Lemon Bars

Tart, sweet, and tangy, these lemon bars have a tender cookie crust, a silken filling, and a dusting of confectioners’ sugar for an alluring contrast of tastes and textures.

Ylelow plate with four lemon bars sprinkled with powdered sugar, one with a bite take out of it

We know you have a childhood recollection of lemon bars just like these. Tender cookie crust that’s not unlike shortbread. Silken and subtly sweet filling that’s just tart enough to make your eyes twitch. And that dusting of confectioners sugar as a final flourish. Except we’re gonna hazard a guess that these bars are better than the ones of your childhood. Just a smidgen smoother, more refined around the edges. But you don’t have to tell mom that. Originally published April 23, 2004.Renee Schettler Rossi

Lemon Bars

  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 1 H, 30 M
  • Makes 16 bars
5/5 - 2 reviews
Print RecipeBuy the Baking Illustrated cookbook

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Ingredients

  • For the crust
  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (4 oz), softened but still cool, cut into 1-inch pieces, plus more for the baking dish
  • For the lemon filling
  • 7 large egg yolks
  • 2 whole large eggs
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup lemon juice (from 4 or 5 large lemons, preferably organic), plus 1/4 cup finely grated zest
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 oz), cut into 4 pieces
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Confectioners' sugar, optional

Directions

  • Make the crust
  • 1. Spray a 9-inch square baking dish with nonstick cooking spray or generously butter it. Fold two 16-inch pieces of foil or parchment paper lengthwise to measure 9 inches wide. Fit 1 sheet in the bottom of the buttered dish, pushing it into the corners and up the sides of the dish (overhang will help in removal of baked bars). Fit the second sheet of foil in the dish in the same manner, perpendicular to the first sheet. Spray the sheets with nonstick cooking spray or generously butter them.
  • 2. In a food processor, briefly process the flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt to combine. Add the butter and process until blended, 8 to 10 seconds. Then process until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal, about three 1-second pulses. Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared dish and press it firmly with your fingers into an even layer over the entire bottom of the baking dish. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  • 3. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Bake the crust until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack.
  • Make the filling
  • 4. In a medium nonreactive bowl, whisk together the yolks and whole eggs until combined, about 5 seconds. Add the granulated sugar and whisk until just combined, about 5 seconds. Add the lemon juice, zest, and salt and whisk until combined, about 5 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a medium nonreactive saucepan, add the butter pieces, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the curd thickens to a thin and saucey consistency and registers 170°F (76°C) on an instant-read thermometer, about 5 minutes. Immediately pour the lemon mixture through a single-mesh stainless steel strainer set over a clean non-reactive bowl, add the heavy cream, and stir until no streaks remain.
  • Assemble the bars
  • 5. Immediately pour the lemon filling into the warm crust and bake until the filling is shiny and opaque and the filling in the center portion of the baking dish jiggles slightly when you shake the edge of the baking dish, 10 to 15 minutes. Let the bars cool in the baking dish on a wire rack until room temperature, about 45 minutes. Remove the bars from the dish using the foil or parchment as handles and transfer everything to a cutting board. Cut the lemon bars into 2 1/2 inch squares, wiping the knife clean between cuts as necessary. Just before serving, dust some confectioners’ sugar over the bars.

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David Says

David Leite caricature

I made these lemon bars for The One's family when they were spending some time with us this summer.

Confession time: I haven't made lemon bars in more than 25 years. Yeah, yeah, I know. How could I have gone all that time bereft of lemon bars? I don't know exactly. But I will make these lemon bars again. And soon.

The dough makes a lovely cookie-type crust. I added a few tablespoons of vanilla extract because I put my homemade vanilla in just about everything. It lent a subtle, seductive vanilla scent and flavor to the bars. I wanted to crumble that crust dough and rub it all over my body, but I resisted the impulse.

Also, I used an 8-by-8-inch square pan--I don't have a 9-by-9, and I really don't see the need to buy yet another thing. The timing of the crust and curd was the same as stated in the recipe.

And did I mention they're a cinch to toss together?

My only suggestion would be to remove the entire dessert from the pan, place it on a cutting board, and then refrigerate the whole shebang before cutting. It'll hold up better. Of course, what to do with those squares that just happen to crumble because they were too warm? Well, I wonder. I wonder, indeed.

Comments

  1. I find that even right out of the fridge, when I sprinkle them at the end with the powdered sugar it always melts and vanishes in less that 20 minutes. Is there a trick I am missing?

  2. Maybe you can help me out. I have both Baking Illustrated and Cook’s Illustrated archived magazines. The lemon bars recipe from Mar/Apr (or was it May/Jun?) ’98 has a radically different approach to the bars than the recipe above: there’s cornstarch in the crust, the filling is not cooked (and in the accompanying article cooked fillings are nixed because the results are “gummy), and so on. Here’s a link to just the recipe: Cooks Illustrated Lemon Bars
    Any idea which recipe came first?

    1. Hi CB, the recipe on our site came from Baking Illustrated which was published in March 2004. Hope this helps!

  3. Perfect dessert for any occasion. It’s decadent enough for the end of a light meal, and not as heavy as could be a frosted cake/brownie/fudge/chocolate in any sort (yeah, this is what it comes to my mind when I think about “dessert.” I am this sort of person).

    Don’t be scared about the steps (temperature, consistency of the curd, straining, etc.); it may look tricky but it is really simple if you just follow the directions. I was a little uncertain while heating the curd, as it says “until the curd thickens to a thin sauce-like consistency and registers 170°F” (I wasn’t sure about my own concept of thin sauce-like consistency), so even if I was registering the temperature, I definitely noticed the moment when the curd quickly thickened, when reaching the target temp. And it took me quite a lot more of 5 minutes for that, so just keep calm and continue stirring.

    Other than that, flavor was excellent (Meyer lemons are always better for this) with the perfect balance between tart and sweet, the consistency was great for both the curd (thick when cut, but smooth in mouth) and the crust (flaky-crunchy), and even if I just used 6 egg yolks (didn’t have 7) it turned out really nice. Keep refrigerated!
    I didn’t sprinkle them with sugar and I didn’t miss it. Just perfect!

    1. Marta, that’s a comment worthy of our Testers Choice! Thank you for your in-depth info. I’m sure it will make a lot of cooks who might be a wee bit nervous relax while facing the stove.

  4. Great recipe! This was my first time making lemon bars, and it was pretty simple. They are definitely on the tart side, but so delicious! And the crust/filling ratio is just right. My whole family liked them, so will be making them again.

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