It’s no coincidence citrus is at its peak during the frigid, or not so frigid this year, winter months. When it seems the clouds won’t break, the snow will never melt, and you’ll never be able to walk outside without five layers ever again, lemons and oranges are there to save the day. The bright, sweetly tart flavors and happy colors reminiscent of the missing sunshine make winter turn into summer in the kitchen.
Growing up, I wasn’t a fan of lemon at all. I avoided lemon in any dish, sweet or savory, and even picked lemon flavored candies out of countless bags of gummies. But over the past few years, I’ve grown to appreciate the complexity of the flavor of a really great lemon. An abundance of tartness with just a hint of sweet keep peak season lemons from being unpalatable. And the zest! Lemon zest lacks most of the tart bite of the flesh and juice, leaving the lemon flavor that often exists only in our heads. The smell of lemons, when zesting or juicing, is invigorating and calming all at the same time. Just another wonderful characteristic of these sunshine yellow beauties.
I love that these lemon bars use tons of lemon zest in addition to the juice. I ended up juicing 6 lemons and zested each of them as well, even though I may have ended up with more than 2 tablespoons of zest. I don’t think a recipe can ever have enough zest.
This recipe is a favorite in our house, as well as at my dad’s work, the most common audience of taste testers for my baking. The crust is the best shortbread cookie you can imagine. Slightly crispy, slightly crumbly, totally buttery and rich. It’s complemented perfectly by the gooey, almost gel-like yellow filling that lacks any hint of bitterness lemon can sometimes have. Instead, the filling has an incredible balance of sweet and tart, never leaning too far one way or the other. The confectioners’ sugar dusted over the top of the bars adds a nice flavor, but is mostly to make them look prettier, as they look a little odd when they come out. The first time I made them I thought I’d done something terribly wrong as I stared down at a dry and kind of brown crust, but cutting into them revealed they were perfect. Don’t be alarmed when you pull them out of the oven and don’t see bright lemon yellow; it’s hiding on the inside.
So, if you love lemons, this recipe is not to be missed, and if you don’t but are looking to try something a little different, you just might fall in love. It doesn’t hurt that this is one of the easiest recipes to put together on a whim either. Whether brightening up a chilly day or as a complement to a hot, sunny one, these bars are great any day of the year.
- ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups flour
- ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
- 7 large eggs (pasteurized if you like)
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons grated lemon zest (4 to 6 lemons), yellow part only
- 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (4 to 6 lemons)
- 1 cup flour
- Confectioners’ sugar for dusting
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Make the crust. Cream the butter and sugar either using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment or a hand mixer until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. In a bowl combine the flour and salt, and gradually add to the butter and sugar with the mixer running on low until just mixed together. Dump the dough into a 9 by 13 inch baking pan and press in with your hands, creating a ½ inch edge on all sides. Chill for about 30 minutes.
- Once chilled, bake the crust about 20 minutes until very lightly browned. Cool while you make the filling.
- For the filling, mix eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour together. Remove any seeds from the lemon juice by straining or fishing them out with your fingers. Once the mixture is homogeneous, pour over the baked crust, and bake the entire thing for 30 to 35 five minutes until the filling is mostly set. It is okay if it is slightly wobbly. Let cool, then dust with liberally with confectioners’ sugar.
- Cut into 24 squares. Lemon bars may be stored in the refrigerator overnight or frozen wrapped in parchment and foil, placed in a zipper bag for up to 3 months. Thaw at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes and they’ll be just liked fresh baked.