Friday, May 16, 2008

Lemon Lovers' Lemon Bars


These are the lemon bars I’ve been craving! I always loved my mom’s recipe, which is virtually identical to the one in my red Betty Crocker cookbook. However, as my tastes and preferences have changed, I outgrew the classic. The shortbread crust is delicious, but it loses its crisp, flaky texture so quickly. There wasn’t much I could do about that, but mostly I just wanted more lemon.

Some people like the shortbread layer and the lemon curd layer of a lemon bar to be roughly equal in size. I have no objection to that, but I personally want a thick, soft lemon layer and just enough shortbread to provide a sturdy base. Two weeks ago, I made a version that contained more lemon than the classic version, but it still wasn’t quite enough. I also used Meyer lemons, which were surprisingly bad for this particular recipe. Their signature lack of tartness takes away that tangy acidic quality that I feel is essential to a good lemon bar.

Looking for a method for lemon bars with a thicker lemon layer, I stumbled on Smitten Kitchen’s version of Ina Garten’s lemon bars. Ina packs her bars with sugar, but the woman created an impressive lemon layer that you can see in Deb’s great photos. Ina’s version, however, used too much flour for my personal comfort. I didn’t want anything remotely cakey, but I knew the flour definitely contributed to the bars’ great height.

I also used this recipe on Cookie Madness for inspiration, which uses comparatively little sugar and must make a wonderfully tart bar. I took ideas from both recipes, as well as the classic Betty Crocker version and came up with something I really love. These bars still have plenty of buttery shortbread, but they have more filling than the average bar and are very lemony. One key to the flavor is lemon sugar. It’s an extra step that you have to do one day ahead, but it’s ridiculously easy and so totally worth it. It also requires you to finely chop the zest in a food processor, so you won’t end up chewing on any stringy bits of zest in the finished bars. And if you love lemon, the fragrance of the sugar (not to mention a fabulous dessert) will be your reward.

I’m sending this post to Helen of Tartelette, who is hosting Sugar High Friday this month. The theme is citrus sweets, so if you’re in the mood to make something a bit more exotic than lemon bars, you’ll find tons of inspiration when she posts the round up toward the end of the month.

Lemon Lovers’ Lemon BarsThe lemon sugar must be made one day ahead--see step one of the recipe. If you don't have time, just use one cup of plain sugar and 1 to 2 tbs. zest when you mix up the filling--I've done it this way a couple times since developing the recipe, and it's still great. Also, note that you must lower the oven temperature after baking the crust.
Makes 12 or 16

For crust:
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks and chilled

For filling:
1 cup granulated sugar
zest of 3 lemons
1/4 cup plus 2 tbs. all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 1 tbs. lemon juice (3 to 4 lemons)

1. Make the lemon sugar: In a food processor, combine the granulated sugar and lemon zest; pulse several times, until zest is very fine. Transfer to a shallow container or baking sheet and let sugar dry out at room temperature for several hours. Cover and chill overnight.

2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8 x 8 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray or line with nonstick foil. In a food processor, combine flour, powdered sugar and salt; pulse a few times to blend. Add the butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some pea-size chunks of butter still visible. Transfer the crumbly mixture to the baking dish and press into the bottom and sides of the dish with your hands. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, or until lightly golden around the edges. Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees.

3. Meanwhile, whisk together the lemon sugar, flour and salt. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs, then whisk in the lemon juice. Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until thoroughly combined. Pour the lemon mixture over the hot crust, return to oven and bake for 25 to 28 minutes. The center should be set, but still quite gooey when poked with a toothpick (it will continue to set as it cools). Within a minute or two of taking the lemon bars out of the oven, run a thin knife along the edges to loosen; this allows bars to contract as they cool without cracking. Cool completely on a rack, at least two hours. Sift powdered sugar over the dish, cut into 12 or 16 bars and serve. To store, cover and chill.

37 comments:

Patricia Scarpin said...

These are right up my alley, Julie!

Helen said...

Thank you for your entry! Lemon bars can't be tangy enough...well except these!!

Giddy Gastronome said...

Ohhh la la makes may mouth pucker!!Wish I had some.

Nazarina

Gabby said...

HI!!!

Its so nice to find a good lemon bar recepy i'll make it as soon as possible thank you so much

Anonymous said...

OMG this is the best recipe i found ,,,very tasty and the crust to die for ty for sharing this :)

Julie said...

Thanks for letting me know how they turned out, recent anonymous commenter! I really wanted to come up with my perfect recipe and I'm glad others agree!

Anonymous said...

I'm going to make some for a holiday cookie party tomorrow! love the extra lemon idea. thank you!

Anonymous said...

I have a never-ending supply of ruby red grapefruit, so I was wondering how much sugar I should use if I made grapefruit bars instead? Thanks.

Julie said...

Anonymous: Thanks to a recent recipe developing job I did, I will tell you that grapefruit has a challenging flavor profile. Also I haven't tried these bars with it, so I can only guess. I wouldn't bother with the zest and I would start by using just a bit more sugar---like 1 1/4 cup. Also keep in mind that grapefruit may not be as strong/distinctive as lemon, so it may not have a prominent "taste" in the finished product. But do some experimenting and it could end up really excellent--let me know.

ArtGekko said...

Oh, Sweet Heaven above - these are the lemon bars I have wanted to find all my adult life. They are absolutely fabulous. The lemon sugar is so worth the extra step. Thanks so much for sharing these!

Julie said...

Thanks, ArtGekko! That was the idea:)

Anonymous said...

I made these lemon bars for a church event and sat near the desert table. People were literally commenting out loud about how fabulous they tasted! The read test was my Dad, who adores all things tart and lemon, he declared them the best lemon bars he ever tasted. Many thanks!

Julie said...

