Lemon Bars

This is the part of winter I hate the most, the wasteland between late February and the end of March where spring seems so close and so far away. Each sunny day feels like hope, only to be followed by another 6-inches of snow. It can be discouraging. I think at times like this we should all be grateful for citrus—a little orange or lemon to brighten the day. The blood orange tart did wonders to lift my spirits and I hoped the remedy would continue to work with these classic lemon bars that Faith Durand made over at The Kitchn.

I’m generally not a fan of lemon bars. They can be the stuff of boxed-lunch nightmares, a mediocre crust topped by way too much overly sweet and artificial tasting lemon…curd? But these are not that kind of lemon bar. Faith accurately points out that they require slightly more effort than your average bars, but the results are well worth the extra work. A hearty shortbread is topped with just the right amount of tangy fresh lemon curd and then dusted with confectioner’s sugar. They are as bright as a spring day and so much more satisfying than any you have had before.

The Ultimate Lemon Butter Bar by Rose Levy Beranbaum


10 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold) (5 ounces = 142 grams)
2 tablespoons powdered sugar (0.5 ounce = 14 grams)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar (0.75 ounce = 25 grams)
1 1/4 cups bleached all-purpose flour (dip and sweep method) (6.25 ounces = 180 grams)

Lemon Curd

4 large egg yolks (2 full fluid ounces = 2.5 ounces = 74 grams)
3/4 cup sugar (5.25 ounces = 150 grams)
3 fluid ounces (use a liquid measuring cup) lemon juice, freshly squeezed (about 2 1/2 large lemons) (3.25 ounces = 94 grams)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (softened) (2 ounces = 57 grams)
Pinch of salt
2 teaspoons lemon zest (finely grated) (4 grams)
2 tablespoons powdered sugar for dusting (0.5 ounce = 14 grams)

8-inch by 8-inch by 2-inch baking pan, preferably metal (if using a glass pan, lower the oven temperature 25°F), bottom and 2 sides lined with an 8-inch by 16-inch strip of heavy-duty aluminum foil.

Cut the butter into 1-inch cubes, wrap it, and refrigerate.

In a food processor with the metal blade, process the sugars for 1 minute or so, until the sugar is very fine. Add the butter and pulse in until the sugar disappears. Add the flour and pulse in until there are a lot of little moist crumbly pieces and no dry flour particles remain.

Dump the mixture into a plastic bag and press it together. Remove the dough from the plastic bag and knead it lightly, until it holds together.

In Scotland, it is said that the best shortbread is mixed with the fingers and that each woman’s fingers lend something distinctive and special to the finished cookie. I find that the texture is more delicate when the dough is mixed with the fingers rather than in a machine. For either method, use superfine sugar for the best texture and be sure to soften the butter.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugars. In a large bowl, cream the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy. With your fingers or with the electric mixer, mix in the flour until incorporated. If using the mixer, add the flour in 2 parts.

Place 1 oven rack in the middle of the oven.

Preheat oven to 325°F.

Pat the dough into the prepared pan. Use a fork to prick the dough all over.

Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned and the top is pale golden (do not brown).

While the shortbread is baking, prepare the Lemon Curd Topping.

Have a strainer, suspended over a bowl, ready near the range.

In a heavy noncorrodible saucepan, beat the egg yolks and sugar with a wooden spoon until well blended. Stir in the lemon juice, butter, and salt. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, for about 6 minutes, until thickened and resembling hollandaise sauce, which thickly coats a wooden spoon but is still liquid enough to pour. (A candy thermometer will read 196°F.) The mixture will change from translucent to opaque and begin to take on a yellow color on the back of a wooden spoon. It must not be allowed to boil or it will curdle. (It will steam above 140°F. Whenever steaming occurs, remove the pan briefly from the heat, stirring constantly to prevent boiling.)

When the curd has thickened, pour it at once into the strainer. Press it with the back of a spoon until only the coarse residue remains. Discard the residue. Stir in the lemon zest.

