Whenever spring comes around, I begin to crave bright, lemony desserts. So, I wasn’t surprised when I found myself daydreaming about lemon bars all last week. Luckily, I happened to have all the ingredients in my cupboard and just enough lemons to whip up a batch Saturday night.
I had forgotten how easy these are to make! The shortbread crust takes almost no time, as long as your butter has properly come to room temperature. Just butter, confectioner’s sugar, flour, and salt. After pressing it into an 8×8 inch pan–and you really must use that size for this recipe, since the dough just covers the bottom–it goes into the oven for about 18 minutes. I pushed it a bit, leaving it in for a couple extra minutes so that the crust would become a deeper golden hue.
As long as you have a grater (preferably microplane) and know how to squeeze lemons, mixing the filling is equally effortless. Granulated sugar, eggs, lemon juice, zest, and a touch of flour, that’s it. As soon as the crust came out of the oven, I poured this mixture into the pan and popped it back in for roughly another 18 minutes.
There’s a reason we put powdered sugar on top of what I’d call “American-style” lemon bars. When bare, they’re fairly unappealing with a pale, off-yellow color. When powdered, they’re oh so pretty! I do, however, enjoy the dusting for it’s texture and flavor, as well. The added touch of sweetness is nice in contrast to the tart filling.
Although there’s certainly more refined lemon bars out there–ones made with silky lemon curd, layered with paper-thin lemon slices, or lined with a delicate pastry crust–these are the variety I’ll always love best. These are the bars of childhood parties, bake sales, and church picnics. On top of that, there’s always been a weird, mystical quality to how when you bite into one, the crackly, thin crust that forms on top of the filling gives way to a gel-like inside, bursting with citrus. I don’t understand how baking this simple mixture of ingredients creates such an interesting texture, but I certainly appreciate it!
The recipe comes from one of my favorite baking blogs, Joy of Baking. It does not bear any relation to the Joy of Cooking, but it is just about as straightforward and reliable as the cookbook. While similar to most recipes for lemon bars, the thing that sets these apart is the use of lemon zest. This ups the lemon flavor in a huge way, imparting more tartness. Averse to cloying desserts as I am, I wouldn’t want these any other way.
Interested in trying them out? You can find the recipe here!