How to Make Lemon Bars

When you’ve got a hold of a quality lemon bar, you know it. Last night the missus took a bite of one of these and said: “it’s like I’m sitting under a lemon tree in the springtime, and the sun is shining on me.”

That’s about the size of it.

Start by laying out all your lemon curd ingredients and having them ready by the stove top. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Combine your flour, sugar, butter and salt in a bowl or the bowl of a mixer and mix until you have a workable dough.

Transfer the dough to your baking dish (it doesn’t need to be greased)…

…and press it into the pan. Press well into the corners so you don’t get too much crust buildup there. Let the crust rest for about ten minutes at room temperature, then put the pan in the oven on a middle rack for 20 minutes.

Now for the tricky part. You want your curd cooked to 170 degrees right at the time the crust is coming out of the oven for the best possible texture. So, combine all your ingredients (save for the lemon zest) in a small saucepan about fifteen minutes into the baking. You’ll need 1 1/2 times the amount specified in the lemon curd tutorial in the Components menu to the right. In this case, you can simply scale the recipe up.

When the crust is lightly golden, remove the pan from the oven, stir the lemon zest into your lemon curd and pour it into the pre-baked crust. It will be quite soupy. Don’t worry about it. After another 12 minutes in the oven the curd should have heated to 196 or so and have thickened to the point that it jiggles when you jostle the pan. Note the dull yellow-white color of the very top of the lemon bars after they’re baked. This is caused by small air bubbles rising to the surface as the curd heats. it doesn’t look terribly attractive…

…so we cover it up with powdered sugar after the pan has cooled. Problem solved.

The uneven and/or broken crust on the edges isn’t a big deal either. Leave it for a nice rustic look, or just trim it off when you slice the bars, which is what I do. Not so much for looks, but because I want something I can eat by myself after everyone else has gone to bed.

I like to serve these chilled.

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5 Responses to How to Make Lemon Bars

  1. Vicky says:

    Hi Joe! I’ve seen a couple of lemon bar recipes that say the curd must be cooked to 170F. I’m just curious why. I also didn’t realize, the curd had to cook to 196F in the oven – I’ve had a problems with the icing sugar staying on top of my lemon curd, it usually gets absorbed. Maybe that’s why?

    • joepastry says:

      Hi Vicky! Thanks for the email. The reason you cook the curd to 170 is to get it good and hot before it goes into the oven. As the tart bakes the temperature of the curd will steadily rise to 196 when — presto! It’s done. Much more heat than that and the curd will start to break…the egg proteins will start to congeal and squeeze out moisture. That begs the question: why not just bake the uncooked curd to 196 in the oven? The answer is because it will soak into the crust and make it soggy. So, we cook the curd filling in two stages. It’s a bit weird, I know, but it makes great lemon bars.

      Also, save the icing sugar until after the bars and bakes and cooled. That way it won’t get absorbed. Cheers and thanks!

      - Joe

      - Joe

  2. Stephanie says:

    Until now I’ve always done my lemon bars the cold liquid method, and I must say I’m quite famous for them, (nevermind the fact that I live in a town of 60 in the Bush of Alaska.)

    So I tried your method today alongside a batch of my standard version (I accidentally doubled up on lemons on my last grocery order from town), and there are things I like about both, so I’m on the hunt to create the magnum opus of all lemon bars. What I like about yours is that the texture is much better. Mine are more puddingy and yours more custardy. And, of course, the crust in yours is snappier. What I like about mine is that I can cram a TON of lemon flavor in there. I use twice as much lemon juice AND add lemon extract. So…can I add more lemon juice to the curd? What about extract?

    Also, my curd wasn’t as thick as yours appears in these pictures. Could it be doubled?

    Ok, I think that’s it. Thanks for indulging my lemon obsession!

  3. Eliz says:

    I’m looking for the lemon curd recipe. Not finding it in the “components” button that’s supposed to be on the left.
    Thanks.

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