I absolutely adore lemon bars. Sadly, I have had my fair share of icky lemon bars, both homemade and store-bought. Sometimes these summery treats are too tart, while others can be sickeningly sweet. Oftentimes the crust is thick and hard, while the lemon filling is merely a Pledge-flavored film across the top. The perfect combination of tart lemon, sweet powdered sugar, and butter crust is, apparently, the Holy Grail of baking.
Friends, I’m here to say that if these bars aren’t the Holy Grail, they’re awful close. I found this recipe at Baked Bree, one of my favorite food blogs. My criteria for a new lemon bar recipe is based on past experience. Lemon bars should have a thick but delicate cookie crust. The lemon filling needs to be curd-like, thick, and rich, without becoming “overset” and rubbery. The lemon filling must NOT get a tough skin after baking. And, finally, the lemon filling must be at least equal to but preferably a third again the thickness (height) of the cookie crust. I have this down to a science, people.
I chose to try Baked Bree’s recipe for two reasons. First, her lovely photographs hinted that her lemon filling might meet the height criteria. And second, the use of confectioner’s sugar instead of granulated sugar in the crust promised a crumb more tender than my previous recipes (which all used granulated sugar).
The recipe did not disappoint. These bars are exactly the right thickness in both crust and filling. The lemon filling was wonderfully lemony without being too tart or too sweet. The crust was, as I envisioned, thick but delicate, with a wonderful buttery flavor. Without question I can tell you that this recipe will now be my go-to for lemon bars.
I only made two tweaks. I omitted the lemon extract (none on hand) and replaced it with a teaspoon of lemon zest. Also, I don’t have a food processer, so I made the crust by hand and the filling in my blender. These technique modifications appear to have had no ill effect, as I made these yesterday and of the entire pan there are only 4 small squares left. Make that 3…
Classic Lemon Bars
Adapted from Baked Bree
Makes one 9″x13″ pan
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
A pinch of salt
2 sticks of unsalted butter
2 cups granulated sugar
4 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
The juice of two lemons
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon baking powder
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 9″x13″ baking pan with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, confectioner’s sugar, and salt. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until light golden. Remove from oven and let cool a bit.
Meanwhile, place all the filling ingredients except the baking powder in the blender. Blend until smooth and well-mixed. Add the baking powder and blend well right before you’re ready to pour the filling into the crust. Pour filling into the warm crust. Return to the oven and bake another 25 minutes or until the filling is set in the center. Let cool to room temperature. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, cut into squares, and serve.