The Baker: Emily’s Lemon Bars

Sunday January 15, 2012

photo courtesy of food gal carolyn jung

One of the great members of the bar cookie world is the lemon bar. You can say there was BLB (before lemon bar) and ALB (after lemon bar) in my life. Certainly there is no other bar cookie that is as unique and vibrant as the lemon bar. And next to slice-and-bake, bars are the easiest cookie to concoct. They are the perfect extra-special winter cookie when all the citrus is in its glory.

I met the lemon bar at a small catering job. My sister Meg came to help me set up the table. We had alot of extra time on our hands while the guests grazed, so we were hanging out in the kitchen. The hostess had made lemon bars for dessert. There they sat on a plate right in front of us on the counter. Both Meg and I had never seen them before, so of course, we each decided to have one. I mean, what else was there to do and certainly you would do so as well in the same situation.

Well, its one of those culinary discovery moments you remember. We both looked at each other and then went that special crazy that goes with putting food in your mouth with the brain registering that it is going to be addictive it is so good. Need I say we both couldn’t stop eating and both of us ended up with a headache from too much lemon bar 45 minutes later. But the deed was done and the recipe had to be procured. Our hostess gave me her recipe, which I used for years, until I came across the lemon squares from Emily Luchetti which were in her first book, Stars Desserts. My book is permanently damaged at the Lemon Squares page, where it falls open naturally now from the broken binding.

Lemon bars have a nice crust, similar to a buttery flaky pie dough, but easier since you pat it into the bottom only of the pan. The crust is baked, the filling whisked together, poured on top (how easy is that says Ina), then baked on top of the crust. If you didn’t prebake the crust, it would never firm up and get that crumbly dry texture that is the counterpoint to the soft filling. That gives the lemon custard, that is more akin to lemon curd, a nice foundation so you can cut and eat it with a fork or your hands, whichever comes first.

The best lemons are the nice tart Eurekas for this recipe. If you use the sweeter Meyer, do cut back on the sugar; you don’t want to mask or overpower the wonderful lemon flavor at all. I cut back on the sugar slightly anyway and add zest since I like my bars tart tart tart. There is also a nice lime bars variation that goes well with Mexican menus, and I suspect grapefruit, tangerine, or orange with a splash of lemon would work as well since citrus is citrus. Remember to adjust the sugar ratio though for sweeter citrus.

Makes 24 squares


  • For crust:
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 6 ounces (12 tablespoons) cold unsalted, butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • For lemon custard filling:
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • For finishing:
  • About 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar


To make the crust: Preheat oven to 325º. Combine flour and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on low speed until mixed. Add butter and continue to mix until butter is the size of small peas, about 30 seconds. The mixture will be very dry. Gently press mixture evenly onto the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan (if you use a dark metal pan instead of a Pyrex, decrease the temp to 300º).

Bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Place on a rack or top of the stove. Let cool to room temperature (so the filling won’t soak in and make for soggy). Reduce oven temperature to 300º.

To make filling: In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and granulated sugar until smooth. Stir in zest and lemon juice, then the flour. Pour filling on top of the room temperature crust. Immediately place in the oven.

photo courtesy of food gal carolyn jung

Bake until lemon filling is set, about 40 minutes. Let cool to room temperature and then put in the refrigerator for 1 hour, or keep at room temperature for 3 hours before cutting (these need to set up).

Cut into squares or rectangular bars measuring about 2 1/4 inches (bigger is not better here) and dust the tops with confectioners’ sugar pushed through a mesh strainer.

Planning Ahead: The squares may be made a day in advance, covered, and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature and dust the tops before serving. I don’t freeze lemon bars.

From “Stars Desserts”. Amen.

Text copyright Beth Hensperger 2012

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

Beth Bytes: The Sweet Family of Cookies

Cookies are defined by how they are shaped, then by ingredients.

Drop cookies are made from a soft dough that is dropped by spoonfuls onto the baking sheet. During baking, the mounds of dough spread and flatten. Chocolate chip cookies (Toll House cookies), oatmeal cookies, coconut macaroons (snowballs), fudge lumpies, chocolate wafers, meringues, and Florentines are popular examples of drop cookies.

Bar cookies consist of a variety of batters or crumbly streusel that is pressed into a square or rectangular pan. A fresh or pureed fruit, custard, or nut layer is added. They are cut into pieces in the pan after baking and cooling. Lemon Bars, Naiamo bars, pecan bars, classic shortbread, and date bars are examples.

Refrigerator cookies (also known as icebox cookies) are made from a stiff dough that is shape into a cylinder that is refrigerated to become even stiffer. They are sliced before baking. Many flavors such as lemon, chocolate chip, vanilla, coconut, and ribbon cookies are examples. Logs of refrigerator cookies can be stored raw in the freezer, sliced and baked frozen.

Molded or hand-shaped cookies are made from a refrigerated stiff dough that is shaped by hand into balls or pressed into cookie shapes before baking. Peanut butter, gingersnaps, biscotti, Mandelbrot, snickerdoodles, bourbon balls, kifli crescents, and Mexican wedding cakes are examples of molded cookies.

Rolled cookies are made from a stiff dough that is rolled out with a rolling pin and cut into shapes with a cookie cutter. Gingerbread men, windowpane cookies, pinwheels, butter cookies, and sugar cookies are an example.

Pressed cookies are made from a soft dough that is extruded from a cookie press into various shapes before baking. Butter spritz and springerle are an example of a pressed cookie. Another type of pressed cookie needs a decorative mold that is cooked stove top like a waffle, such as pizzelles and krumkakes.

Sandwich cookies are rolled or pressed cookies that are assembled as a sandwich with a sweet filling. Fillings may be with marshmallow, jam, or icing. Whoopie pies, Nutter Butters, Linzer Filled Cookies, and Oreos are two examples.

Filled cookies are shaped and filled with dried fruit, jam, or poppyseed fillings, such as cream cheese envelopes, fruit turnovers, fig bars, and thumbprints.

Piped cookies, needing a piping bag, include the wildly popular French macaroons with filling and Amarettis.

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