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How to Make Lemon Bars

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Every other Friday, Yossy Arefi from Apt. 2B Baking Co. shares dessert projects that demand a little extra time and effort. Because your weekends should always be sweet.

Today: Yossy riffs on Alice Medrich's lemon bar recipe -- adding a little more zest and a little less sugar -- to achieve a bar that makes you pucker, in a good way.

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There used to be a coffee cart near my mom’s store in Seattle that had the best selection of treats in the neighborhood. Every once in awhile, I would tag along to work with my mom, and she’d treat me to a vanilla steamed milk, and we’d share a little sweet something on the side. The cart’s little case was always packed full of biscotti, those sugar cookies covered in an obscene amount of pink frosting, mazurkas (which are jam bars that maybe only exist on the West Coast?), and lemon bars. There were probably other things in there too, but my mind only registered and remembered the ones I liked.

I always chose a lemon bar when they had them. The combination of soft, buttery crust and tart lemon topping showered in confectioners’ sugar just couldn’t be beat. Now, I’m sure that my mom didn’t appreciate the accidental dusting of confectioners’ sugar that landed all over my face, shirt, and everything else in sight when I ate said lemon bar, but she never let on.

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More: Yossy loves lemons. Here's her lemon meringue pie recipe.

That coffee cart closed years ago, but my love for lemony desserts hasn’t faded, especially in bar form. I’ve made countless versions of lemon bars over the years, but most of the time I return to this recipe based on the Very Tangy Lemon Bars in Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert. I made a couple changes to her original version by browning the butter for the crust, reducing the sugar in the filling just slightly, and increasing the lemon zest to make the bars extra zingy.

I dust them with confectioners' sugar, and, yes, still get it all over myself. It just can’t be avoided.

Lemon Bars

Makes one 8-inch pan, 16 to 25 bars 

For the crust:

8
 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 
cup granulated sugar
3/4
 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4
 teaspoon salt
1 
cup all purpose flour

For the topping:

1 
cup granulated sugar
3 
tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 
large eggs
2 
teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/2
 cup strained fresh lemon juice
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350º F. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil; allow some foil to hang over the sides of the pan. Lightly grease the foil.

To make the crust: Slice the butter into tablespoon-sized pieces. In a light-colored saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter while stirring constantly. The melted butter will foam a bit, then the foam will subside. Keep cooking the butter until the milk solids turn golden brown and the butter has a nutty fragrance, 7 to 10 minutes. Take the butter off the heat and pour it and all the browned bits from the pan into a heat-safe bowl to cool slightly.

When the butter has cooled, add the sugar, vanilla, and salt. Add the flour and mix until just incorporated. Press the dough evenly into the bottom of the pan.

Bake the crust for 20 to 25 minutes, until it is golden brown. Meanwhile, make the topping: Stir the sugar and flour together. Whisk in the eggs, followed by the lemon zest and juice.

When the crust is done, turn the oven down to 300º F. Slide the oven rack with the pan on it out of the oven and pour the filling into the hot crust. Slide the rack back into the oven and bake until the topping is set and does not jiggle in the center when the pan is tapped, 20 to 25 minutes. Set the pan on a rack and let the bars cool completely in the pan.

Lift the cooled bars out of the pan, using the foil as handles. Slice the bars into 16 or 25 squares and dust with confectioners’ sugar just before serving. Store leftover bars in the fridge for up to a week. The crust will soften over time.

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.


See more from the illustrated biographies of 16.5 global desserts

Tags: lemon, dessert, zest, sweet