t thrilled with, I’m giving you something I’ve always been thrilled with; the most perfect lemon bar filling recipe ever, taken from the Williams Sonoma Essentials of Baking Cookbook. I’ve used it for tarts, for bars, for sandwiching between cakes layers, and I’ve used it forever. This time, I steeped some of the tea in the lemon juice to add an additional level brightness to the filling and to complement the crust.

Result: success! And a delightful way to celebrate summer. The chilled filling sets beautifully and tastes like cold lemon candy. I will warn you, however; the crust would still be considered “light,” but the filling, I suspect, is far from it. Balance is good, right? Right. Now go indulge in these while you still can. The days are getting shorter already.

Vacation update: I’m in my last week of holiday, and we’ve been taking it easy.

We had a lazy brunch at Upper Crust Bakery + Cafe, a tiny little French-inspired bakery in historic Venice, Florida. Seems as though their website is under construction, but I’ll link to it when they have it up and running. It looked like this, and it had beautiful wood floors and was perfect for four generations of women – my grandma, my mom, me, and my Wee One – to sit and chat.

The Wee One especially enjoyed herself.

I went back and got some scones yesterday from the same bakery which were larger than my face. They are to. die. for. I’m eating one right now as I type this. We came home with raspberry, blueberry (mine!) and a tropical one. I will be headed back for the other flavors before I depart. Because they are like scone balloons; light as a feather to eat, although they weigh maybe 8 pounds apiece when you’re carrying them.

Also, we took in some sailboats coming in as the day ended. Nothing wrong with a little sailboat stalking. I say if you own a beautiful sailboat, be prepared for people like me to gawk in adoration and envy. Fair warning.

Crust adapted from Cooking Light Magazine, July 2012 edition. You can find the original recipe for both crust and filling here.

Lemon filling adapted from Williams Sonoma Essentials of Baking: Recipes and Techniques for Successful Home Baking. I have the original edition of the book, and my mom has the revised edition (currently offered). The lemon filling recipe is (thankfully) in both versions.

Earl Grey Tea + Lemon Bars

 for the crust:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 Earl Grey tea bags, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into cubes

for the filling:

  • 3 large eggs, plus 3 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice, strained (from 5-6 lemons)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 2 Earl Grey tea bags, for steeping in lemon juice
make your crust:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line an 8-inch square glass (or metal) baking pan with foil that extends 2 inches beyond 2 sides; you’ll use these sides for handles when you lift out the crust. Coat foil with cooking spray.

Combine flour, powdered sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons tea leaves from 2 tea bags (discard remaining tea in bag), and salt in the bowl of a food processor; pulse until well mixed.

Add in your butter cubes and pulse until mixture is damp and looks like coarse crumbs or slightly wet sand. Alternatively, if you don’t have a food processor, you can cut the butter into your dry ingredients with a pastry blender or two knives. Press evenly into bottom only of prepared pan (not up the sides, please). Bake at 350° for 16-18 minutes or until very lightly browned. Remove from over and place on rack to cool slightly while you make your filling.

Reduce your oven temperature to 325˚F.

make your lemon filling: 

In the top of a double boiler (or using a heatproof bowl over a saucepan), whisk together the whole eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and lemon juice until the sugar dissolves. Place over barely simmering water, being sure to not let the bottom of your bowl touch the water, and add the butter pieces and zest. Using a large spoon, stir constantly until the butter melts, everything is homogenous, and the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon and registers 160˚F on an instant-read thermometer, 12-14 minutes.  Remove bowl from over the simmering water and let cool for about 10 minutes.

After it has cooled slightly, give it another stir or two and pour it into the prepared crust. Bake until center is just set, 15-17 minutes. Remove from over and transfer to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes, then cover tightly and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight. Remember, the filling will thicken further as it cools.

Using a thin-bladed, sharp knife, cut into squares just prior to serving. Keep a damp towel on-hand to wipe the knife after each slice; you’ll clean off the excess filling and it goes a long way to give you a clean slice. If you wish, cut into squares several hours before and then return to the fridge to stay chilled and set until serving.

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26 Comments on "earl grey tea + lemon bars."

  1. You should have just called these “Jen bars”. No explanation needed.

    • shannon says:

      well, i know. because here’s what: if i go into the annals of my brain, probably i’ve wanted to make something earl grey-esque ever since i saw that mouth-watering photo of your earl grey milkshake. and i know you loves you some lemons. soooooo…

      renamed in the cookbook of my mind: Jen Bars.

  2. Willow says:

    I am the exact same way about Fall! I cannot wait for the air to get that little chill, and the leaves to start changing… and baking! The can almost smell the pie from here.
    I’m also the same way with lemons, and other citrus – I love love love citrus, but where does it go in the winter? I just don’t want it. But these bars sound so perfect in this heat. The recipe looks divine!

