Wintry Sun-Kissed Lemon Bars

Eero Järnefelt (1863–1937), Wikimedia image. Creative Commons.
Eero Järnefelt (1863–1937), Wikimedia image. Creative Commons.

Come mid-February, the low murmur against all things winter begins to reach a dull roar in colder climates. No more chapped lips, numb fingers, abominable snowman-level layers, and shoulder-stooped shivering, please.

Denver has had its fair share of frigid winter days this year, but it’s better than most cities when it comes to winter hate. Yes, it can get very cold, and more than once I’ve cursed the surprise snowstorm that dumped enough snow to make the morning bus commute slush-filled but not enough snow to call off work for the day.

Still, as far as dark days of winter, Denver has fewer than most cold-climate cities. Situated a mile above sea level in the liminal space between high plains and high desert allows its residents a nice share of sunshine despite brittle cold temperatures.

Scott Bauer, USDA. Wikimedia, Creative Commons image.
Scott Bauer, USDA. Wikimedia, Creative Commons image.

No matter where you live in the States (or northern hemisphere, for that matter), winter=citrus season=a ray of sunshine. Below you’ll find an easy recipe for the best lemon bars I’ve ever tasted. That’s a high compliment from someone who loves citrus-infused desserts. You will need a food processor or blender to purée the lemon–you use the entire lemon, flesh and skin–, but it’s high time you put a food processor on your gift list anyway, right?

Cameron and I had to hide the plate of lemon bars behind our lettuce container in the fridge to keep ourselves from eating the entire batch in one day. They’re all gone now, and I’ve promised only to make them again if I take almost all of them out of the house immediately. Yes, they’re that good.

Whether or not you celebrate Valentine’s Day, these sweet-tart rays of sunshine are a nice alternative to the usual variations on chocolate that make the rounds during the holiday.

whole lemon bars recipe
Image by author.

Whole Lemon Bars (a Smitten Kitchen recipe)
Makes 16 2-inch bars

For the crust:
– 1 cup all-purpose flour
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 1/4 tsp table salt
– 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks, plus extra for greasing pan

For the filling:
– 1 small-to-medium-sized lemon (about 4½ oz, or about 3 inches long)
– 1-1 1/3 cups sugar
– 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
– 4 large eggs
– 2 TBS cornstarch
– ¼ tsp table salt

1. Place a rack in middle of the oven and preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Cut two 12-inch lengths of parchment paper, and trim each to fit the bottom of an 8- inch square baking pan. Press the first sheet into the bottom and up the sides of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, running it perpendicular to the first sheet. Lightly butter or spray the exposed parts of parchment. Set the pan aside.

Make the crust:
1. Blend the flour, sugar, and salt together in the work bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is powdery, but if firmly pinched, will hold together.

smitten kitchen whole lemon bars
Image by author.

2. Turn the dough crumbs into the prepared baking pan and press the dough evenly across the bottom and about ½ inch up the sides. Prick the dough all over with a fork and bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Should any parts bubble up, gently prick them again with a fork. Leave the oven on.

For the Filling:
Before you get puréeing, here’s some helpful advice in selecting the best kind of lemons for the filling.

If you can’t buy organic, be sure that you clean the lemon’s skin thoroughly before slicing and puréeing. Also, when prepping your lemon, Ms. Perelman advises you to be fussy and check the thickness of the lemon’s pith (the white part of the lemon between the skin and fruit flesh). She writes that

…if the widest part of the white is 1/4-inch thick or less, continue on to slicing and pureeing the lemon. If any part of it is thicker than 1/4 inch, remove the skin from half the lemon or the bitterness of the pith can overwhelm the bars. To remove the skin, place half the lemon cut-side-down on the cutting board, and remove the skin and pith from the entire half in downward cuts. Discard the skin and pith. The second half, even if it is just as thick, can be used as it.

1. Now that you’ve picked and prepped your lemon, cut it into thin rings and discard any seeds. Toss the lemon rounds in the bowl of your food processor, add the sugar, and run the machine until the lemon is thoroughly puréed, about 2 minutes.

Best Whole Lemon Bars
Image by author.

2. Add the butter and again run the machine until the mixture is smooth, scraping down the sides of the work bowl as needed. Add the eggs, cornstarch, and salt and pulse the machine in short bursts until the mixture is evenly combined.

3. Pour the lemon mixture over the crust and bake it for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the filling is set, slightly jiggly and a bit golden on top.

4. Let the pan cool completely on rack or in the fridge. Gently cut around the outside of the parchment paper to make sure no sides have stuck, and then gently use the parchment to lift the bars onto a cutting board and cut into squares. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and serve.

ridiculously delicious whole lemon bars recipe
Image by author.

0 Comments Add yours

  1. Crystal says:

    I love Smitten Kitchen. What a great Valentine treat.

    1. gwynnem says:

      Me, too. I’ve been trying to pace myself when trying the desserts, but they keep tempting me. 🙂

  2. Donna says:

    We are always open to you sharing desserts to our home if you need them out of your fridge! Dominic anxiously awaits your creations!

    1. gwynnem says:

      🙂 Thanks, Donna. Cameron has made me promise to only make desserts on Sundays so I can get them out of the house as soon as possible on Monday morning!

  3. Jody and Ken says:

    My pastry appetites are pretty unfancy, but I definitely have a lemon-bar-shaped hole in my soul. These look and sound like just thing to go with a double espresso on a wintry afternoon. Ken

    1. gwynnem says:

      Ken, these are heavenly and are relatively quick to bring together. New favorite dessert recipe on my blog!

  4. Lilly Sue says:

    Yum! I love lemon bars! I have not had them in a while and they definitely bring sunshine to the winter months 🙂

    1. gwynnem says:

      Lilly Sue, prepare yourself. These are going to knock your winter socks off. 🙂

  5. afracooking says:

    Oh, give me a cup of tea and these lovely bites and I can handle a few more dismal weeks of winter 🙂

    1. gwynnem says:

      They sure help with the winter blues. I keep thinking about them. I might have to make another batch this weekend.

  6. This is lovely. Fine writing along with a delicious treat!

    1. gwynnem says:

      Thanks, Catherine. If you haven’t tried this recipe, you’re in for an amazing treat. This is one of the most requested desserts on my list.

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