Lovely anonymous commenter: I'm so glad you (and your dad!) like these. Definitely for lemon lovers. Thanks for coming back to give your feedback.

Abby said...

My boyfriend adores anything lemon-flavored, and the occasion called for me to make him some Lemon Bars. Now, I am a perfectionist when it comes to cooking - and if the recipe I try isn't the best one of its kind, then I'm not satisfied. I looked through lots of Lemon Bar recipes online and this one seemed the most promising, so I went with it. I LOVED IT! I could not have been happier! My boyfriend is pretty picky too when it comes to food so when he tried them I was a little apprehensive, but he told me that these were literally the best Lemon Bars he has ever tried! They are incredibly tangy and so delicious! Thank you for sharing your recipe!

Julie said...

Abby: Wow, I'm blushing! Thanks so much for coming back and letting me know the recipe worked out so well for you. This is one of my favorite desserts, and I'm glad so many people like my version!

Linda said...

I found your recipe when I was searching for lemon bar recipes, and was immediately drawn to your photo. I tried your recipe and added a streusel topping, and they are TO DIE FOR! My mother can't stop talking about them. I made them in too large a pan, but they still presented well; I'm going to make another batch at some point and blog about them and will include the link to your recipe. Thank you for sharing!

Lulu--Back in Town said...

Hi, I just wanted to let you know that I found your wonderful recipe a few months ago and have since made it twice -- I am absolutely in love. What a fantastic recipe! Thank you for sharing!!

Julie said...

Lulu: Thanks for letting me know you like the recipe! It's awesome that you've made them twice.

Emily said...

These were fantastic! I first made Ina's recipe, and wasn't happy with them -- not lemony enough, and too pasty. Found your recipe, made them, and loved them. Took both sets of bars to a bbq for a taste off, and yours were the consensus favorite! Thanks so much!

Julie said...

Emily: Winning your taste-off is the greatest compliment. Thanks for letting me know they turned out so well!

Julie said...

Emily: Winning your taste-off is the greatest compliment. Thanks for letting me know they turned out so well!

NAKIA said...

I have made these over and over since I found your recipe last August. The whole family loves them... One pan never makes it through the night in this house!

Welcome! said...

Nakia: Thanks so much for your glowing review! I love hearing feedback on my recipes...thanks for reading.
--julie

Vixc B said...

Just made these today and OMG, so happy with the end result.

sue ellen said...

Ich habe schon ein anderes Rezept ausprobiert, aber die waren mir zu sauer. Dieses Rezept hört sich sehr gut an und es werden nicht so viele Zitronen verwendet wie in dem anderen Rezept. Daher werde ich mich an dieses Rezept heranwagen.
Danke für dieses Rezept und ich kannte diese Art von Kuchen gar nicht bis ich ihn mal in einer amerikanischen Serie gesehen habe. Das hat mich neugierig gemacht.

Anonymous said...

Ich habe schon ein anderes Rezept ausprobiert, aber die waren mir zu sauer. Dieses Rezept hört sich sehr gut an und es werden nicht so viele Zitronen verwendet wie in dem anderen Rezept. Daher werde ich mich an dieses Rezept heranwagen.
Danke für dieses Rezept und ich kannte diese Art von Kuchen gar nicht bis ich ihn mal in einer amerikanischen Serie gesehen habe. Das hat mich neugierig gemacht.

Julia said...

I made these, they tasted amazing!
There was one thing though, the lemon soaked through the base, leaving the base on top and the lemon on the top!!? It was wierd... I think that that happened because I made the base, then left it cool *while I went for lunch at my neighbours* and then baked it with the lemon on top. Did that cause it?

Julia

Julia said...

I meant to say the base on the top and the lemon part on the bottom. :)

Julia

Julie said...

Hi Julia: I have never seen that happen when you make the recipe as written...but I'm glad you thought they were still good. Here's why you aren't supposed to let the crust cool: When you add the lemon filling to the hot dish with the hot crust, it immediately begins to set, so it won't soak through. Try them again and report back!

Julia said...

That's what I thought :)
Thanks. I will definitely try them again.. and again.. and more.

April said...

Found you via pinterest. This is probably the best lemon bar recipe I've found. It had great tart lemon flavor! Lemon bars are my husband's favorite dessert, so I'm glad I found a new recipe! I also added 1Tbsp. of dried lemon zest to the crust for a little extra flavor. Thank you for this recipe!

Julie said...

Hi April, Thanks for your comment! Zest in the crust sounds great.

Julie higgins said...

Hi there~ just found your blog via pinterest and made these lemon bars tonight! They were delicious and had the tanginess I was hoping for :) Looking forward to browsing through your recipes!

Anonymous said...

What do you do if you don't have a food processor?

Julie said...

If you don't have a food processor, you can make the crust by whisking the flour, sugar and salt in a bowl. Then cut the butter into small chunks and work it into the flour mixture with a fork or pastry blender. If you want to make the lemon sugar, stir finely grated zest together with the sugar.

Lynda said...

Hi, Julie. These lemon bars sound fantastic, as I have been searching for a lemon bar recipe to bake for a bridal shower. My question is, have you ever doubled the recipe and made in a 13x9 pan, and if so, how did you adjust the baking time? Also, all the steps were done either by hand or in a food processor, not in a mixer, is that correct? Thanks!

Julie said...

Lynda,
Yes, everything was done in a food processor or by hand. I have never made them in a 9x13. The size should be no problem, but I'm not sure about baking time. For me personally, it's so important not to overbake these, but a lot of people probably don't mind if the edges are a bit more "done." So. Maybe do a trial run without the lemon sugar to keep it simple? Otherwise, just watch carefully. It will take a bit longer to bake, but not a lot longer. If you do it, let me know how it worked.