RECIPE: Lemon bars are sunshine on drab winter days

Very Lemony Bars. Courtesy of Mia Frazier

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Very Lemony Bars. Courtesy of Mia Frazier

In a bakery like ours, where breads and simple laminated pastries are the stars of the show, the pastry case tends to highlight different shades of beige.

While there is a lot more to a great bakery than chromatic drama, I always look to lemon bars after the holidays to add a bit of sunshine to our lineup.

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A great lemon bar should be a bold shade of yellow, very lemony, and perfectly cut, so each square resembles a little pocket of sunshine. For this version, I make an incredibly useful Italian pastry crust called pasta frolla (and add a fair amount of lemon zest for good measure) for the cookie base. It’s strong enough to give the lemon bars some structure and delicate enough to crumble on the first bite.

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I recommend making the dough in a food processor if you have one. It creates a crumbly base you can smash into an 8-inch baking pan. If you don’t have a food processor, be sure to cut very cold butter into the flour the way you would a biscuit dough to achieve the same texture.

For the lemon curd, pay attention to its consistency and don’t rush the process by turning up the heat. Properly cooked, lemon curd should be bright yellow, slightly wobbly, and taste refreshingly tart.

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Very Lemony Bars
  • For the crust:
  • ½ cup (100 grams) sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 3 cups (390 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (200 grams) very cold butter
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • For the filling:
  • 7 large egg yolks
  • 3 large eggs
  • Zest of 2 lemons
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 1 1/3 cups (310 grams) lemon juice
  • 1 1/3 cups (270 grams) sugar
  • Powdered sugar, for garnish
  • Fresh mint, for garnish
  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, leaving at least 2 inches of overhang on each side.
  • In a mixing bowl, rub together sugar and lemon zest until sugar is fragrant.
  • In the bowl of a food processor, pulse sugar-lemon zest mixture, flour, butter, baking powder and salt until butter is the size of small peas. Add eggs and pulse again until dough is very crumbly, almost sandy, and holds together when squeezed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rest 20 minutes.
  • Press dough evenly into the prepared pan, taking care that it reaches all the corners and is fairly level. Bake 15 minutes, until crust is golden-brown. Let cool completely.
  • While the crust cools, make the filling. In a medium pan off the stove, whisk together egg yolks, whole eggs, lemon zest and salt. Place the pan over medium-low heat and whisk in lemon juice and sugar and cook 7 to 9 minutes, until the mixture is thick, begins to steam and reaches 170 degrees. Strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into the cooled crust, cover with foil, and bake 12 minutes until the curd looks glossy.
  • Let cool completely, remove foil and refrigerate 2 hours so that the custard fully sets.
  • Using the parchment paper for handles, remove the lemon bars from the pan, and slice into 12 2 1/2-inch squares. Dust with powdered sugar and garnish with fresh mint. Makes 12 bars.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per bar: 435 calories (percent of calories from fat, 41), 8 grams protein, 57 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 20 grams total fat (11 grams saturated), 226 milligrams cholesterol, 211 milligrams sodium.

Chris Wilkins has been a professional baker for 12 years. He is a two-time James Beard Award nominee and the founder and co-owner of Root Baking Co. and Pizza Jeans. Submit your baking questions to bakebetterajc@gmail.com.

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