Whole Lemon Bars

lemons

I’ve been having my own little festival of citrus around here, especially because I’ve become addicted to the produce aisle at my local natural food store. They always have an intriguing collection of citrus fruits, many of which just aren’t available anywhere else. I went in to buy bergamots (above, left) and ending up finding not one, but four knobbly citrons. I was poking through the boxes and I almost had a crise cardiaque when I saw four enormous, lonely citrons lolling around all by themselves, being ignored, in a big wooden crate.

lemon bar crust lemon bar crust baked

They were only €5 per kilo so I bought two, and left the other two for some other lucky American baker living in Paris looking to candy citron.

So I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that when I went back a few days later, they had a big, bulging case of citrons. But when I went back yet a week later (OCD much?) they were all still there, each one unfortunately getting soft and spotted.

citrus

In addition to my colorful bounty of agrumes (citrus), I also had one Meyer lemon on hand that I gingerly carried back from Texas which was patiently waiting in the refrigerator, waiting to be used. Upon reflection, I don’t know why I only brought one back since there’s very few recipes that call for one single, solitary lemon. But then my brain honed in on lemon bars, which have a relatively thin, yet powerful filling, and I thought I would come up with a bar using just one lemon.

lemon bar cookies (gingersnap) lemon bars (gingersnap crust)

I also thought that it would be interesting to try a gingersnap crust. I don’t know why. Maybe because it was 5:20am that morning and my brain wasn’t fully functioning? But I had the idea in my head and crawled around on all fours looking through the cupboards for Speculoos—which I knew I had…somewhere…which are similar to American gingersnaps, until I located the stray package.

Yet when I tasted them, I didn’t really like that the crust conflicted with the lemon flavor. And I’m sure my neighbors downstairs didn’t appreciate me conflicting with their sleep pattern, either. I was disappointed, but then that’s why God gave us humans the power of reason (although I wish he gave me a little more…) and I decided to keep trying.

lemon bar recipe with gingersnap crust lemon bar recipe

So I went back to the drawing board (thankfully not to the cabinets, which I’m sure my downstairs neighbors were happy about) a few more times. But I still wasn’t pleased because even though I loved biting down on the little chunky bites of lemon, the lemon bars lacked the tart zip of fresh lemons I always want from lemon bars. Curiously, the French tartes au citron that one finds in bakeries are usually on the sweet side. (Jacques Genin, whose tarte au citron is considered one of the best in Paris, told me he prefers to use fresh limes for that reason.)

perfect lemon bars

I found the best balance using a regular lemon, and organic beauty which came to Paris all the way up from Provence, which I found at my trusty natural foods store. I’d blended one up, and added a few extra tablespoons of juice for more zing, and a little bit of butter just to smooth the way.

When I tasted batch number three, I was blown away at exactly right how they were. I think I even said “Wow” out loud when I cut off my first square and tasted it. By the second and third, I was still exclaiming out loud how good they were. I hope I didn’t disturb the people downstairs.


Lemon Bars
One 8-inch pan

Because you’re using the whole lemon, use an unsprayed or organic lemon. Some grouse about the price of organic produce, but Paris is one of the most expensive cities in the world and my lemon was just 30 cents, and at the pricey health food store at that.

I initially experimented with a Meyer lemon so this recipe would certainly work with one, although in the end I preferred the bars made with regular lemons. (If you try it with a Meyer lemon, it might want to reduce the sugar in the topping, but I used up my sole Meyer lemon so was unable to give it another go.) Lemons vary in size: mine was 6 ounces (175g), but getting it close is reasonable enough.

Crust

1 cup (140g) flour
1/4 cup (50g) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (115g) melted unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Lemon Topping

  • 1 lemon, organic or unsprayed
  • 1 cup (200g) sugar
  • 3 tablespoons (45ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 4 teaspoons corn starch
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons (45g) melted unsalted butter

Optional: powdered sugar, for serving


1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).

2. Overturn an 8-inch square pan on the counter and wrap the outside snugly with foil, shiny side up. Remove the foil, turn the pan over, and fit the foil into the pan, pressing to nudge the foil into the corners. Then smooth it as best you can. Lightly butter or spray the surface of the foil with nonstick spray.

3. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, 1/4 cup (50g) sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 8 tablespoons (115g) melted butter, and vanilla, stirring just until smooth.

4. Smooth the batter into the bottom of the pan, using your hands or a small offset spatula to get it as level as possible.

5. Bake the crust for 25 minutes, or until it’s deep-golden brown.

6. While the crust is cooking, cut the lemon in half, remove the seeds, and cut the lemon into chunks.

7. Put the chunks of lemon in a food processor or blender along with the sugar and lemon juice, and let it run until the lemon is completely broken up. Add the eggs, corn starch, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 3 tablespoons (45g) melted butter, and blend until almost smooth. (A few tiny bits of lemon pieces are normal and encouraged.)

