Magic Passover Pistachio Lemon Bars

lime bars 2Spoiler alert! These were an epic fail. My husband encouraged me to blog about them, even though I would never serve them or make them again. He said that publicly acknowledging my failure would make me more likeable and relatable to my readers. My daughter urged me not to blog about them because no one wants to read about bungled pastry.

In the end, I decided to share with you , if only to see if anyone can solve the mystery of what happened to these bars. More about that in a minute.

If you had come into my house at the beginning of this week, you would have inhaled deeply and said, “It smells heavenly in here.” The air was intoxicatingly scented with coconut, butter, brown sugar and chocolate and almonds. Every year, I am in charge of baking desserts for our family seders. (40 plus on my husband’s side the first night, and 35 plus on my side the second night)

And yes, I would have agreed with you that it was smelling quite delicious in my kitchen on that first day of baking. However, by day 3 of my bake-a-thon, the ambrosial scent suddenly turned  cloying and I could no longer stomach the stench of coconut, sugar and chocolate. I needed a break and thought that some citrus would help clear the air.

I was inspired by these pistachio-lemon bars from Molly O’Neill over at NYT Cooking. Since flour is not used during Passover, I replaced the all-purpose flour in the recipe with ground almonds.crust in food processor 1pat crust into pan A very strange thing happened when I baked them. The crust rose to the top and the lemon filling sunk to the bottom, and stuck horribly to the parchment paper lining.

I scraped them out of the pan and tried again, with this recipe from Joy of Kosher. I used pistachios instead of walnuts in the crust and ground almonds instead of matzoh meal in the filling. Same thing happened when I baked them. The crust magically rose to the top and the filling sunk and stuck.

I am nothing if not persistent, so I tried once more, figuring maybe third time’s the charm.  I used  Anna Olsen’s lemon squares recipe filling and doubled the amount of the first crust I tried, figuring, if it was heavier, it would stay put. I had run out of lemons, so I used limes this time.Lime fillingThe filling sunk to the bottom again, but this time it did not stick too terribly to the parchment so I was able to get them out of the pan, flip them over and slice them into squares. While they had a nice lemon tang, the crust became soggy after a few minutes. Within an hour they were a stodgy gluey mess.lime bars 1If anyone reading this knows the reason for the sinking filling, I’d love an explanation. Hope your baking is going better than mine!!



19 thoughts on “Magic Passover Pistachio Lemon Bars

  1. Mom

    You are an amazing chef in all your recipes.If you remember ,when you and your siblings were young and got very upset over a failure, my teaching to you was quite simple.In life we learn more from our failures than our successes .When life hands you lemons make lemonade not lemon bars.IT IS BRAVE OF YOU TO SHOW THE NOT SO PERFECT BARS

  2. themondaybox

    How frustrating! And the time you took to beautifully photograph the process! I really hope that someone knows the answer to the mystery, because now you’ve made me curious! I have been where you were with these bars. When you invest yourself (not to mention money for ingredients) in creating something, it’s so hard just to let it go! This sort of thing keeps me awake at night trying to figure out where I went wrong. The only thing I have experienced that might add a tiny bit of insight into the chemistry here, is that several times I have not had success using almond flour as a substitute, especially when it is expected to hold things together. I made beautiful gnudi that dissolved completely in the boiling water and mandel bread that melted into a pancake. Being that I can’t eat your nut crust anyway, I would be very happy to eat the lemon (lime) filling with a spoon. 🙂
    p.s. Those are 2 huge seders you are baking for! How wonderful to be surrounded by family for Passover!

    1. saltandserenity Post author

      Thanks Wendy. I know you feel my pain and frustration. I am thinking that the nuts create a crust that is too porous for such a liquidy filling. May have to resort to matzoh cake meal. That stuff is like concrete, so nothing will leak through it I’d bet!
      Happy and healthy Passover to you and your family. All your chocolate passover treats look beautiful.

  3. Natalie

    Maybe adding egg to the crust would make it more solid and keep it at the bottom. I’m glad our sedars aren’t so large.

    1. saltandserenity Post author

      Thanks Natalie. Your suggestion about adding an egg, made me think of something else to try. What if I brushed the crust with beaten egg white, to form a seal so the nut crust becomes less porous? Will report back if this works.

  4. Lynn in Tucson

    How strange. What about giving the filling 10-12 minutes in the oven before adding the filling and then putting it back in the oven?

  5. Ilana BZ

    Funny- I am in charge of desserts (the cookie side) for our seder for 70, and had planned to adapt O’Neill’s recipe as well. I am planning to substitute 5/8 cup of cake meal for the flour and proceed. Will definitely do this one sooner rather than later and report back.

    1. saltandserenity Post author

      What a funny coincidence Ilana. Please let me know how the cake meal crust works out and take a picture! Hope you and your family have a happy and healthy Passover.

      1. Ilana Ben-Ze'ev

        They were out great using 5/8cup cake meal in place of the flour. Inhaled by the crowd. Haven’t figured out how to post the picture.

  6. Jacqueline Sitwell

    I may have the answer. It has to do with the specific gravity of the ingredients. Nuts are lighter than water, so will float. Ground nuts remain as little pieces of nuts after baking. So, a crust mixture with a high proportion of nuts will be far less dense than the filling. The situation was exacerbated by the lack of flour to form a cake/pastry matrix which may have locked in the nuts pieces.

    To confirm my suspicion, I looked up the FAO Density Database (2012). Water of course has a specific gravity of approximately 1 gram /mL, depending on temperature.

    almonds 0.46 grams/mL
    pistachios, out of shell, 0.65 grams/mL

    fruit juice 1.06 g/mL
    butter 0.91 g/mL

    Chag Pesach Sameach
    Jackie at No. 54

    1. saltandserenity Post author

      Thanks so much Jackie! Mystery solved. I’ll be able to sleep tonight. I knew it had something to do with the density of nuts, but didn’t really understand the fine details. Your explanation perfectly explained the issue. I love understanding the science of food and why things work.
      happy and Healthy Pesach to you, Lucien and the boys.


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