Bars that will satisfy lemon-heads, chocoholics

Amp up the flavor of lemon bars and give the crust some chocolate love. (Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)

Credit: Darrell Sapp

Combined ShapeCaption
Amp up the flavor of lemon bars and give the crust some chocolate love. (Darrell Sapp/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)

Credit: Darrell Sapp

Credit: Darrell Sapp

Up the game on lemon bars by using a chocolate crust instead of the usual all-purpose flour one.

The holy trinity for a lemon bar crust is flour, butter and sugar, usually powdered sugar as granulated sugar can produce a brittle texture, giving it a shortbread taste and feel. There’s nothing wrong with that tried and true recipe, but how about amping the flavor and giving the crust some chocolate love that would still have a buttery goodness about it?

It’s easy to scoff and say lemon bars are for rookies, since all it takes is to whisk egg yolks, cream cheese or heavy cream (if you want it creamy), sugar or sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice and lemon zest together, pour the mixture into a crust and then bake. And voila, you have a citrusy treat.

But take a pause, and keep a few guidelines in mind.

It’s best to crush the cookies with a rolling pin so that they are a combination of crumbs and bits to form a sturdy crust to shoulder the weight of the filling. The crumbly mixture needs to be firmly pressed into a baking pan evenly so that it is compact. This helps prevent the crust from crumbling when cut. Then it needs to be baked for about 15 minutes at 325 degrees. The crust needs to stay crisp even after it’s topped with the filling.

I prefer if the bars are not cloying sweet and instead have a bright fresh lemon flavor and plenty of pucker power, so I add finely grated lemon zest to the smooth filling.

My colleague Kevin Kirkland grows a dwarf Meyer lemon tree in a container, and I used the smooth-skinned, juicy, sweet and fragrant fruits of his labor to bake the bars. He said his lemon tree took eight months to bear eight fruits. I kicked myself for “wasting” them in the bars as Meyers generally are not in the least sour, and the ones I used were not tart enough for the bars. They would have received the deserving accolades in a vinaigrette instead.

One way to ensure that squares come out in equal sizes is to first cut the entire square in half and then cut into smaller equal-sized squares.

If you are a lemon-head and a chocoholic, look no further than the lemon chocolate bars.



These creamy, zesty bars are a refreshing addition to any tailgate spread, and they come together in no time.

For chocolate crust

2 cups crushed chocolate cookies

8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, melted

For lemon filling

1/4 cup (2 ounces) cream cheese, softened

3 egg yolks

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1/2 cup lemon juice

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

1/4 cup powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lay two sheets of parchment paper in an 8-by-8-inch baking pan; set aside.

Prepare chocolate crust: Combine crushed cookies and melted butter. Press crust mixture into the bottom of prepared pan.

Bake crust for about 15 minutes.

While the crust is baking, make filling by whisking together cream cheese, egg yolks, condensed milk, lemon juice and lemon zest. Let mixture mixture rest for a few minutes to allow some of the air bubbles rise to the surface.

Pour filling into warm crust. Place pan back into oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until filling has set.

Remove from oven and let cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar.

Makes 16 bars.

— Arthi Subramaniam

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