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Zesty Lemon Lime Bars

December 10, 2012

Zesty Lemon Lime BarsPin it!

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.

Zesty Lemon Lime Bars

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.

Zesting and juicing lemons and limes for Zesty Lemon Lime Bars

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.

Zesty Lemon Lime BarsPin it!

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.

Ingredients for Zesty Lemon Lime Bars: eggs, sugar, lemons, limes

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.

Zesty Lemon Lime Bars with powdered sugar

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?

Lemon and lime zest for Zesty Lemon Lime Bars

It turned out these lemon bars– or rather, lemon lime bars– were the BEST I’ve ever had.

Zesty Lemon Lime Bars

They were equal parts tart, refreshing, and sweet, with a smooth, melt-in-your-mouth texture, and a perfect topping-to-crust ratio.*

Making the shortbread crust for Zesty Lemon Lime Bars

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.

Zesty Lemon Lime Bars with powdered sugar

* 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.)

Lemons and limes for Zesty Lemon Lime Bars

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)

Crust Ingredients:
~ 8 Tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
~ 1/4 cup sugar
~ 3/4 tsp. vanilla extract
~ 1/4 tsp. salt
~ 1 cup flour

Topping Ingredients:
~ 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.)

Making Zesty Lemon Lime Bars

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.

Making Zesty Lemon Lime BarsMaking Zesty Lemon Lime Bars

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)

Zesty Lemon Lime BarsPin it!

Zesty Lemon Lime BarsPin it!

Related recipe posts:
> Almond Cinnamon Baklava
> Pear and Pomegranate Salad with Hazelnuts and Fresh Lemon Juice
> Mango Coconut Popsicles with a hint of Lime

48 Comments leave one →
  1. December 10, 2012 8:52 am

    I love Alice Medrich’s book! And your Bars look fantastic!

    • December 10, 2012 9:37 am

      Thanks! Yes, it’s such a lovely cookbook and these turned out so well that now I’m excited to try more of her recipes. (Especially the almond cake…)

      • December 10, 2012 9:55 am

        I’ve made it before, and it’s delicious! If you ever decide to make the Lemon curd tart, be careful to multiply the curd recipe by three or four, as the quantities she gives are obviously not enough to fill the tart shell (which is delicious). I also love her recipe for chocolate, raspberry and nutmeg muffins. Should definitely make this though, while lemons are in season!

      • December 11, 2012 10:34 am

        Ok, thank you– that’s good to know! That and the muffin recipe are definitely on my list to make (oh and also the Labne tart, which I almost made instead of these lemon lime bars, but I didn’t have quite enough labne in the house!).

  2. December 10, 2012 8:58 am

    …*wiping drool off my screen*

    • December 10, 2012 9:38 am

      I know, these photos are making me want to make them again… (of course they were gone in about two days, so there weren’t even any left for me to snack on as I was writing this!)

  3. Scraps permalink
    December 10, 2012 9:05 am

    Yes, lemon bars are ridiculously simple–I keep trying to tell folks but they consider them something along the lines of alchemy :) My recipe calls for lemon zest already, adding the lime is a fabulous idea.

    I tend to not bother with lining the pan, though. The butter content of the crust is generally enough to let the pop out once cool (and if the first corner piece breaks, oh well–guess you just have to eat that one first).

    • December 10, 2012 9:42 am

      Alchemy is a good word for how I envisioned the process of lemon bar-making up till last week! So glad I just dove in and tried it.

      I’m sure you’re right that the buttery bottom crust would pop right out of the pan without a lining– I should try that next time. (Although I mostly did it to avoid the cleanup of the lemon juice-y filling cooking against the sides of the pan, and it had the pleasant side effects of making the whole thing easier to lift out to slice, and of giving the bars around the edges a crimped shape from the waves of the parchment paper.)

  4. December 10, 2012 10:11 am

    Oh yes, lemon bars are the best because they’re a perfect study in contrasts: Sweet and sour flavor + crunchy and creamy texture, all in one. It’s an irresistible combination!

    • December 11, 2012 10:36 am

      Definitely irresistible. Also I pretty much swoon for anything with lots of lemon flavor in it (especially when the tart is so nicely balanced by the sweet), and my girlfriend’s the same way with limes, so this dessert is the best of both worlds!

  5. December 10, 2012 10:30 am

    Lemon bars are one of my favorites too — I bet the lime adds a nice layer of flavor (and love the pop of color on top!) ~ Kat

    • December 11, 2012 10:37 am

      Thanks! It does; I loved the lemon-lime combination of tartness (and color)! Not sure if I’d ever bother making it with only lemons (or only limes) after this. :)

  6. December 10, 2012 11:46 am

    What delicious dessert bars my friend :)

    Choc Chip Uru

  7. December 10, 2012 1:36 pm

    Yummy, Allison! :D Fae.

