As I’ve mentioned before, lemon bars are my absolute favorite dessert! It’s funny, but in my family of five, I was the only person who loved lemon bars, so I got to eat them all. Being the baby, they were probably the only food I got to get the last bites of.
I used to thumb through my mom’s old “Southern Living” cookbooks and dog-ear every lemon bar recipe they had. I think there was a month stretch where I made lemon bars just about every weekend. And ate them all, too!
Lemon bars tend to have a basic crust, typically a graham cracker crust, which is essentially some type of binder crumbed and mixed with butter. Then the filling is mixed and poured on top. But with this shortbread cookie crust? Oh. My. God. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better. It’s a soft, buttery, mild crust that really lets the lemon shine.
Shortbread is essentially butter, flour, powdered sugar and vanilla. I left the vanilla out of the cookie crust not because I think it would sour the lemon (which I don’t), but because I really didn’t want anything getting in the way of that tart flavor. Vanilla might mellow it out too much.
But maybe adding some lemon instead . . .
Anyway, I got in the mood to make these bars today because the weather in Kentucky is leveling off to a sunny 60 degrees. It’s feeling a lot like spring around here, and nothing says spring to me like the fresh bite of a lemon bar.
With a cool breeze blowing through my kitchen windows, I was just aching to pack my bars up and have a little yard picnic! These bars can sit at room temperature, so they’re perfect for tossing in your picnic basket.
Most lemon bars you’ll find do not have a glaze, but are simply dusted with powder sugar. That’s perfectly fine, but while flipping through a “Southern Living” cookbook (1987, I think), I found a recipe that had a lemon glaze on top, and I’ve never looked back.
If I’m being honest, I probably go overboard on the lemon glaze. I love to drown my bars in it, and it produces the most addictive tart bite. The lemon flavor in a lot of bars can be mild, but I don’t do mild flavors, and this glaze really punches it up. Feel free to taste as you add to make sure you aren’t overdoing it on the lemon flavor.
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces and at room temperature
2 cups flour
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
6 tablespoons flour
6-7 tablespoons lemon juice
2-4 cups powdered sugar
4-8 tablespoons lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, being sure to get the sides and corners really well.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, powdered sugar and salt. Stir with a fork or whisk. Add butter pieces and mix in well using your fingers. If butter starts to melt or become unruly, run your hands under icy water for a minute, fully dry, and begin working again. When fully combined, dough will be crumbly.
Press crumbly dough into baking dish. Press firmly and distribute evenly throughout the pan, including the corners. Bake for 20 minutes, or until just barely golden. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
In a separate bowl, whisk eggs sugar and flour. Mix in lemon juice about 2 tablespoons at a time. Without allowing time for filling to separate, pour over warmed crust and bake for 25 more minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool.
In a small bowl, add powdered sugar and lemon juice at a 1-to-2 ratio, or until a just slightly thickened liquid is produced. Pour over slightly cooled lemon bars and allow time to set. Or don’t. There’s nothing wrong with a little mess.
If you’d rather not use the glaze, dust with powdered sugar. Cut into squares and serve.