The Lemoniest Lemon Bars
Let’s talk about Lemon for a minute, shall we? (and yes Lemoniest is totally a word shut up.)
It’s my FAVORITE FLAVOR EVER. If there were to be only one dessert I could eat for the rest of my life it would be lemon curd. That sweet/tart tang, that velvety texture…is it pudding? Is it cake filling? Is it a spread for toast? YES TO EVERYTHING! Powered with a spoon, and more importantly with no one else around to see, I will eat way beyond too much of the stuff. (oh and by the way, store-bought lemon curd is nasty.)
Naturally, lemon bars are one of my favorite desserts. A pile of what’s essentially lemon curd on a bit of shortbread (which really just serves as a vehicle for putting an obscene amount of lemony goodness in my mouth)? Um, YAH. But - they’re notoriously tricky to get “right.” Here are some elements that continuously plague lemon bar recipe developers:
Too much/little crust
Crust falls apart
Crust not flavorful
Too much/not enough topping
Topping not lemony enough
Topping not thick enough
Topping too thick/weird flavor from cornstarch
Doesn’t hold up well at room temperature
So…yeah, not the easiest thing to make. My mom and I have tried various recipes over the years, always coming back to the one from Cook’s Illustrated. It was always our go-to, but I never found it as perfectly satisfying as I wanted to. Enter - Stella Parks!
Stella is the blogger behind BraveTart, one of my favorite dessert blogs. She is a CIA trained chef who worked in restaurants for a number of years and then turned to blogging, causing everyone to up their internet sweets game. She recently developed the below Lemon Bar recipe for SeriousEats.com, and I swear to god if you follow it exactly you’ll end up with the BEST LEMON BARS IN HISTORY. Flavorful and sturdy crust - check! Tons of sugary tart silky smooth custard topping that cuts super clean and holds up to sitting out through a party - check!
Search over. Make these now.
Oh - and a special bonus - she tells you what to do with those leftover lemon rinds. Do it! It’s super duper easy and well worth it - I’ve been drinking some delicious beverages (both alcoholic and non) ever since.
from Stella Parks & SeriousEats.com
1 cup all-purpose flour (130g)
1/2 cup powdered sugar (60g)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (if using table salt use 1/8tsp)
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest (4g; ~2 lemons)
1 stick cold, unsalted butter
3 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup egg yolks (135g; from about 7-8 large eggs)
1 1/3 cup sugar (270g)
pinch of kosher salt
1 packed tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest (8g; ~4 lemons)
1 1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (310g; from about 7-8 large lemons)
Optional for garnishing: 1/2 cup powdered sugar, or whipped cream
8”x8” anodized aluminum or stainless pan**
medium/large stainless steel saucepan** (at least 10-cup capacity)
thin mesh strainer
**It’s really important that you’re using non-reactive metal. Metal because non-metal options (glass, ceramic) will retain heat much longer and you’ll end up with overcooked lemon bars. Non-reactive (=stainless or anodized) because, to quote Stella, "Without anodization, citric acid + unfinished aluminum = janky, old-tin-can-flavored bars. Mmmm, boy!"
Preheat your oven to 350F. Cut a piece of parchment so it fits width-wise along the bottom of your pan, with overhang on two opposite sides of the pan. Before you place it in, grease the full pan with a bit of butter so that your parchment sticks easily and the two exposed sides of the pan are greased.
Cut your cold stick of butter into 1/4” pieces, then combine in your food processor with 130g Flour (1c), 60g powdered sugar (1/2c), 1/4tsp kosher salt, and 1TB lemon zest. Pulse to form a dry meal, with pieces about the size of peas.
Pour out into prepared baking pan, press into an even layer with your fingers, and bake until just golden and firm, ~30 minutes. Use hot if your filling is ready at this point, or set aside until you’re ready for it.
To make the custard topping, combine 3 large cold eggs, 135g egg yolks (1/2 cup), 270g sugar (1.33c), a pinch of kosher salt, and 8g lemon zest (1 packed TB, ~4 lemons) in a non-reactive saucepan; then whisk in 310g freshly squeeze lemon juice (1.33c).
Cook on low heat, stirring constantly but not too vigorously, for 3 minutes. Then increase the heat to medium-low and continue stirring constantly for about 8 minutes, until the custard is thick and steaming hot, and 170F on the thermometer.
Immediately strain (DO NOT skip this step!) into the prepared crust, smooth to an even layer with the back of a spoon, cover with aluminum foil and bake 10 minutes.
Remove foil, cool to room temperature, then re-cover and refrigerate until cold and firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.
When ready to serve, loosen the custard/crust from the exposed sides of the pan with a thin knife, then carefully lift the bars out onto a cutting board using the overhanging parchment on either side. Cut into 16 or 20 pieces, wiping or rinsing the knife clean between each slice.
Serve cold - plain, dusted with powdered sugar, or topped with whipped cream. They’ll keep up to 1 week in an airtight container in the fridge.