    • shannon says:

      thank you, willow; i’m so happy to hear i’m not the only one who gets seasonally restless! i like routine in most things, and i’m not always a huge one for change, but i like my seasons, and i find myself getting anxious for the next one to come along; especially when the next one is Fall. Now I can smell the pie… :)

      you know, i guess it goes to the same place peppermint things go to in the summer; i make a few chocolate mint things i love, but man can i ever not make them once there’s no snow on the ground. it’s funny how closely related tastes are to environment, no? :) i will say i have a quick and strong urge for oranges right at the peak of the winter holidays; it’s because when we were little, my mom always put an orange in each of our stockings, and she used to stick oranges with cloves to scent everything up during the christmas season. so that’s a sentimental citrus thing for me.

      these lemon bars, right out of the fridge, sitting in the sun? AMAZING. like cubes of lemonade. and tart, tart, tart…just like they should be. definitely will be making these as long as the summer remains.

  3. Richard H. says:

    Never thought about using Earl Grey Tea before, but at first glance I thought it was a lemon bar version of lemon-poppy seed cake/muffin/etc. which gave me the idea!!! I have a delicious, decadent lemon curd recipe adapted from [Baking Illustrated](http://www.amazon.com/Baking-Illustrated-Cooks-Magazine-Editors/dp/0936184752), so rich, and tart, and sweet, and and and *drools*… anyway, worth checking out!

    You gave away your vacation hideaway! (I went to high school about 20 mi north of Venice) Have you been playing at the Venice beach and gone shark tooth hunting?!

    • Richard H. says:

      >.> I thought my html skills would work in the post….

    • shannon says:

      richard, i’ll be honest: i never knew you could use tea in baking until recently. A friend a few months back threw bags of chamomile tea leaves into some cupcakes and they looked amazing. i tried them myself, and the rest is history. it’s a great, semi-unexpected flavor addition to things. I can totally see how you thought they were poppyseeds! i absolutely LOVE lemon-poppyseed things, and also adore Cooks Illustrated, so i’ll have to check it out very soon. I love recipe tips because there’s just so many sources out there to wade through.

      I did give it away! You commented on the cilantro slaw post and I noticed you were near/in Tampa by what you said, which is the airport we fly into (so many more flights than Sarasota), so at some point, I was in your area. My grandparents have been here for 30+ years, and shark’s tooth collecting was our main event on vacation for YEARS; our collection may actually be worth something, as nerdy as we got about it. :) Been to venice beach several times, some of those photos were from the South Jetty right there – a favorite spot. It may not be super exciting in this area, but it’s awfully relaxing, as you probably know. good to talk to someone who knows the area. :)

  4. I love fall, too… in theory. We don’t really get fall here in Los Angeles :( Love fall flavors, though!
    (Oh, and my 15-month-old daughter has that same dress!)

    • shannon says:

      i bet you make the most out of your mostly-temperate LA weather, though. some days that makes up for not having fall. i’ve got a dear friend who moved from here to LA a few years ago, and although he loves his seasons as well, he always says you can’t beat 65 degrees and sunny in the winter months. :) at least it’s not too hot there in the fall to miss out on the flavors. and anytime you want to bring your precious little 15 month old up to our fall weather, you let me know. we’ll make food and the girls can play.

      i love that little dress on her! gotta love H&M for kids’ clothes…so cute! i think she may have more stuff from there now than i do. :)

  5. These bars look scrumptious. I adore tea, and I also adore fall. It happens to be my favorite month for the very same reasons you just mentioned, especially the smell. I thought I was the only one that went on about the crisp smell of fall. Looks like I found myself a seasonal soulmate. And, who doesn’t love fresh apple cider on a cool fall evening?

    • shannon says:

      jennie: i can go on. and on. and on about the fall. and how ‘crisp’ it smells. i can describe in great detail the air as it hits me getting out of my car to go somewhere in the early evening and the sun is setting. i talk about how clean it is. and how it reminds me, in a vivid way, of elementary and middle and high school mornings. like i am there, at 8 years old, remembering something like it was yesterday. all because i can smell it in the fall air. i suspect most people roll their eyes and fall asleep as i chatter about fall, but i wouldn’t know: because i have my eyes closed enjoying every MINUTE. :) we are total seasonal soulmates! i’m jealous a little, because up where you are you have some awesome access to leaves and weekend road trips, i bet.
      fresh. apple. cider! oh man…now i can’t WAIT for fall to get here. get up here so we can go on a hayride through an apple orchard. because we have those all around here.

  6. Dear Miss Shannon/Fabulousest Foodie of the World:

    I am passing along an award to you. Because I love you in the worst way.

    http://jcocina.com/?p=2982

    • shannon says:

      dear Jen of my Heart:
      i have to think others deserved this award more than i did. i love you for bestowing it upon me. i can’t wait to devote an entire post to awards, even though i get all embarrassed-like and blushy. thank you.