8. When the crust comes out of the oven, reduce the heat of the oven to 300ºF (150ºC). Pour the lemon filling over the hot crust and bake for 25 minutes or just until the filling stops jiggling and is barely set.

9. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Once cool, carefully lift out the bars grasping the foil. Cut the bars into squares or rectangles. Sift powdered sugar over the top just before serving, if desired.


Storage: The bars will keep in an airtight container at room temperature up to three days. You can freeze the lemon bars as well for up to one month, letting them come to room temperature before serving.


Related Links and Recipes

The Best Tartelettes au Citron in Paris (Le Figaro, link downloads PDF file)

More on Tarte au Citron (Paris Breakfasts)

Ladurée Tarte Citron (Paris Pâtisseries)

Candied Citron

Improved Lemon Curd

Tarte au citron

Lime Meringue Tart

Bergamot Marmalade

Seville Orange Marmalade


Note: In the post, there are pictures of the Lemon Bars with both the gingersnap crust (the darker ones near the beginning of the post) and the bars I made with the regular crust (shown at the end), which I preferred.

160 comments

  • it worked a TREAT! thank you so much for posting this! ps… and your cheesecake brownies went down well too, so looking forward to going thru more of your recipes! you ve definitely got a new fan here!
    Aiko

  • I just had to try this recipe right away in order to relieve my skepticism vis-à-vis using the entire lemon, pith and all. Well, consider me unskeptical as these are the most delectable lemon bars I have ever had the pleasure of tasting. Thank you so much, David, for all the early morning R&D you performed on our behalf!

  • I’ve got a bunch of meyer lemons that I need to do something with so … lemon squares. I’m going to attempt this with GF all purpose flour. Love to hear from other GF folks who tinker with this recipe. David, as usual you inspire me to cook up a storm.

  • I made the lemon bars last night and they are amazing! I reviewed them on my blog this morning.

    http://urbanrecipe.com/2011/02/whole-lemon-bars/

  • Just made the lemon bars. You’re right, David, they’re perfect. This is going to be my go-to recipe when I want to make a quick treat – I’ve got 2 lemon trees outside my kitchen door. I have groups of 5-10 women here once or twice a week and they need treats. Love your blog and your FB posts.

  • I had lemons pining for a purpose in my fridge just as this post came up. And, yes, this is a delightful lemon bar recipe and possibly the best ever.

    Pulling back on the sweetness really brings out the butter (and I have to confess that I didn’t use the whole measure).

    The bitterness from the pith is refreshing, and my pan definitely had a piece missing before it left the house.

  • I look forward to making your lemon bars- they sound wonderful!

    Colette

  • Thank you David!

  • Finally a lemon bar that tastes like my previous fantasies of lemon bars. These sit up and bite back. Wonderful!!! Thanks for this recipe, definitely a keeper.

  • I made these twice. The first time they were perfect, except for the extreme, clinging bitterness. The second time I made them I used a veggie peeler to remove the rind, a sharp knife to remove the pith (which I discarded) and then chopped the rest of the lemon and proceeded as directed. They were fabulous!

  • Interesting recipe..I will have to give these a try. A perfect recipe for the Spring that I can feel is just around the corner.

  • I made these yesterday, and they are amazing! So lemony and tart they remind me of summer day. Thanks, David.

  • Yes! I just discovered that putting a quarter of a whole lemon in my morning fruit smoothies makes an incredibly flavor, very delicious! These bars must be amazing.

  • These were amazingly perfect and a very special summery treat on a snowy New England day. Thanks for all of the leg work you did to come up with a great recipe. I made it on my blog today!

    Stove to Stomach

  • In Ashland, OR lemons are currently $.98c each or $1.15 each for organic! Should I move to Paris to save on groceries? Hmmmm.

    • Annie: I don’t think people move to Paris to save money (!) but was surprised when I brought my lemon to the register and that was the price.

  • Hi, David! It’s the first time I comment, but I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time. It’s very inspiring!! I’ve just tried these lemon bars, they’re fantastic, so much flavour and great texture. Congrats on your excelent blog! Greetings from your fan from Argentina! :)

  • David , today my greengrocer received me with a big smile,yelling-“Buon giorno Candela it’s your lucky day ! & a bag full of beatiful organic lemons in his hands !!,euros1 x Kilo! and two lovely cedri (citron) =) Shall I send you some?

  • And now I’m thinking… lemon bars,tarte au citron?

  • I can safely dispose of all other lemon bar recipes because this is the only one I will ever use again. I was able to pull mine from the oven at 18 minutes so be sure to check them early and often.

