Salty-Tangy Preserved Lemon Bars

April 21, 2021
8 Ratings
Photo by Ty Mecham Prop Stylist: Megan Hedgpeth Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • makes 16 squares (or 32 smaller triangles)
Author Notes

You’ve had lemon bars (probably about a million of 'em!), but I bet you haven’t had them like this. Typically used as a seasoning or condiment in Tunisian, Moroccan, Iranian, Turkish, and other North African and Middle Eastern cuisines, as well in dishes around the Indian subcontinent, preserved lemon brings a salty-tangy funk to everything it touches. And here, it’s getting cozy with lemon bars.

Preserved lemon is salty, and each jarred version and homemade batch will vary, so it’s always best to taste both the preserved lemon alone, and the batter after adding sugar and fresh lemon, to ensure you’ve hit the right umami-sour-sweet ratio. You’ll notice that this lemon bar filling is also missing salt, which is not an accident: In this recipe, there’s so much preserved lemon that additional salt was unnecessary (and I love salt, so trust me, you don’t need it); however, I did find that addition of a bit of flaky salt sprinkled over a fully cooked bar before serving added just the right amount of additional seasoning and crunch, as it does to other desserts with salted batters or fillings. Taste, and see what feels right to you. When I was developing this recipe, I tested with a couple brands of preserved lemon paste and puréed whole preserved lemons, and found the sweet (slash-funky) spot was 1/4 cup, creating a dessert that packs way more zing than a classic lemon bar.

While you can make your own preserved lemon, if you want to make these preserved lemon bars today (I hope you do!), store-bought is just fine. Available most typically in its whole-lemon form (I love Mina and Tara Kitchen), you can also find preserved lemon paste, which is already seedless and mostly smooth—ideal for baking. (New York Shuk’s is excellent, as is the less regularly available preserved Meyer lemon paste from small-batch vinegar company Tart.) —Rebecca Firkser

What You'll Need
  • Crust
  • 1 3/4 cups (225 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 10 tablespoons (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into cubes (remove from fridge 10-20 minutes before baking)
  • Filling
  • 1/4 cup (70 grams) preserved lemon paste (or 1/4 cup of seeded, puréed whole preserved lemons)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)
  • 6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons (25 grams) all-purpose flour
  • Powdered sugar, for serving (optional)
  • Flaky salt, for serving (optional)
  1. Heat the oven to 325ºF and line an 8x8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on all sides. (Save parchment paper by cutting one sheet several inches larger than the pan, cutting a slit in each corner, then pressing the paper into the pan.)
  2. In a medium bowl, use your fingers to combine the flour, sugar, and salt, then work in the butter pieces with your fingers, until it forms into a crumbly mass. It may not all stick together, but if you can press together a handful and it holds its shape, you’re good to go. Alternatively, combine in a food processor. Dump the dough into the prepared pan and hang onto the bowl.
  3. Firmly press the dough into the pan in an even layer. Use a fork to prick holes over the entire surface. Bake until the shortbread is lightly golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, make the filling: Place the preserved lemon paste, lemon zest and juice, whole eggs and egg yolk, sugar, and flour in the reserved bowl and whisk until totally smooth.
  5. Reduce the oven temperature to 300ºF. Pull out the oven rack the crust is baking on, and carefully pour the filling over the crust. Gently push the oven rack back and bake until the filling is set and just barely jiggles in the center, 20-30 minutes.
  6. Let the pan cool to room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator to cool completely, at least 3 hours, but overnight is best for a clean cut.
  7. Pull out the bars from the pan by the parchment overhang, place on a cutting board, and slice into 16 squares (or 32 triangles). Dust with powdered sugar and sprinkle over flaky salt (if using).

