Updated: Aug 16, 2020
Summer has finally arrived in most parts of the world. And as for India, we’ve always had super hot and humid summers. Growing up, I was not a big fan of this season. But you know what makes summers tolerable? Fruits! And desserts with fruits!
Summer is known for all the beautiful fruits that it brings; watermelons, mangoes, and lemons!
Now, I am a HUGE fan of anything citrus flavored, especially lemons. I love lemons and limes. No, I’m not kidding when I say I absolutely love lemons, I even have a lemon wedge tattooed on my wrist.
Lemons can elevate almost any dish, and I think that lemon-flavored desserts are the best, no arguments there.
Lemons add such a bright flavor as well as a tanginess to an otherwise incredibly sweet dessert. It does an excellent job of cutting through the sweetness while giving you a light and refreshing feel.
Lemons are the perfect sunny day fruit, and one of my favorite desserts made with lemons is Lemon Bars.
I made these a couple of months ago, and I have been craving them again. Lemon bars are perfect for a sunny afternoon when you want a dessert after lunch, but nothing too heavy. They’re perfect for any occasion, birthdays, picnics, bake sales, you name it!
Lemon bars have just the right amount of sweetness and tang, and they are absolutely delicious. And, they’re pretty easy to make as well. If you keep on reading, you will find my best ever recipe for lemon bars, and don’t worry, I’ve also provided an eggless alternative.
What are lemon bars?
What equipment do you need?
What is the recipe?
What are lemon bars?
Lemon bars can be considered an American dessert, although no one really knows the exact origin of lemon bars or lemon squares. But the first published recipe of lemon bars can be traced back to a piece sent in by a Mrs. Eleanor Mickelson to The Chicago Tribune in 1962; her recipe differs a lot from a generic lemon bars recipe you might be able to find today. But hey, evolution!
Lemon bars are necessarily a type of custard tart made with, obviously, lemons and a shortbread crust. Typically, to make the most basic lemon bars, you’ll need only nine ingredients—four for the crust and five for the filling.
What is a shortbread crust, and what is the lemon filling that we’ll be adding onto it?
First, let’s talk about the crust.
It’s not puff pastry or a pie crust. The base of the lemon bars is a shortbread biscuit. Shortbread is far more buttery and less flakey as compared to a regular pie crust. Shortbread has its roots in Scotland, and it’s a straightforward type of biscuit/cookie. It calls for only three basic ingredients: butter, white flour, and sugar. Whatever you wish to add to these three ingredients is entirely in your hands. For the lemon bar crust, I’ll be adding a little bit of vanilla extract to the shortbread mixture. You could also add in some lemon zest, but I like keeping it sweeter, too much tang can sometimes ruin the dessert.
Shortbread is known for being incredibly buttery, and the dough can tend to be a little soft and smushy. Especially if you’re working in warmer climates as I do, shortbread can sometimes give you a hard time. But making a shortbread crust for a tart is far easier than making shortbread biscuits in Indian weather.
Now, let’s move onto the filling.
The filling is basically nothing but a relative of lemon curd. ‘What’s lemon curd?’ you ask. Lemon curd is a conserve or jam-like substance made by cooking down lemon juice, butter, eggs, and sugar. The only difference between lemon curd and lemon bar filling is that lemon curd is cooked separately before adding to anything and that it calls for butter. My filling for the lemon bars calls for freshly squeezed lemon juice, eggs, flour, and sugar.
A lot of you probably are cringing at the mention of eggs right now. And that’s completely valid. To eliminate the need for eggs, you can use milk and a little bit of cornstarch or arrowroot powder. There are also a few differences between the filling made with and without eggs. If you follow this recipe to the T, you’ll be using eggs, and you won’t be cooking down the filling before adding it to the crust. But as for the filling made with milk and cornstarch, you’ll need to cook it down to a thick custard-like consistency before adding it to the crust. The last point about eggless lemon bars is that you won’t get the classic lemony yellow color if you omit the eggs, since the eggs give the lemon bar it’s color. But you can always add a drop of yellow gel food dye to the filling if you’d like. Regardless, you can totally make eggless lemon bars, and they’ll be just as perfect. You will find the exact measurements for the replacements as you read.
Now, my recipe will give you a thinner crust compared to some other lemon bar recipes that you might find online. That’s how I like my lemon bars, more lemon and less crust. But of course, if you want more of a thicker crust, feel free to up the recipe according to your liking. Just note that my recipe for the shortbread crust yields in a ½ inch thick crust that is 9x9 inches in dimensions. The same goes for the filling; you want a thicker layer of filling, increase the quantity!
That’s the best thing about lemon bars, there’s no particular size chart for it, we love all shapes and sizes of lemon bars here!
Lemon bars are known for their signature square shape. And, to achieve that they need to be baked using a square tin. I have used a square tin that has dimensions of 9x9 inches. You can use a smaller or a bigger one, but preferably smaller because if it’s a bigger tin, you’re going to end up with a thin, burnt sheet of not-so-delicious lemon bars.