  • Best lemon bars ever! I substituted some of the flour in the base for semolina for crunch and added an extra yolk that I had lying around. I enjoy reading this blog very much for the variety of posts and recipes, especially travel to Switzerland.

  • Can’t wait to try this recipe. Do you use a whole lemon then an additionlal 3T freshly squeezed lemon juice from a 2nd lemon? Thank You!

  • These were amazing! I used a couple of tiny Meyer lemons for the whole lemons and a regular lemon for the juice~ the finished bars were perfectly tart, not at all bitter and not too sweet. I think the next time I make them I’ll try making a chocolate variation on the base. Thanks for the recipe!

  • WOW !! I’m eating one right now…Estas si que son Lemon Bars!!
    Amazing! I hope I’m not disturbing my neighbors with my WOW (loud) exclamations! ;) THANK YOU.

  • Hi David,
    Thanks for your great blog! I didn’t have lemons, so I just tasted a batch using limes. Whew–very “rindy.” Although I do not have anything to compare to, I think they are too tangy for my liking with limes. The texture and crust are wonderful. I will try with lemons and do a comparison soon.
    Bon Appetit!
    Lisa

  • It’s all about the shortbread. A good lemon bar will have a nice crisp sturdy crust. How’s yours?

  • Nice…
    Re the big lemon, I was in Fez (Morocco) last week visiting family and I’ve seen almost the same geant lemons in her garden, although the same tree was giving different shapes…Few of them were just geant! and very juicy. It was hilarious!
    Since they have wonderful soil, things grow up without “human push”!

  • I made this today. WOW! The best lemon bar ever. Your recipes never fail.

  • absolutely divine. . .Can’t wait to try out your other recipes.

  • if i skip the eggs in the lemon topping, will it still cook properly and not be runny? i don’t eat eggs at all, so it’s an ingredient that i must skip. i usually use a powdered egg re-placer, but i’m not sure if it will work out with this recipe.

    thanks

  • Yum! Made with the single Meyer lemon from our tree – I had been trying to decide what to do with a single lemon. My other half had even pollinated the flower for this one, so we dod not want to waste it.

    Easy to make, and love the slight bitterness from the pith. Big hit at dinner.

  • Do you use a thick or thin skinned lemon? Also I think this might be good with some fresh ginger grated into it.

    • jer: The first time I used the Meyer lemon (shown above, right) then the second, I used the lemon shown on the left. Then the third time I used a standard lemon, a variety called citron de Menton.

  • I’ve followed your recipe and almost died of happiness :) Here it is, in French, with a few minute changes and my impressions of the whole thing. And I’ve made it twice already!!

    http://cestpasmoijeljure.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/demain-matin-montreal-mattend

  • Dear David, I tried your recipe, and want to make it again as soon as possible: great taste! The funny thing was that after I poured the lemon topping, the crust started floating and the topping became the bottom. I realized this after i took the pan out of the oven and couldn’t say why the lemon cream looked so brown…Then I simply had to turn everything upside down, and still they looked nice after cutting, further than exstremely good. Yet I ask myself what should I do next time to prevent the floating.

  • Insane about them! Used a meyer lemon and lime juice (our limes are yellow and I always forget that they are limes). Trying to give some away so that I don’t eat the whole pan myself.
    Thanks.

  • David, these were SUBLIME!! Almost every other recipe is too sweet. I was tempted to leave out the pith but decided to give them a try just the way you wrote them. Everyone said they were to die for at the party. This, even from a chocoholic!!

  • These were fantastic! Just the lemon bar I was looking for to satisfy my particular urge. I reviewed it here: http://www.sisboomblog.com/2011/03/real-mans-lemon-bar.html

  • A friend just gave me a mandarin, so I thought I would try the recipe with a mandarin and a lime. I don’t think anything would be tastier than the lemon bar, but I just have to give it a whirl.

  • Another crazy busy day with the kids but knew I had to made these. After my third trip to the supermarket, I managed to buy some lemons. Well, let’s just say that the lemon bars made the mommy very very happy and she didn’t “roar like a lion” today. The girls and I are eternally grateful :)

  • Hello David, I am a proud owner of “Ready for Dessert”. It was delivered yesterday and I have been going through it .. great fun! I will make the Ginger Cake tomorrow.
    I am in search for the perfect moist very coconutty Coconut Cake. I have baked Bobby Flays version (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/bobby-flay/throwdowns-toasted-coconut-cake-with-coconut-filling-and-coconut-buttercream-recipe/index.html) and the Americas Test Kitchen version (http://www.americastestkitchen.com/recipes/detail.php?docid=4947) and the cakes turned out a bit dry and not as coconutty as I would like them. I was very happy to see that you have a Coconut Cake recipe, but was surprised to see that you do not use any Cream of Coconut, Coconut extract or Coconut Milk … is the cake coconutty enough? How would you suggest I add in more coconut flavor?
    Thank you for writing so well!

