Zesty Lemon Lime Bars
Lemon bars seem so magical to me.
The bottom crust is buttery, crunchy shortbread-like perfection– nothing too unique or miraculous in itself– but the top is a delicate custard: fresh lemon juice in solid, pudding-like form. A tangy, translucent miracle.
Lemon bars rank among my favorite desserts; yet making them myself had always been intimidating.
So here I am– happy to report what most of you probably know already: it’s actually very easy.
I still haven’t technically made lemon bars, though, since these have one-upped that whole concept– and taken it to a phenomenal level– with the addition of lime juice. Lemon Lime Bars with lemon and lime zest mixed in.
Such a vibrant and citrusy-sweet decadence, the lemon and lime flavors both shine through, and the zest floats toward the surface of the gooey, rich top layer to add a little texture, color, and character to the dessert.
This summer my friend Rachel gave me a lovely dessert cookbook when she visited Santa Barbara, and I’d already flipped through it countless times, but hadn’t actually mustered up the energy to bake anything new until last week.
As I turned the pages in search of (dissertation procrastination) inspiration once again, I came across a recipe for “very tangy” lemon or lime bars with the zest swirled in.
I love the pungent smell of citrus zest, and the way it perks up a room (or a dish). The fact that the recipe professed to call for less sugar than the average lemon bar was appealing too. If I was going to go to all the trouble to make my own lemon bars at home, why not make them extra tart and tangy?
It turned out these lemon bars– or rather, lemon lime bars– were the BEST I’ve ever had.
They were equal parts tart, refreshing, and sweet, with a smooth, melt-in-your-mouth texture, and a perfect topping-to-crust ratio.*
I grated a little more zest than the recipe called for, and reserved some for garnishing– after fancying things up with a little powdered sugar. But neither of those steps is necessary.
Don’t let the powdered sugar disguise for these zesty lemon-lime bars fool you; these are no ordinary lemon bars. They are pure magic.
* My most frequent complaint about coffee shop lemon bars? A pathetically small topping-to-crust ratio. (Although when you buy one tiny coffee shop lemon bar for approximately the price of an entire tray of homemade ones, you might feel apologetic toward your wallet, but the advantages to your health are clear.)
Print this recipe. (PDF)
Zesty Lemon Lime Bars
(Barely adapted from “Very Tangy Lemon or Lime Bars” in “Pure Dessert” by Alice Medrich.)
(Makes 12 small lemon bars, or 16 even smaller ones)
~ 8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
~ 1/4 cup sugar
~ 3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
~ 1/4 tsp. salt
~ 1 cup flour
~ 1 cup sugar
~ 3 Tbsp. flour
~ 3 large eggs, whisked until smooth
~ 1/2 cup strained fresh lemon and lime juice (from approximately 2 lemons + 2 limes)
~ zest of one lemon (or more, for serving)
~ zest of one lime (or more, for serving)
~ powdered sugar, for dusting
How to make it:
1. Move an oven rack to the lower third of the oven, and pre-heat to 350 degrees. Line the bottom and up the sides of an 8-inch square baking dish with tin foil or parchment paper.
2. Make the crust: In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Whisk until this mixture is smooth, then fold in the flour with a rubber spatula until just mixed. Press the dough evenly across the bottom of the baking dish. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until the crust is well browned at the edges and golden brown in the center.
3. Meanwhile, make the topping: In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and flour, then whisk in the eggs. Stir in the strained lemon/lime juice, then stir in most or all of the zest. (If you want to save a little of the zest for garnishing later on, then cover your dish of zest with plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out while the bars are baking.)
4. When the crust is ready, turn the oven down to 300 degrees. Slide out the rack with the baking dish, and pour the filling onto the hot crust. Bake for another 20-25 minutes, or until the topping no longer jiggles in the center when you tap the side of the pan.
5. Let cool completely in the baking dish, set on a cooling rack. Then lift up the foil or parchment and transfer to a cutting board. (Note: a thin layer of foam will likely have formed on the surface– don’t worry; once it’s cool you can lay a paper towel over the surface and lightly brush your fingers across it to absorb the foam. Then lift the paper towel up slowly and gently to avoid disturbing the smooth surface of the bars.) Use a long, sharp knife to cut the bars. Optionally dust with powdered sugar and top with extra zest just before serving. The bars can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
Print this recipe! (PDF)