This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure for more information.
An Excess of Lemons
Lemon bars were not my favorite growing up. Far from it. They always seemed too sweet or tasted kind of medicinal/chemical… Cut to me housesitting for a friend who has a gorgeous lemon tree just outside their kitchen window. The lemons it produced were the size of a Nerf football. I wanted to use them but how? My cheesecake bar uses one lemon. I needed to use waaaay more than that. Enter the Lemon Bar and this recipe.
The Evolution of a Bar
I needed to address my issues with the basic lemon bar. I wanted a good filling-to-base ratio. The lemon flavor needed to shine without turning cough-drop-ish. I didn’t want the bar to be so sweet it left your teeth-aching and a weird feeling on your tongue. I wanted the filling to be creamy and indulgent, not stodgy and thick.
So I turned to Ina Garten’s lemon bar recipe as my jumping off point (God bless the Barefoot Contessa!) and the landing spot is the recipe as follows.
I added a little bit of lemon zest and vanilla bean paste to the shortbread base along with a good dose of sea salt. The addition of vanilla to both the base and the filling is subtle but mellows out the medicinal essence that lemons can tend to have.
An Excess of Lemon Bars
I made a batch of lemon bars because Ryan and I were craving them – but what to do with a whole pan of lemon bars when there are only two of you in the house and one of you is a diabetic? I decided against eating them all myself. We shared some with our neighbors and put the rest in the freezer. Months later, while I was digging out some ground beef to thaw for dinner, I discovered that forgotten container of lemon bars. Not only were they still as delicious as when I first baked them, they were better! Still creamy, but frosty and then melty. Mmmmm. Now, when I make a pan of lemon bars they go straight into the freezer (after I’ve trimmed off and consumed the edges.) There’s something so refreshing about a smooth, buttery, frozen lemon bar on a hot day.
Frozen Lemon Bars
- 1 3/4 cup flour all purpose
- 1/4 cup rice flour optional
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 14 tbsp butter, salted, cold 1 1/2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1 vanilla bean, scraped optional
- zest of one lemon
- 1 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed 5 – 7 lemons
- lemon zest 2 – 4 lemons
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup flour all purpose
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp vanilla
- 5 whole eggs
- 2 egg yolks
Preheat oven to 350 F
For the base:
- In a food processor (or mixer) wiz together the sugar, salt, lemon zest, and vanilla bean paste
- Add the flour and blitz together
- Cut 1 1/2 sticks of cold butter into smallish chunks
- Add butter to the flour-sugar mixture – pulse until mixture begins to resemble damp sand.
- Test the dough – squeeze a handful of dough between your fingers. If it holds together with out crumbling apart the crust is ready. If it feels too dry or crumbly and doesn't hold together add the extra 2 tablespoons of butter.
- Line a 9 x 13 baking dish with parchment paper
- Press the dough flat and even into the pan
- Bake the crust until light brown on the edges, 15 – 22 minutes.
- Set aside to cool, leave oven on.
For the filling:
- Zest 2 – 4 lemons directly into your mixing bowl or blender
- Whisk or blend together: lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, flour, salt & vanilla
- Separate 5 eggs – yolks in one bowl, whites in another.
- Now separate 2 more eggs! The yolks go in the same bowl as the other yolks, but those 2 whites should go in an air-tight container to be used for tomorrow's omelet.
- Thoroughly blend yolks into lemon mixture.
- Add the five egg whites and blend just long enough to be fully incorporated in.
- Pour lemon filling into prepared crust
- Place on middle rack of oven and bake until almost set. 20 – 24 minutes. There should be a bit of a wobble to the center when the pan is jiggled.
- Let cool to room tempurature
- Cut into bars, squares, triangles, or all of the above!
- Place onto cookie sheet and freeze for three hours (or up to 5 months, apparently!)
- Sprinkle with a light dusting of powdered sugar before serving.
Notes from my kitchen to yours
Years ago, during the Christmas season, I had some shortbread at a friends house. They told me it was an old family recipe and that grandma’s secret to a crisp and melty shortbread texture was to replace some of the all purpose flour with rice flour. I tried it and was delighted with the results. Since then I have been experimenting with other flour replacements, most notable (and successful) are: toasted almond flour, macadamia nuts, toasted pecans, animal crackers, and old fashioned oats.
Please know that a “flour replacement” is certainly not necessary. If all purpose flour is what you have available in your cupboard, great! No need to run to the store for special ingredients. Go ahead and use 2 whole cups of that and feel zero pressure to get all “fancy”. Trust me, these lemon bars will be delicious no matter what. However, if you are so inclined, I encourage you to explore and discover new flavor elements that result from that experimentation. Just keep in mind that adding nuts adds different fats, and thus you may need less butter than called for in the recipe. In the same vein, adding something like oats or crackers might in turn require more butter to hold the crust together. This particular lemon bar recipe is what has produced consistently good results for me.
Okay, I know the bit with the eggs seems like I’m messing with you! And if you aren’t in the mood for my kitchen shenanigans, I welcome you to chuck all seven eggs into the blender (sans shells, please, let’s not get too crazy!) and move along with your day. However, if you will go with me on this for a just a moment I’ll let you in on the method to my madness.
I separate the eggs and blend the yolks first and then, briefly, the egg whites because I want a super creamy, thick, and luscious filling.
Oh, you want more explanation? Okay! 🙂 Egg whites are the main ingredient in making meringue – that ultra fluffy, marshmallowy topping you often find on pies. In the past, I have found that when I blended eggs whole into my filling the whites were whipped into a frenzy. Then when baked the filling sort of separated into a layer of curd and a layer of meringue. I found that if I separated the eggs and lessened the amount of egg whites I got the result I desired. A thick layer of lemon curd topped with a thin layer of meringue. Again, feel free to experiment and find out what version you like better!
Besides negating an extra dirty dish, zesting a lemon directly into the blender or mixing bowl has the added benefit of collecting all the beautiful oils that are released from the skin surface. How much zest you use is up to you – I use between 2 – 4 lemons worth.
What kind of lemons should you use? Any lemon! But I favor Meyer Lemons for their slightly sweeter, mellow, floral flavor. What kind of lemon do you enjoy?