Kitchen Lab: So a Lemon Walks Into a Bar…

I don’t know where it came from, but I had a sneaky craving for lemon bars a week or so ago. Sneaky in that it kinda crept up on me, like, “Oh, those might be a good thing to eat soon,” and then after a while I was Googling bakeries. They’re not exactly the easiest thing to find off-the-shelf, so I thought I’d find out how to make them myself.

Turns out they’re pretty easy, if a bit time-consuming. They’ve gotta be baked twice, once for the crust and once for the filling, like a pumpkin pie. So to get started, preheat your oven to 350F.

For the crust, you need a cup of flour, a half-cup of softened butter, and a quarter-cup of confectioners sugar. To soften butter fast when you didn’t remember to set it out hours ahead of time, I found this awesome trick that I highly recommend. Smoosh all three ingredients together until it’s all blended and crumbly. You can use your hands or a fork or whatever, but I had one of these fancy wire pastry-smooshers so I used that.

lemon bar crust fixin's in a bowl

Get your square (8×8) baking pan, and press these crumbs into the bottom and up the sides. (You don’t need to grease the pan, there’s a ton of butter in there already.) Try to get the crust evenly spread out, and you definitely want to push some up the sides so the filling has somewhere to go. You want to kinda make a pastry “dish” for the filling to go in.

unbaked lemon bar crust, pressed into an 8x8 pan

A bit like mud pies. Or Play-Doh.

Bake this crust, by itself, at 350F for 20 minutes.

baked lemon bar crust

Like above, only browner.

While the crust is baking, you can make the filling. You’ll need 2 eggs, a cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of flour, a 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, and the juice and grated zest from one lemon. (There were specific measurements in the original recipe, but “one lemon” is easier and works just fine.) Whisk it all together (“until frothy”) and wait for your crust to finish baking.

lemon bar filling in a bowl with a whisk

WAITAMINUTE, you say, what’s this “zest” thing all about? Basically, it’s the very outer layer of citrus fruit. Just the colored part, NOT the white “pith.” You can get it off your lemon by using the smallest holes on a cheese grater. There are fancier tools to do this, but a grater will do fine as long as it’s sharp enough to dig into the lemon skin and take it off.

lemon with the zest grated off


So the juice and the zest both go into the filling you’re whisking together while the crust is baking. When the crust is all nice and starting to brown a bit, take it out of the oven and pour the filling into the still-hot crust. Put the whole shebang back into the oven and bake it for another 25 minutes.

baked lemon bar crust with unbaked filling

If the filling is still sloshing around all liquid-y after 25 minutes, your lemon bars aren’t quite done yet. Leave them in until the filling is less liquid-y and more jiggly, like almost-set Jello. If you’re used to baking things until the toothpick test says they’re done, that won’t work here. However, I ASSURE YOU EVERYTHING IS OKAY. I promise that nobody will get salmonella, and if your lemon bars are that dry you’ve probably done something wrong.

finished lemon bars

After they’ve cooled, you can sprinkle more powdered sugar on top to make ’em all pretty. I don’t have a sifter, so I just sprinkled it on with my fingers. I did notice that it looks nicer if I sprinkle by picking up teensy bits then rubbing my fingers together than by “normal” sprinkling, if that makes sense.

That’s it! Cut ’em up and eat ’em!

I’m pretty sure these count as breakfast food, FYI.

Featured image: André Karwath, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.5

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Beth Voigt

Beth Voigt

Beth is a graphic designer in Chicago, a superhero in her own mind, and absolutely nothing on TV. She wrangles fonts professionally, pummels code amateurishly, and has been known to shove fire in her face for fun. Fond of volunteering, late-night bursts of productivity, and making snacks, she dislikes grocery shopping and public transit and is still on her first smartphone. Her opinion is that you should try everything twice; if you don't like it, you were probably doing it wrong the first time around.

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