Lemon bars are the George Clooney of the dessert table. The perfect guest, they’re welcome for all occasions and in all seasons. Of course, they’re a natural in spring, all nice and fresh and lemony; but they’re just as welcome in summer after a barbecue, or in autumn when thoughts turn to comfort foods like pot pies and stews, and they’re especially enjoyed in winter when our waistlines can’t bear the thought of one more heavy dessert, but… lemon bars? Oh yessirree, we can make room for a few bites of those. With a thick lemon curd filling and a buttery shortbread base, these are the best lemon bars EVER.
What makes these the best lemon bars?
It all starts with the crust. Most lemon bar recipes use white sugar, which makes a pale, shortbread crust. These lemon bars, however, have a secret ingredient – brown sugar – which gives the crust a wonderful buttery, brown sugar sweetness that blows the ordinary crusts out of the water. This crust comes out slightly crunchy, too, which is a bonus if you’re tired of the soggy crusts of typical lemon bars. Luckily the brown sugar doesn’t add extra sweetness to the already sweet confection – it just adds additional flavor.
In fact, this crust is so good you might even catch yourself eating the filling first and saving the crust for last as one in my family tends to do. (Yes, I’m talking about you, Mr. Right.)
The offset spatula is my best friend when making this crust. It packs the crust down lickety split in seconds without my fingers ever touching the mixture. And it gets in the corners and along the sides much better than my fingers ever could.
Add to that the thick lemon curd filling made with only four ingredients: eggs, sugar, lemon juice and flour. These are the thickest lemon bars I’ve ever seen. Most lemon bars are rather on the thin and skimpy side, but these bars are a force to be reckoned with. They call for eight (yes, that’s 8) eggs which yield a firm, rich custard worthy of being called the best.
The best lemon bars call for fresh lemon juice
Let’s talk about the lemon juice. There is only one way to make these bars, and that’s using fresh lemon juice. Bottled just won’t give the same flavor, the same zing that fresh will. It’s not even a close comparison. Think My Little Pony compared to the Budweiser Clydesdales. Not even close. So spend the extra few minutes juicing the lemons. Besides, you need a little of the lemon zest to give the flavor an added lemony boost.
Here’s my favorite juicer (the updated version – mine is old as the hills) – it makes short work of juicing a lot of lemons. (In this case a LOT of tiny lemons.) It will save tons of time, plus your hands if they’re even slightly arthritic. Just sayin’.
If you bought more lemons than you need, juice them all (especially if you have that nifty juicer!). Lemon juice freezes beautifully so you won’t have to go to the trouble the next time you make these. Same with the zest – it freezes well, too. And speaking of lemon zest, you do zest, right? If you have the right tool, it only takes a few seconds. Really. You can zest a whole lemon in 30 seconds or less with this microplane, which is also handy for zesting other citrus fruits too. Or chocolate, parmesan cheese, or coconut.
A few more tips for baking the best lemon bars
- I’ve seen a lot of recipes recommend using a glass or ceramic pan because they claim metallic pans give a metal taste to the lemon filling. That may be true for aluminum pans, which react to acidic substances (this includes tomato-based liquids as well). But I’ve used my stainless steel 9×13 pan with these bars for 15 years and have never tasted anything but delicious lemon flavor. If in doubt, use glass – it’s prettier, to be sure. But I’m fine with my trusty though less glamorous stainless steel workhorse. I serve them on pretty plates anyway!
- Roll lemons firmly on the counter before juicing – this breaks the cell walls down, releasing more juice.
- Save the powdered sugar dusting until just before serving as the bars will soak it up and appear to “weep” with time if left to sit. Which will require another dusting. Which might not be a bad thing if these are too tart for some.
- For neater squares, serve cold and wipe knife clean between each cut.
- Bars can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week (if they last that long. Three days is about it in my family.)
And last, what is that white film on top?
Sometimes you’ll get a thin white layer of air bubbles on top of the lemon layer during baking. Don’t worry, it’s just air from the whisked eggs rising to the top during the baking process. There’s no taste, and it’ll be covered with powdered sugar when the bars are served. Kind of like putting makeup on your lemon bars.
Let’s make the best lemon bars EVER!
The Best Lemon Bars EVER
- 9 X 13" ungreased baking pan (there's enough fat in the crust to prevent sticking)
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 8 large eggs
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice
- zest of one medium or large lemon
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- hot shortbread base
- 3 Tbsp. confectioners sugar
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Cut butter into 1/2-inch pieces.
- In a food processor, process all ingredients until mixture begins to form small lumps.
- Sprinkle mixture in a 13x9x2-inch baking pan and press flat with a metal spatula.
- Bake in middle of oven until golden, about 20 minutes. While shortbread is baking, prepare topping.
- In a bowl, sift flour and sugar together.
- In separate bowl, whisk eggs until combined well.
- Stir in lemon juice and zest, then whisk in sugar/flour mixture.
- Pour lemon mixture over hot shortbread.
- Reduce oven heat to 300° and bake in middle of oven until set, about 35-40 minutes.
- Cool completely in pan, then chill.
- Cut into 24 bars. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.
- Refrigerate leftovers. Dust again with powdered sugar (which absorbs into the filling with time.)
- Store for 3-5 days (if they last that long).
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