Lemon bars need a rebranding.
If you, like me, left lemon bars (and the tacky paper doilies they were so often served on) behind at the church potlucks and bake sales of your youth, no one can fault you. At first glance, what exactly is that enticing about crumbly yellow squares, dusted with powdered sugar? How could anyone expect them to hold their own next to chocolate chip cookies or red velvet cake?
But if you drag the lemon bars out from yesteryear and give them an unbiased taste, you might find the jolt of the citrus cuts right through all of your expectations. Lemon bars pack a one-two punch of tart then sweet, followed by a rich shortbread base that, together, is so satisfying it’s a marvel this industrious little treat got relegated to ladies lunches and fellowship halls. The bars themselves are a marvel: simple to stir together, made mostly of pantry staples, sturdy enough to hold up wherever you take them.
Pack them for a spring picnic. Put your usual pan of brownies on standby and let a lemon bar croon to your craving next time. Plate them up pretty for your next dinner party. If you really want to make a statement, blitz some freeze-dried strawberries into a fine, fragrant powder to dust the tops instead of the typical confectioners sugar. The resulting pop of flavor and color brings the dessert squarely into the present. The scrunchie, Doc Martens, and choker necklaces are all back again—shamelessly. Surely we have room enough to welcome the lemon bar, as well.
Yield: One 13×9 pan
12 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted
1 ½ cups flour
¼ cup confectioners sugar
¼ tsp. salt
¾ tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp. lemon zest
¾ cup fresh lemon juice
1 ½ cups sugar
4 Tbs. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
Confectioners sugar or freeze-dried strawberries, for topping
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Lightly grease a 13×9 baking pan.
2. In a large bowl, stir crust ingredients until dough comes together. Press shortbread dough evenly into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.
3. Meanwhile, stir the sugar, flour, salt, and baking powder together for the filling. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon zest and lemon juice. Pour the filling over the par-baked crust and place in the hot oven.
4. Bake for 20–25 minutes until the filling is set and does not jiggle. Place pan on a rack and cool bars completely in the pan before slicing into squares or diamonds for serving.
5. Top bars with sifted confectioners sugar or sprinkle with strawberry dust just before serving.