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Justine Lee
    Justine Lee
  • Jonathan Russell
    Jonathan Russell
  • Rebecca Firkser
    Rebecca Firkser
  • Kimberly

12 Reviews

Kimberly March 22, 2024
I loved this recipe! I don't bake often and tend to avoid recipes that involve making any kind of crust. I made the crust by hand (vs food processor) and the whole process was easy and fairly quick. The crust was a bit like a shortbread cookie. I used Trader Joe's Lemon Curd (maybe considered "a cheat" but I would not have attempted it otherwise) and the filling was perfect - a bit tangy, not too sweet. The lemon bars were delicious - I will definitely make them again. Thank you for sharing this recipe!
Mel March 7, 2023
Loved this recipe! Easy, and two of the people who tried it said it was the best lemon bar of their lives. I used a mini food processor for the filling, and definitely didn't rinse my lemons (but others who love salt less might want to).
Junebug November 7, 2022
I was leery of this recipe because of some of the reviews. These are definitely the best lemon bars I’ve ever made. I made sure to rinse my preserved lemons very thoroughly before making the paste, which did taste very salty on its own but when added to the recipe brought great texture. I added one teaspoon of vanilla, that was the only change I made!
Marna2014 December 13, 2021
The base was way too thick. I wanted to like this recipe (and not waste all that butter and eggs), but, alas, it was a total fail.
slash_27 October 21, 2021
I really wanted to love this recipe as I have jars and jars of homemade preserved lemons to use up but, like other reviews here, I really can't recommend it. The base was far too thick (about 1:1 with the topping), and the lemon custard was just not nice at all. That lovely preserved lemon tang that goes so well in dressings, tagines, etc. just made this dessert taste really funky, and not in a good way. Like, past-it's-expiry-date funky.
I wonder if the store-bought jarred stuff has been boiled, or has sugar added, to take away that savoury twang of proper preserved lemons. The recipe is solid otherwise; cooking times and temp. where good, topping and base consistency and texture were nice, it sliced and presented well. It was just the lemon custard was really not in any way tasty unfortunately.
Emily July 26, 2021
Hard pass on these.
I followed the recipe to a tee, and rinsed my homemade preserved lemon before using.
We found the crust too thick. I used an immersion blender to mix up the filling, and that worked wonderfully. The filling also had a very nice, smooth texture. We just didn't care for the flavor, especially with the powdered sugar topping. I'll stick to my original lemon bar recipe and use preserved lemons elsewhere.
Justine L. April 24, 2021
As a person with a sweet-and-savory tooth, I am constantly on the hunt for a good baked good that has the right amounts of sugar and salt. These bars have that balance I love! The curd is perfectly tart and sweet - thanks to the amazing preserved lemon paste! Meanwhile biting into the shortbread provides a light buttery sweetness. I've made this as written with generous amounts of flaky salt on top. I've also topped it with
fresh raspberries which was equally tart and zippy - in the best way possible!
Clementine April 23, 2021
I found that these were best after a few days after the saltiness had mellowed out a little bit. Next time I will definitely rinse my lemons as the saltiness was overwhelming at the beginning. Also watch out for any flavorings in your lemon brine - mine had a chili so the bars were a little spicy!
Jonathan R. April 18, 2021
Great recipe. Definitely rinse your homemade preserved lemons under cool water to get rid of some of the salt. I also added another tablespoon of lemon juice for a harder lemon smack, and blended the filling for a few seconds on low speed for a more uniform texture. Will definitely make these again 👌🏼
Donna C. March 22, 2021
Gee...I don't know if my family and friends would like this recipe or not, my lemon squares are a real hit with everyone who tries them. Not sure I would want to mess with perfection!! But then again maybe I will!!
TessM567 March 11, 2021
I really wanted to love this but it was too salty for me (definitely could be because my preserved lemon is homemade). I did add extra sugar after tasting the lemon mix but maybe not enough. The crust turned out excellent and the bars set really well though! Now I'm brainstorming other baking I can try with preserved lemon
Rebecca F. March 15, 2021
happy to hear you tried! I'd maybe suggest rinsing off excess salt from your lemons if you make them again :)