  8. December 10, 2012 6:59 pm

    These look totally refreshing! I overdosed on all things chocolate this past weekend and these bars sound especially good right now. I found a farmers market in Detroit this summer that makes amazing lemon bars and I’ve been hooked ever since!

    • December 11, 2012 10:39 am

      Oo, nice. Yeah, I’ve found some pretty good ones at a local coffee shop, but my homemade ones were definitely better! (I’m giving credit to the limes…)

      And yes, these are totally refreshing! (Or as refreshing as something with this much sugar can be… :)

  9. December 11, 2012 12:08 am

    Allison: I love the color contrast you got going on with the lime zest on top –absolutely gorgeous! Will have to give these a try. Thanks for sharing!

    • December 11, 2012 10:41 am

      Thanks, Anne! I love the colors with this recipe too. (I also think part of the magic of lemon bars is their bright color, with no yellow food coloring added– and the yellow wasn’t dulled at all by the paler lime juice! Citrus fruit is so amazing…)

  10. December 11, 2012 12:18 am

    These look delicious! I love the contrast between the yellow of the bars and the blue of the plate.

    • December 11, 2012 10:41 am

      Thanks, Francesca! I liked that color contrast too… that plate is one of my favorite thrift store finds. :)

  11. December 11, 2012 10:16 am

    Sounds delicious. I have a recipe for Shortbread Lemon Bars…never thought though to put lime with it. Very zesty.

    Chef Randall

    • December 11, 2012 10:43 am

      Thanks! Yeah, very zesty indeed– I was torn between naming these “Tangy” vs. “Zesty” Lemon Lime Bars, since both descriptions are very fitting, but since they have not one but two types of zest, that tipped the balance.

  12. December 11, 2012 11:58 am

    These look really tasty! I love the look of them on that colorful plate – great staging. Next time I make these, I’ll definitely try your recipe.

    • December 11, 2012 9:25 pm

      Thanks, Beth! The lemon lime recipe is definitely a keeper.

  13. December 11, 2012 8:44 pm

    And me with a little box of lemons my mom just brought from CA…these look amazing! I love puckery-sweet citrus desserts.

    • December 11, 2012 9:26 pm

      Me too! Puckery-sweet desserts are the best. (Personally, I’ll choose a fruit tart over a chocolate cake any day…) And yay, I’m glad you have some fresh-from-California lemons to bake with!

  14. December 12, 2012 7:56 am

    These look great…we love lemon bars, so a little lime would be welcome, too…

    • December 17, 2012 8:52 am

      Yes, the lime is lovely… I’m curious about what it’d be like to make lime juice-only bars at some point, but using both lemons and limes in combination was so delicious, I’ll probably just keep making this version instead.

  15. December 16, 2012 7:44 am

    They are truely deliscious! just baked them :-) I’love the sweet^sour combination and the freshness of the bar. Actually amzing what you can do with such simple ingredients!

    • December 17, 2012 8:51 am

      Yay, that makes me so happy to hear! I’m so glad you enjoyed them. And I agree– it’s amazing what you can do with simple, fresh ingredients. (Lemon bars will always seem completely magical to me.)

  16. January 2, 2013 8:42 am

    I’m going to have to try these…My boyfriend absolutly loves lemon bars and I can’t seem to ever get them quite right! We recently purchased a new oven so hopefully the temperature will hold better when baking. He’ll appreciate these for sure!

    • January 2, 2013 5:20 pm

      Yes, I hope your new oven works better than your old one! I have made these 4 (!) times in the last few weeks (I got a few requests to make them after this post… :) and they all turned out wonderfully, so this might be the lemon bar recipe that finally works for you!

  17. February 22, 2013 6:24 am

    I am very excited to try these. I LOVE lemon bars. Almost an unhealthy amount. :)

    • February 22, 2013 4:45 pm

      Oh man, so do I! We love them such an unhealthy amount in my house that the most recent time I made these, I only made 1/3 of the recipe in a tiny little baking dish so we wouldn’t feel so bad about how quickly we finished them off. :) I hope you love this version as much as I do– the lime makes a lovely difference!

  18. July 18, 2013 11:44 am

    Just found this while cruising your archive – wow! It looks fabulous.

    • July 27, 2013 2:28 pm

      Thank you! I’m just glad to hear someone’s been cruising my recipe index. :) But yes, they are reeeally good– I can’t even count how many times I’ve made them now.


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