Now, not many beginner bakers own a square tin. You can totally bake this in a round-shaped tin if that’s what you have. But do not use a cake tin or any deep dish, try to stick to an oven-safe pan that is about 2-3 inches in height.
Another piece of equipment you’ll need is an electric mixer. Again, it’s not necessary, but it’s recommended. If you’ve read my previous posts, you might know that owning an electric mixer is not strictly needed, but it makes the job easier. You can do everything it does by hand, but you will have to invest more time. If you don’t plan on baking very often, why should you spend your hard-earned money on an electric hand mixer?
The last ‘equipment’ that you’ll need for this recipe is parchment paper. Now, for making lemon bars, the use of parchment paper is non-negotiable. We will be spreading the crust and filling to the tin’s ends, and you don’t want to have a wrestling match with your lemon bars while people wait for you to serve them. If you place a sheet of parchment paper in the pan before baking, your life will become a hundred times easier. It ensures no fuss. So, please get some parchment paper before attempting this recipe.
As always, I’ll list down all the equipment you’ll need to make lemon bars:
An 8x8 inch square tin
An electric hand mixer
Two medium-sized mixing bowls
A rubber spatula
A wire whisk
A small sieve
Now, let’s get to the best ever recipe for lemon bars, shall we?
The Recipe For The Best Ever Lemon Bars
Time: 60 minutes plus cooling
Yields: 9 bars
INGREDIENTS (Click For Grams To Cups Converter)
130 (1 cup) grams all-purpose flour
116 grams (½ cup) salted room temperature butter
32 grams (2 tablespoons) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
60 grams (4 tablespoons) fresh lemon juice
20 grams (3 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon) lemon zest
100 grams (½ cup) sugar
45 grams (5 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
3 eggs (see notes for replacement)
50 grams (¼ cup) powdered sugar for dusting on top
Preheat the oven to 180°C.
Grease an 8x8 inch oven-safe square tin and line it with parchment paper leaving overhangs on at least two sides.
In a mixing bowl, add all the ingredients required for the shortbread crust and form the dough using an electric hand mixer.
Stop mixing once you have large crumbs of dough. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and push the crumbs into a single piece of dough.
Transfer the dough to the prepared tin and press it down with your hands. Make sure it’s spread out evenly. If you find that the dough is sticking to your hands, wet your hands and press it down.
Using a fork, poke vents in the dough. This will prevent it from puffing up in the oven.
Bake it in the preheated oven at 180°C for 15 minutes or until the edges are starting to turn golden brown.
Remove the crust from the oven and let it sit outside.
Re-heat the oven to 170°C.
Now, for the filling, add the fresh squeezed lemon juice and zest to a mixing bowl.
Add the sugar and flour, give it all a good mix using a wire whisk. Make sure there are no lumps.
Now, add the eggs one by one and whisk them in.
Once you have a cohesive batter with no lumps, add it to the tin with the crust in it.
Place the tin in the oven and bake it at 170°C for 20-25 minutes.
You’ll know it’s cooked when you move the pan, and the filling doesn’t jiggle and has a translucent layer on top.
Let it cool down at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
Carefully remove the lemon bar sheet from the pan and refrigerate it for 3-4 hours or overnight.
Cut the sheet into nine lemon bars and dust it with powdered sugar before serving.
Regarding an eggless alternative: So, to make the eggless version of the lemon bars, we’ll be replacing the three eggs in the original recipe with a few more ingredients. You’ll need everything from the filling recipe above (minus the eggs) and;
30 grams (2 tablespoons) of cornstarch or arrowroot powder
36 grams (2 ½ tablespoons) of milk
1 drop of yellow gel food dye (optional)
To make the eggless filling, you’ll combine all of the ingredients from the recipe above, except the eggs, and the cornstarch and milk in a saucepan. Place the pot on medium heat and keep whisking it until you have a thick, custard-like filling. Take it off the heat and add the yellow food dye and whisk it in. Add the filling to the pan with the crust and bake it for the same time as you would a sheet of lemon bars made with eggs.
Some of you may be opposed to adding food dye and some may not even have it, but if you're looking for that bright yellow color, you need it. Although, it is completely optional. You won't get the bright yellow color in an egg-free version since the eggs make the lemon bars strikingly yellow!
Regarding the filling left outside: One more thing to note, when I was making the lemon bars for this recipe, the power went out right when I was making the filling. So, I let it sit out for about 15 minutes until the power came back on. Do not do that in any case as you can end up with lemon bars that might be a little sticky to the touch. If you face any unprecedented challenges while making lemon bars, it’s best to start over instead of letting the filling sit out.
Regarding storage: Lastly, how to store lemon bars. Do not leave them outside, right after you cut the lemon bars, place them in airtight container, and then in the refrigerator until it's time to serve. They can stay in the refrigerator for 4-5 days.
I hope that cleared out pretty much everything, now, what are you waiting for? Go whip up some lemon bars! If you try any of my recipes, please share your experiences with me on Instagram or Facebook!