When the shortbread is baked, remove it from the oven, lower the temperature to 300°F., pour the lemon curd on top of the shortbread, and return it to the oven for 10 minutes.

Cool the lemon curd–topped shortbread completely in the pan on a wire rack. Refrigerate the pan for 30 minutes to set the lemon curd completely before cutting into bars. Place the powdered sugar in a strainer and tap the strainer with a spoon to sprinkle a thick, even coating, entirely covering the lemon.

Run a small metal spatula between the sides of the pan and the pastry on the 2 sides without the aluminum foil. Use the foil to lift out the lemon curd–covered shortbread onto a cutting surface. Use a long, sharp knife to cut the shortbread first in thirds, then in half the other way, and then each half in thirds. Wipe the blade after each cut.

The powdered sugar will start to be absorbed into the lemon curd after several hours, but it can be reapplied before serving.

In an airtight container at room temperature, or in the refrigerator or freezer.

3 days at room temperature, 3 weeks refrigerated (individually wrapped in plastic wrap to prevent drying), or 3 months frozen.

55 comments to “Lemon Bars”

  1. yep, me too. absolutely the worst time of year. ugh. we had a spring teaser on sunday and now it’s back to gloom and cold. a good lemon bar is the best cure :)

  2. We are totally on the same page. I made a lemon quinoa and spinach salad last night, and felt like I was forking spring into my mouth! I didn’t even realize that I’d also planned an orange farro salad for this week’s meals. Clearly I’m in need of some serious nutritional sunshine.

  3. Which RLB book is this recipe from? Is it one of her Bibles? Looks delicious, never really been a fan of lemon desserts but I’d definitely try this.

  4. PicklePetunia says:

    February 23rd, 2010 at 10:54 am

    I guess we were thinking the same thing: http://www.flickr.com/photos/picklemom/4380944742/
    Love your site !!!

  5. lemon bars…ohhh…i can’t resist them. my favorite version involves a coconut crust.

  6. Fantastic! Just what I need as the clouds have just rolled back in and the rain is on its way. These lemon bars sound exactly how I like them, I seem to have the same feelings about them; they’re either really good, or really, really bad.

  7. These look so good. I love the shortbread recipe made by hand- can’t wait to try them.

  8. Oh…I can almost taste them, but I’ve been making far too many sweets lately. The agony.

  9. wow…love love love this lemon bar post…and ur pics and recipe is over the top….next time i make lemon bars will head straight here…and maybe add a vanilla bean for those beautiful little specs of (black) gold thru the yellow…..

    Find my self scrolling up n again to drool over the eliciousness ozzing from the perfecto fotos…..
    boa semana….

  10. Thank you! I was trolling my cookbooks the other day for a lemon bar recipe and had to settle with Better Homes and Gardens. Like you said, easy but not quite what I had in mind. These look perfect.

  11. Gadz, I love lemon bars. Even the sub-par variety sets my mouth to water. These ne plus ultra bars are on the docket this week. A little lemon cheer will do us well, and will match the daffodils that are just beginning to come into bloom.

    ps- I’m enjoying you over at ReadyMade, as well as here. Your aesthetic strongly comes through all your work, and I adore it. Your Chicago pad makes me drool, BTW!

  12. Excited to see that everyone is loving citrus as much as I am! Thanks for all of the great comments!
    And thanks, Pam, for checking out ReadyMade and our place!

  13. These look great! I remember fondly lemon coconut bars an old friend made and hope if I use this recipe and top with fresh grated coconut that it will be like hers. Best dessert I ever ate which is saying a lot since I’m a big chocolate fan.

  14. Citrus really does help bridge that last grip of winter towards the promise of spring – I feel like I’m hanging on by my fingernails . . . barely. Lemon Bars are great anytime but especially in the winter!!! Another recipe on my ‘to make’ list is a Blood Orange Polenta Cake I found recently – maybe this weekend. BTW – Loved your piece on the aprons at Ready Made!

  15. I’m generally not a fan of lemon bars either. Something about yolkiness and tanginess doesn’t sit well with me. But I trust you guys and will find time to make this recipe, if only to prove or disprove my preconceptions for good.

