How I love lemon bars. They are perhaps my most favorite dessert ever. Lemon bars really top any treat I can think of. And I would definitely choose them over chocolate-anything every time. But they have to be done right. And that’s hard. I find many lemon bars are too sugary and not tart enough, so it’s taken me quite a while to find my most favorite recipe.
I stumbled upon these after we harvested a bumper crop of Meyer lemons from Mom’s tree. The funny thing is, we bought the tree originally for the leaves! Very finely chiffonade lemon leaves and use them to top bowls of chicken pho, Vietnamese chicken salads (goi), and Haianese chicken and rice, to name a few. The actual fruit was just an afterthought when we first bought the tree. But, oh, what a lovely side benefit! Meyer lemons have super thin skins, they’re much sweeter and juicier than regular lemons, and the fragrance is slightly floral.
It feels like a sin to waste any part of a Meyer lemon. So, that’s why this recipe is so awesome. You use the whole, entire lemon! You couldn’t use regular lemons in the same way in this recipe. Meyer lemons have a much thinner pith (the white, bitter part) than regular lemons; regular lemons would make this recipe way too bitter to eat. I think of these treats as lemon bars for grown-ups. Because you use the entire lemon, there is a tiny bit of bitterness to them. But I love that about these bars. The bitterness cuts the sweetness of the curd and gives the bars dimensionality that regular lemon bars lack.
To bump up the adult factor another level, I tweaked the shortbread crust recipe a little. Instead of just melted butter, I browned it. Whenever I see a recipe using melted butter, my very first instinct is to brown the butter! I love the smell of roasty, toasty browned butter in the kitchen. It makes the shortbread crust a lovely nutty flavor.
Finally, I love pairing herbs with sweets. And what better combination than lemon and rosemary! I added some finely chopped rosemary to the browned butter shortbread crust.
I know Meyer lemons aren’t always available (or affordable!), so if you’d like to use regular lemons, I would suggest making these changes: 1) zest the lemon and add it to the lemon topping mixture, 2) slice off the white pith and discard, 3) seed, then dice the remaining fruit and add it to the topping mixture.
Be prepared for the most amazing aroma when you make these lemon bars!
Meyer Lemon Bars
Adapted from David Leibovitz
One 8-inch pan
1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, browned
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
Zest from one lemon
1 Meyer lemon
1 cup minus 2 Tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (originally called for 3, but my lemons were pretty sweet, so I doubled it)
3 large eggs, room temperature
4 teaspoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
Powdered sugar, for topping
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Line an 8-inch square pan with aluminum foil, shiny side up. The foil should cover the sides. Smooth it as best you can.
3. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, rosemary, lemon zest, 6 tablespoons browned butter, and vanilla, stirring just until all the ingredients are combined.
4. Smooth the batter into the bottom of the pan, using your hands or a small offset spatula to get it as level as possible. Press firmly to create an even layer.
5. Bake the crust for 25 minutes, or until it’s deep-golden brown.
6. While the crust is cooking, cut the lemon in half, remove the seeds, and cut the lemon into chunks.
7. Put the chunks of lemon in a food processor or blender along with the sugar and lemon juice, and let it run until the lemon is broken down, but still kind of chunky. Add the eggs, corn starch, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 2 tablespoons melted butter, and process until almost smooth. (A few tiny bits of lemon pieces are normal and encouraged.)
8. When the crust comes out of the oven, reduce the heat of the oven to 300 degrees F. Pour the lemon filling over the hot crust and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or just until the filling stops jiggling and is barely set.
9. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Once cool, carefully lift out the bars grasping the foil. Cut the bars into squares.