Lemon Bars

These lemon bars are the zest!

Not too sweet and not too tart, this classic dessert features a layer of bright lemon curd filling on top of a buttery shortbread crust. The filling bursts with classic lemon flavor from freshly squeezed lemon juice and fresh lemon zest, balanced with the rich, tender crust and a dusting of powdered sugar.

If you’re looking for a way to cheer yourself up on a dreary day, this recipe will do the trick.

Lemon Bars

Yields | 16 bars |

Shortbread Crust

  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • 2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • ¼ vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped (or ¼ tsp vanilla extract)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt

Lemon Filling

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 packed Tbsp finely grated lemon zest
  • ¾ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (approximately 4 lemons)
  • 5 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • powdered sugar, for dusting

| Preparation – Shortbread Crust | Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line an 8-by-8-inch baking pan with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix butter, sugar, powdered sugar and lemon zest on medium speed until light and fluffy, approximately 3 minutes. Add egg yolk and vanilla; mix on medium speed until combined. Stop and scrape down the bowl as needed. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture to butter-sugar mixture; mix on low until dough is combined. (Be careful not to overmix, or it’ll produce a tough crust).

Transfer dough to a large sheet of parchment paper and set a second sheet of parchment paper on top. Roll out dough into an 8-inch square. Place the entire parchment-encased dough square in the refrigerator to chill, at least 15 minutes. Once chilled, remove from refrigerator. Peel off parchment paper and set dough in the prepared baking pan, pressing around the edges if needed to distribute it evenly. Bake until shortbread is lightly golden, approximately 20 minutes. Remove from oven and set on wire rack to cool.

| Preparation – Lemon Filling | Place a fine-mesh strainer over a medium bowl; set aside.

In a saucepan, whisk together sugar, cream of tartar, flour and salt. Add eggs, yolks, lemon zest and lemon juice; whisk to combine. Set over medium-low heat; whisking constantly, cook until mixture thickens and registers 160ºF on an instant-read thermometer, 2 to 3 minutes. Immediately strain filling into the prepared bowl; quickly whisk in butter until thoroughly incorporated. Pour filling over shortbread crust, tilting pan as needed to create an even layer. Bake until set (filling will only slightly jiggle when the pan is tapped), 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set on wire rack to cool completely. Once cooled, transfer the entire pan to the refrigerator to chill, at least 2 hours or overnight.

| To Serve | Carefully lift lemon bars from baking pan using sides of parchment paper to pull them out; set on a cutting board. Using a large chef’s knife, cut lemon bars into 2-inch squares. (For clean cuts, run the blade under hot water and wipe it clean between each cut.) Dust the tops of each square with powdered sugar and serve. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Teresa Floyd is a Kansas City-based food writer, editor for the online food publication feedfeed and contributing monthly columnist for Feast Magazine’s Sugar Rush. Find her current creations on Now, Forager, a pastry blog featuring seasonal desserts.

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