  16. Yum, I cannot wait to try this recipe. I am loving citrus right now.

  17. Yep, using lemons in dressing and lots of citrus going on. Come on, spring!! It is definitely that time of year where we’re all grasping for just a little bit of color–even here in the Bay Area.

    I’ve actually been eying the recipe for lemon bars from My Nepethe and was planning on making them soon. But these don’t look too shabby either and I love Rose.

  18. I adore lemons and anything that includes them, so lemon bars make me very happy, if Im in the mood for something xtra sweet, which i usually am! and i totally agree re: the weather here in chicago. it’s getting old – fast!!

  19. I’m with you on this one. I love really tart lemon bars not those cloyingly sweet ones. These look fantastic.

    It always amazes me that citrus fruit comes into season during the coldest months of the year. Seems so counter-intuitive.

  20. Oooh, how did you know I’ve been craving lemon bars?

  21. These look DELICIOUS. I love the richness of that yellow! I adore lemon bars year round but you’re right that this is the best time of year to really enjoy them. I know what you mean about the excessively sweet ones but a good one is just…heavenly!

    Will being trying these soon! Thanks for posting!

  22. These look delicious and I have been craving something springlike – these bars are perfect. If only I could pick one up from your post!

  23. Do you know what, these colours have definitely brightened up my day! Love the yellow!

  24. These look fantastic. I agree with you when you say that this time of the year is the worst. It justs gross outside and im looking forward to spring so much that it is taking ages to get here.

  25. Thank you for the “Blog for Haiti” cookbook. It arrived and I’m enchanted. I’m looking forward to Aunt Gladdie’s shortbread and Celiac Teen’s desserts, among others. What a wonderful poem/prayer:
    …It is the prayer of this Psalm
    Which I whisked and folded and spooned into batter for Haiti.
    Weeping may endure for a night,
    but joy cometh in the morning. …
    May joy.hope.light imbue each morning
    We are praying {and baking} on your behalf.

  26. I am just now barely recovering from PTSD associated with a batch of lemon bars I baked and brought to a party last year. I was in a rush and didn’t realize I had totally overbaked them until I took a taste. They were horrid. I was mortified. By then, it was too late. I just had to grin and bear it! Luckily, it was a party where we didn’t know too many people, but still… just thinking about it is so traumatizing, I don’t think I’m ready to jump back into lemon bar territory just yet. Think I’ll admire yours from afar, instead. ;)

  27. Karin's Mom says:

    February 25th, 2010 at 3:11 am

    I consider Karin my very own living lemon bar. She was born during the February wasteland.

  28. mo-oooooooom! stop embarrassing me.

  29. On the to do list is making lemon bars with Meyer lemons. Or oranges. Or limes. Anything citrus-y will do really. You’re right about the lemon bar fail if they’re too sour or tart. Ack!

  30. I absolutely adore lemon bars — but they MUST be tart, not overly sweet. And the crust must be shortbread (I love shortbread). These, of course, look fabulous.

    Now I’m wondering what these would be like with a grapefruit curd…

    BTW, I love the fact that your mom popped in for a visit. TOO cute!

  31. Lemon bars are one of my all-time favorites… Yours look simply decadent!

  32. Karin's Mom says:

    February 27th, 2010 at 2:08 am

    Hey, everybody loves a lemon bar (see above). I could have compared you to a store-bought fig newton, but I didn’t now did I?

  33. YUM! I CANNOT wait to make thee!! THe photos make them look DELECTABLE! My mouth is watering just looking at them. Thanks for including two methods for those of us that don’t have a food processor! :)

  34. I totally relate with the feeling of winter *never* going away! And me too, I am very grateful to citruses for brighting these days (and many others actually). Another very early sign of spring for me is rhubarb: I bought some at the market today, and made a good ol’ crumble. Tomorrow, it’s lemons turn!

