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, Israeli, 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
- Prep time 15 minutes
- Cook time 30 minutes
- makes 16 squares (or 32 smaller triangles)
1 3/4 cups
(225 grams) all-purpose flour
(50 grams) granulated sugar
(1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into cubes (remove from fridge 10-20 minutes before baking)
(70 grams) preserved lemon paste (or 1/4 cup of seeded, puréed whole preserved lemons)
lemon zest (from about 2 lemons)
fresh lemon juice (from about 2 lemons)
large egg yolks
(150 grams) granulated sugar
(25 grams) all-purpose flour
Powdered sugar, for serving (optional)
Flaky salt, for serving (optional)
- 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.)
- 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. Dump the dough into the prepared pan and hang onto the bowl.
- 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 25 minutes.
- 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 furiously until totally smooth.
- 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, about 20 minutes.
- 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.
- 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).