I really like lemon bars.
I don’t like the box ones, though. They have this chemical undertone to them, and if you read the ingredients list, you’ll be hard-pressed to find things your ten-year-old can spell. That’s my bright line when it comes to food: if it’s something easily spelled, it’s likely edible. If it looks like a chemistry exam, it’s not.
Besides, lemon bars are a fairly simple treat to make from scratch. Here are two version we like, with some options. Both are nifty.
Bright Lemon Bars with a Shortbread Crust
Heat the oven to 350*. Spray the sides an 8×8″ pan to prevent the lemon goo sticking later, or rub the sides very lightly with butter. For the shortbread crust, cut together
- 1 cup flour
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1/2 cup room temperature butter (no substitutes!)
Press this into the 8×8″ pan; bake for about 15 minutes, until it’s just past pale into the very lightly golden stage. While it’s in the oven, prepare your lemon goo by whisking together
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup lemon juice (plus some zest, if you’re using fresh instead of bottled!)
- 1 tablespoon flour
- pinch baking powder
Pour the lemon goo mix over the hot crust and return the pan to the oven for about 20 minutes, until the top looks “warty” (this description comes from my Tall, Dark, and Slightly Neanderthal husband, who also recommends cutting the finished bars quite small, because they are very rich), and is starting to get just a tad bit golden. Remove from the oven and cool completely, then cut into squares. Dust the tops lightly with more powdered sugar, and you’ll have both a delicious indulgence and a slight choking hazard, because it’s really difficult to not inhale these. I don’t add the dusting. I don’t like the impediment to snarfage.
Sometimes it’s nice to try something a little different. Creamy Lemon Bars have the silky texture of a Key Lime pie, and make a wonderful foundation for any kind of fresh berry you might like to pop on top before the final baking. Raspberries and other cane berries are lovely. Blueberries are… well, they’re just quite divine. Fresh is best, and if you’re adding a cane berry (rasp, black, etc), sprinkle the berries on top, or fold them in very gently, to avoid crushing and coloring the entire mixture.
Creamy Lemon Bars with a Graham Cracker Crust
For the crust:
- crush one packet of graham crackers to fine crumbs (yielding about 1-1/2 cups crumbs.)
- 6 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- some lemon zest
Blend this all together, and pat firmly into the bottom of an 8×8″ pan. I have not found the creamy lemon filling prone to sticking, but if you’d like to avoid risk, you can spray the sides of the pan. Bake the crust at 350* for about 8-10 minutes (it will be fragrant, but not terribly browned.)
For the filling, whisk together:
- 2 large egg yolks
- 14oz can sweetened condensed milk
- 1/2 cup lemon juice (mix of fresh and bottled if lemons are scarce)
- lemon zest from the fresh lemon
- 6 ounces fresh berries
Pour the lemon filling evenly over the partially-baked graham crust. Return the pan to the oven to finish baking another 15 minutes, or until the center is set (the filling will not be browned). Remove from the oven and cool to room temperature before chilling fully. (Do keep these in the fridge if they last any longer than the initial presentation. They likely won’t last that long, though. Mine tend to have sudden berry disappearances while they’re chilling in the fridge. No one admits to knowledge of the crime, but everyone looks guilty.)
Both styles of lemon bar are very rich; cut smallish portions, and plan to serve milk.
This is what happens when you plop two little sisters down and hand them a plate that has one of each kind, and the bigger sister (who is still quite small) snags the one with blueberries on it:
This is what happens when that bigger sister decides to share:
Soon, all is right with the world.
Don’t feel too badly for Lefty, that she got only one of her Spicy sister’s blueberries. She did not lack for berry-ness. She later raided the fridge and ate the remainder of a pint of fresh blueberries all by herself. Sneaky Snarfage of Fresh Blueberries is a bit of a genetic predisposition; she was only following her instinctual urges.
No matter which version you try, homemade lemon bars are a lovely thing to enjoy beneath a really excellent tree on a cool summer’s evening.