  • I thought you were a little nuts to use the whole lemon but I just made these and they are PHENOMENAL.

    I assume it’s adding the filling to the hot crust and returning it to the oven that causes the short bread crust to have 2 separate layers of texture and taste. The layer touching the filling has the texture and taste of a nice buttery brittle and the bottom layer has a texture and taste like a traditional shortbread crust. It’s absolutely delicious.

    I REALLY love the lemony goodness of this recipe and I don’t mind the slightly bitter aftertaste that the pith gives. You only really notice it if you are tasting the lemon filling on it’s own. If you taste a complete bite it is nullified by the awesome dual flavored crust.

    Without a shadow of a doubt these are the BEST lemon bars I have EVER had.I will definitely make again but next time I will use a Meyer lemon and less sugar to see which I prefer.

    Thanks for the awesome recipe.

  • David,
    Your lemon bars were really good the first night and reached superb the following morning after the sugar had penetrated the bitter pith.

    I modified your recipe to use beurre noissette (aka brown butter) in both the crust and the filling. I used two small whole organic lemons with the juice of three (as small as Meyer Lemons). Each lemon yielded a mere tablespoon of juice. Next time I will process the lemons with the sugar and leave the mixture out to macerate obernight at room temperature or preferably 24 hours, to tame the bitterness of the pith.

    The short crust was superb when baked, with a nutty taste that was not too sweet. On the other hand, the bitterness of the lemons was immediately evident but tartly refreshing, reminding me of gremolata, without garlic bien sûr. It was a palate cleanser. The next day it was much less bitter, merely bittersweet.

    Consider making these modifications and using one and half times the quantities, and baking the result in a tarte pan with a removable body. This would yield a superb lemon tarte.

    Your recipe reminds me of Shaker Lemon Pie which uses two lemons with the seeds removed and the lemons (excluding the ends) thinly sliced perpendicular to the line joining the stem and bud end, left to macerate with sugar overnight, drawing out the juice and penetrating the pith.

    Here is the relevant part of the Shaker Lemon Pie recipe from smittenkitchen: http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/04/shaker-lemon-pie/
    Thoroughly wash lemons, then dry with paper towel. Finely grate lemon zest into a bowl. Using a mandoline, slice lemons as paper thin as you can get them; remove and discard seeds. Add slices to zest and toss with sugar and salt. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 24 hours.

  • This is my new favorite lemon bar – so flavorful, and I love the little bites of zest I get. And that crust is amazing, yum yum yum!

  • I baked it last weekend, just posted the pics and recipe on my blog http://cakes-and-the-city.blogspot.com/2011/03/when-life-give-you-lemons-make-cake.html
    Many thanks for sharing it and for doing experiment! :)

  • hello David …the ginger cake turned out really good :). Any tips for making the coconut cake more coconutty?

    Did you find it not flavorful enough? That cake is super coconutty, to my taste (and I’m someone who can’t get enough coconut.) You can try and swap out coconut milk for the milk in the custard, although I haven’t tried that because I found the flavor pretty direct. -dl

  • Hi David– Bought organic lisbon lemons at the Oakland Friday market 5 for a dollar! Made it exactly per the recipe except shaved off about a 1/4 cu sugar from the topping. (Couldn’t resist tinkering.) I liked the slightly bitter note at the end, but next time will be good and put the whole cup in. Take care.

  • Dear David, these are THE best. Just made them and they are divine!!! Next time will be doubling the recipe :) Looking forward to more of your creations!

  • These are simply delicious. Your recipe will replace the recipe I’ve been using for the past 20 years — they’re just that good. I used meyer lemons from my tree. I may try using a little less sugar in the filling the next time around. I used one tablespoon of tapioca starch instead of 4 teaspoons of cornstarch (never buy cornstarch anymore since I started using tapioca starch) in the filling and it came out perfect. Love your blog and chuckled and drooled my way through The Sweet Life in Paris.

  • OK cool .. I will try doing that .. and will let you know. I read somewhere that you were hoping that someone would make the coconut cake and mail it to you .. I also read on Facebook that you are going to be in the US for book signing .. I will be happy to mail the cake to you if you let me know where to mail it to you :). You can respond to me on my email directly. Thank you .. I continue to enjoy reading your book !!!

  • I made these for a house party this week and they were gone in 5 minutes although I most probably over-baked the crust (they were simple brown rather than golden and that’s not my fault but my tiny ovens). But now I know to bake it a bit less on its own. I remember one guest shouting this is the best dessert ever. So thank you, for all your experimentation and dedication to find the perfect tangy-bitter-sweet combination.

  • I just made these this week. They were the most amazing lemon bars I’ve ever tasted!