Me and all the moms in Minnesota love to make lemon bars. I don’t know what it is that draws me to this dessert. I certainly have my affinity for all things chocolate, but the tart lemon custard and shortbread crust is irresistible. I traveled to Italy about five years ago and spent considerable time on the Amalfi Coast, known for its steep, terraced lemon groves. They had lemons the size of grapefruits! Not to mention the limoncello… and the lemon gelato… it haunts my dreams.
So, to mix it up from creamy and chocalatey, lemon bars are one of my favorites, especially for large crowds. This recipe yields an entire pan full, and they are quite tart so best in small doses. You’ll be slicing away at these for days! Trader Joe’s almost always has Meyer Lemons, which are my favorite to use. But beware – the skin is usually quite thin so they don’t yield much zest at all, a key ingredient in this recipe. Instead, either buy lots of extras or go half-half on Meyer lemons and commercial ones.
This recipe is an amalgam of Mark Bittman’s, Smitten Kitchen’s (too much flour!), Ina Garten’s, and from a lady named Lee Bailey. Yeah, I like lemon bars.
I recently perfected my lemon/lime bar recipe, so this is the same as the key lime bars with the addition and exemption of a few key ingredients in the curd portion. Enjoy!
Meyer Lemon Bars
For the crust:
1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature (2 sticks)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
For the lemon custard layer:
4 large eggs (at room temperature, if you can think that far ahead)
4 large egg yolks
1 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp grated lemon zest (4 to 6 lemonss)
3/4 cup freshly squeezed meyer lemon juice
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 tsp. salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F and liberally (and I mean it, super liberally!) grease a 9×13 baking sheet. (Trick: use the paper wrappers from your room-temperature butter to grease your pan!) Cream together the butter, salt and 1/2 cup sugar in a mixer with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. With the mixer on low, carefully add the flour to the butter until just mixed. It will be dry, but don’t worry. Gather it into a ball and press the dough into the pan, building it up about 1/2″ along the sides. (The bottom is going to puff up leaving you with less crust-wall than you began with, fyi.) Chill for 30 min to 1 hour. Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until very lightly golden brown. Let cool slightly, but leave the oven on. Get to work on the filling.
Whisk together the eggs, yolks and sugar in a sauce pan, sugar. Next, whisk in the lemon juice, zest and salt until it’s uniform and smooth. Place the pan on medium heat and stir continuously until the curd mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 8-10 minutes. (The Kitchn recommends until it’s 155°F.) Don’t let anything stick to the sides or bottom as you stir. If your eggs start to curdle, immediately remove it from the heat. The curd should remain smooth. Once it’s thickened, strain. (You could omit this step in order to preserve the lemon zest, which I like. This is to ensure a perfectly smooth curd. If you are feeling confident in your curd-ing abilities, skip this!) While the mixture is still warm, but off the heat, stir in the butter, cut into cubes, until it’s completely melted.
Pour evenly over the crust and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or about 5 minutes after you feel the filling is set along the edges but slightly jiggly in the middle. Rotate during baking if you don’t feel it’s cooking evenly.
Let cool to room temperature on the counter, then transfer to fridge. (I know, it will be hard to wait! But they are so good cold!)
Dust with powdered sugar, cut into rectangles and consume!