Those Lemon Bars... You’re Always Asking About

Originally developed by pre-eminent food blogger and cookbook author David Lebovitz, this clever and simple dessert is much more than the sum of its parts. Neither too sweet nor too tart, it features a lively smooth lemon topping balanced by a crunchy, buttery vanilla crust. It is the perfect light dessert for this time of year, with the weather warm and summertime refreshment already on our minds, but seasonal fruit not yet available. At our house it is also our favorite Easter mazurek.

Until now, I’ve always passed along the link to the original recipe, but having made this over a dozen times (possibly over two dozen times, or maybe three dozen times...), I’ve amassed some tips of my own that compel me to produce a separate version of the recipe. I’m also pleased to offer a Polish translation for the folks who prefer it. Whichever language version you decide to follow—you might be surprised by just how easy this is to make.
 

CLICK TO DOWNLOAD POLISH VERSION / WERSJA POLSKA
 

CRUST INGREDIENTS

140g plain flour (about 1 cup)
50g sugar (¼ cup)
¼ teaspoon salt
115g butter, melted (½ cup)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
 

FILLING INGREDIENTS

2 whole small lemons
200g sugar (1 cup)
¼ teaspoon salt
1 rounded tablespoon potato flour or cornstarch
3 eggs (at room temperature)
45g butter, melted and cooled (3 tablespoons
 

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180°. Line a 20cm square baking pan (or its circular equivalent) with a layer of baking paper or aluminum foil. Melt both quantities of butter.

To assemble the crust, whisk together the flour, sugar and salt. Use a spatula to combine the dry ingredients with the butter and vanilla. Press the resulting soft dough evenly into the prepared pan and bake at 180° for 20-25 minutes. (You’ll want the crust to turn slightly golden and give off a toasty aroma before you proceed.)

While the crust is in the oven, assemble the filling. Cut up one of the lemons into slices or chunks and remove the seeds. Squeeze the juice of the other lemon. Combine the lemon chunks, lemon juice, salt and sugar in a blender and pulse until smooth. Add the eggs and potato starch and blend again. Just before the crust is ready, add the melted butter and blend until well combined.

When the crust is ready, turn down the oven temperature to 150° and slide out the oven shelf containing the baking pan. Immediately pour in the blended filling ingredients, making sure to pour gently from just above the crust. Return the baking pan to the cooling oven for a further 25 minutes.
 

SOME HELPFUL NOTES

  • If using a baking pan with a significantly larger surface area, consider doubling the recipe or multiplying it by a factor of one-and-a-half.
  • You can melt both quantities of butter together. You can use it still warmed in the crust but let it cool a bit before adding it to the filling ingredients.
  • If you wish to add real vanilla beans to the crust, add a pinch to a spoon of the butter and mix well before blending with the rest of the crust ingredients.
  • Don’t skip the salt.
  • When I make these, I use unrefined pale-golden sugar in the crust but white sugar in the filling to show off the vibrant yellow of the yolks and lemon zest.
  • Choose a ripe, thin-skinned lemon, lime-sized or slighlty larger, to use whole in the filling. (Lebovitz indicates slightly larger lemons than the ones I tend to use, but I find the tartness oberbearing when there is too much lemon juice and pulp in the mix.)
  • Scrub that lemon well if it is conventionally grown.
  • Use a standing blender if you have one. It will liquify that lemon and emulsify the filling ingredients more thoroughly than the handheld kind.
  • Assemble the filling while the crust is baking so it is ready to pour right away. If the crust cools before the filling is poured, the result won’t be as delightfully solid and crunchy.
  • Pour the filling very gently: the just-baked crust is fragile. I use a measuring cup to “catch” the filling as it pours from my tall blender jug and tilt the cup gently to distribute the filling without displacing the crust.
  • I store these bars in their original pan, uncovered, on a shelf in my refrigerator—but I can do this because I’m meticulous about not keeping anything smelly in my fridge. If you have cold cuts, smoked fish, garlicky pickles or any other pungent foods in your refrigerator, protect your dessert with plenty of plastic wrap.