  35. I heart lemon bars! These look especially spectacular. You are amazing. Again, how are you not fat? :)

  36. Lemon bars were my bribery of choice in graduate school! I brought them regularly to weekly workshops and made a lot of friends that way. Yum, yum, yum.

  37. Great that you now put grams in the recipe…

    That saves me a lot of calculations!

  38. I think I’m goin to give something like this a shot with grapefruit!

  39. I absolutely cannot wait to try these. Lemon bars have always been one of my favorite sweets. Thank you for this post!

  40. You are so right, it is decidedly never the same as all of our first nights at PP!

    I ate at Ceres Table yesterday and thought it was wonderful, you should check it out. It’s in Andersonville. We had the octopus, risotto, flatiron steak, and souffle tart. Divine.

  41. I’m relying on steady doses of (Tartine-based) lemon bars to knock winter upside the head. Doctor’s orders.

  42. I tried this recipe last week with the help of 8 year old Emma. They turned out fabulous! The lemon was lemony and the shortbread was light and buttery! They got rave reviews from family, friends, and co-workers! Much better than your run of the mill lemon bar!

  43. Hi Jean, I am so glad to hear that you and Emma liked the lemon bars! Thanks for letting me know.

  44. I was JUST thinking about how I hadn’t had a lemon bar in a very long time and really need one. Perfect timing! I see a batch of these in my future. Yum.

  45. Anne-Renée says:

    March 7th, 2010 at 8:34 am

    I made these yesterday – making the curd the old-fashioned way, as I have a deeply embeded fear of making lemon omelet :-) – worked out just fine, but took a littlol longer…
    They are yummy – a perfect blend of sweet cake and tart curd!

  46. I made these yesterday and they came out great. The only trouble I had was when making the shortbread (with the food processor method) my dough ended up a little on the dry side. I just sort of shoved it into the prepared pan, and I think there was no real impact to the finished product, but I’m wondering what I could have done to have it come together a bit better? Perhaps I overpulsed?

  47. Hi Jennie, I am glad you liked them! The dough is pretty dry and doesn’t really come together until you press it, but it sounds like it may have been especially dry for you. Measurements could have been off? Make sure you are spooning your flour into measuring cup so you don’t end up with too much. Not sure what else it could have been…

  48. beautiful images! hopefully i’ll try these for brunch this weekend

  49. I made these last weekend and they were a huge hit with all my friends! First lemon bar I’ve ever made and they were great. I skipped the straining part for the curd and they turned out just fine! Beautiful looking cookies, I’d definitely make them again, thanks for sharing the recipe!

  50. Best lemon bars ever! perfect, just perfect. and my glass dish worked just fine even though I had to make a little aluminum foil “dam” to turn my rectangular pan into a square one! thanks.

  51. These were amazing! My husband and I polished off 3/4 the entire batch almost immediately. Thank you!

  52. Elena your friend from Purple Pig says:

    July 16th, 2011 at 6:33 pm

    I just made these and they are delicious! The shortbread is just perfect. Thank you for such a great recipe as, I agree, many lemon bars are doughy, gummy bricks.

  53. Hi Tim!

    Recently moved across the pond to live with my british boyfriend…and just found out he’s never had lemon bars (as a Midwesterner, I obviously find this to be an absolute travesty). Just wondering, do you think anything horrible would happen if I made these in an 8 or 9 inch round loose-bottomed cake tin? The guy only ever used to make chocolate cake and victoria sponges, so he has several different round loose-bottomed cake tins, but doesn’t have a square baking dish larger than six inches.

  54. Hi Haley- You’ll be fine. The 9-inch is better than the 8-inch. But if you google it, there are people who have converted surface area of different pans so you can make sure it holds the same amount, or at least something close.

  55. We made these last night as a tart (in a 9 inch tart tin with removable bottom), and I have beaten the 4 egg whites with a cup of sugar, put on top, and put under the broiler – made for a great dessert. Thank you, wonderful recipe. The shortbread comes out really well, and the curd is easy and always comes out wonderful. The bit of a merengue gave it a cake-y appearance. Second New Year in a row I am making these, a tradition for us now.

What do you think?