I am really letting my Southern out here (not that I keep it locked away). Sweet tea is Southern summer. You cannot have one without the other. Pitchers and pitchers of it. Insulated tumblers on the boat, plastic pitchers in the cooler, a big glass pickle jar in the fridge to be poured in fancy glasses or the plastic stadium cups from your favorite barbecue joint. Can’t make it through the sweltering Southern heat without it. But sweet tea is so much more than a refreshing drink. It’s flavor profile works in so many, many ways, from a marinade for pork to a dressing for fruit to caramel sauce or cookies. And here, I turn the traditional lemon bar concept into a Southern sweet tea treat.
Lemon juice is infused with tea to give here to give it the most flavor. Warm the lemon juice slightly then sprinkle in tea leaves – you can cut open a bag, but don’t try to use the bag. It will soak up too much of the juice and the lemon juice you need for the recipe won’t I infuse as well. Leave it to infuse until the lemon juice has taken on a brown hue – it may take more than an hour. Adding mint leaves really gives it that special sweet tea flavor. Strain the juice through your finest mesh sieve, but don’t be worried if a few tea leaves are left floating. I add a bit of lemon zest to the crust for some added oomph. Otherwise, treat these just like a classic lemon bar. Bake until the filling is firm with barely a hint of jiggle. Cook completely, then sprinkle generously with confectioners’ sugar. These bars are great for a picnic or to pack up and take to a lake or beach vacation house. They will keep a few days in an airtight container. You can store at room temperature, but I find keeping them in the fridge keeps them firm.
Sweet Tea Bars
- For the Filling
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus a about a Tablespoon more (2 large lemons)
1 black tea bag
2 fresh mint leaves
3 large eggs
1 ½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
Confectioners’ sugar for topping
- For the Crust
1/2 cup 1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
Zest of one lemon
pinch of salt
- Before you make the crust
- Squeeze the juice form the lemons and place it in a small saucepan. Gently heat just until it is hot, then pour it into a clear glass measuring cup or vessel. Tear open the tea bag and add the leaves to the juice, then the mint leaves and stir. Leave for about an hour to infuse. You want the lemon juice to take on a darker, slightly brown hue.
- For the Crust
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8 by 8 inch baking pan with parchment or nonstick foil and spray with cooking spray.
- Put the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until creamy and fluffy. Add the flour and lemon zest and beat on low until you have a damp, crumbly mixture. Pinch any of it from the bowl between your fingers and it should stick together. Dump the crumbs into the prepared pan and press in an even layer. Use the bottom of a measuring cup or a glass to press it into a tight layer with an even top. Chill for fifteen minutes, then bake for 15 minutes. Leave to cool slightly just while you make the filling.
- For the Filling
- Strain the lemon juice through a fine mesh strainer into a measuring jug. Its ok if there are a few tea leaves floating, but you want most of them left behind. Don’t press on the leaves to extract, just shake the strainer. If the juice doesn’t measure ½ cup now, add enough to reach that point. The tea soaks up some liquid.
- Whisk the eggs in a bowl, then add the sugar, flour and strained lemon tea. Stir until completely mixed, with no dry ingredients visible. Pour the filling over the crust and bake until the top and edges are lightly browned and there is only a little jiggle to the center of the bars. It should be firm to the touch. Cool completely, then sprinkle generously with confectioners’ sugar. Cut into 16 bars. Store in the refrigerator.