  7. Emma says:

    I adore earl grey tea in shortbread. Adore adore adore to the max. How perfect that you’ve amped it up a notch by pairing it with lemon – the combination doesn’t sound intuitively delicious, but I can see how the bergamot pairs well with the citrus.

    I want a face scone!

    • shannon says:

      emma, hold the phone: after what seems to have been an eternal dry spell, i think i just finally made something you loved 100% of! YEEESSSS!!! (high kick). i’ll say this: i drink my tea “black” – is that a good way to say it? i don’t add sugar, milk, lemon, honey…nothing (except for iced tea, and i’ll do lemon in that). but: i liked this idea of tea with lemon, or lemon with a bit of tea added to it. i’ll say the tea is subtle, and sort of works its magic in the background, which i liked.
      if we are ever in florida together, i’m taking you to that bakery and we are totally getting face scones. i’m currently figuring out how to make them like they do. they. were. amazing.

      • Emma says:

        Uh oh, I’m a complainer! Eeek. I actually love the look of and would happily eat everything you make! I’m just not big on peanuts… and maybe some other things that I can’t remember.

        But I’m also not big on leaving generic plastic comments like “OMG did you just so totally go there?!? I’m off to make these NOW!! Haha lolz.”

        I drink my tea black too. Let’s meet in Florida sometime for black tea and a face scone or twelve:)

        • shannon says:

          no way! you’re not the complainer at all; i love talking to you. besides, we have people thinking we should make cookbooks and start websites together, so i feel like we’re a good team. above all, i know you are 100% genuine in your comments, and that’s what i look for. you mean it: i DIG that.

          totally. we’ll get face scones, fly back to your neck of the woods, and you will give me a crash course in foraging for things i can eat. also rocks. because i mean, i geek out at the big rocks in my backyard when they have those sparkly things like diamonds in them. always have, ever since i was a kid. maybe you could teach me the proper terminology for them so i don’t have to call them “rocks with sparkly things” anymore. :)

  8. 1. The Wee One is one of the most adorable creatures I have ever laid eyes upon.
    2. Fall is my most favourite season. It’s still warm enough to go to the beach. But sometimes you get to see an early snowflake. It’s crisp. It’s sunny. And sometimes sad. You get to buy school supplies. The food is awesome. And at the end of fall, twinkle lights come out for the holidays. It’s brilliant.
    3. 2.0 loves lemon bars. But I have yet to find the “perfect” lemon layer. Now I will try this. And, perhaps, blow his mind.

    • shannon says:

      1. she really is, and she thanks you for thinking so. I also thank you, by proxy, because technically i made her and i like to take credit as well. i mean, she’s done the growing for the last 2 years, but i like to think i did all the foundation work.
      2. twins: i adore fall. also, i have purchased school supplies for the last 30 years of my life. make that 31. i’ve not been in school all of those years, but somehow i find a way to pretend i am, and refill all my notebooks/pens/highlighters/kleenex at home in august. for “school.” and the food? so awesome. and the twinkle lights? even more. and now i’m totally gearing up for the holidays. as it’s roughly 158 degrees outside. (sigh) it’s like a coping mechanism at this point.
      3. dear 2.0: please urge your movita to try this lemon layer. really, on anything; it doesn’t have to be on this earl grey crust. It can be in a bowl, if you want. doesn’t matter. it’s that good. you’ll eat your weight in it.

  9. Two things:

    1. I will definitely be trying this. I love any dessert recipe with Earl Grey tea! This Earl Grey panna cotta recipe is really good too: http://www.greenerideal.com/lifestyle/earl-grey-panna-cotta-recipe/

    2. I live in Venice, FL, so I know exactly where the Upper Crust Bakery is. Glad you got to visit. It’s a lovely place. If you’re still in town, you need to try Ciao Gelato; it’s the best I’ve ever had. Some say it tastes just like they make it in Italy!

    • shannon says:

      thanks, cristina! i love things with earl grey in them as well: definitely will be looking at that panna cotta recipe!
      we love the Upper Crust Bakery: it’s so nice on the inside, and their scones are just out of this world amazing; always nice to visit. And lucky you, you get access to it all the time! We actually went to Ciao Gelato on our most recent trip and i loved it: i had the pineapple mango, which was incredible. I especially like the staff there; so nice, and we’ll definitely go back during our next visit.

  10. Sherlonya says:

    Those look phenomenal!

  11. Found this recipe on Share your Sweets, congrats on making the cover. They look awesome!

    • shannon says:

      Thank you so much, Mallory! I love these; they’re a personal favorite, as are all lemon bars. these ones have nice little “something extra” to them that makes them really good, even in the cold weather.

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