High Country Baking: Yummy, simple and pretty lemon bars
Lemon bar recipes — I’ve got a million of them and my collection keeps growing. This latest addition features a simple shortbread crust that cradles a soft lemon filling. It tastes and looks good enough to serve to company, takes very little active time, and is easy enough to prepare that, with a little supervision, kids can make it.
The amount of lemon juice and zest called for in the recipe results in a lemon flavor that is obvious but not sharp. However, the tartness of lemon juice varies, so taste yours and, if you want a stronger pucker, add a little more or up to another ¼ teaspoon of zest.
Be sure to lightly spoon the flour for the crust into your measuring cup; if you scoop it, you may get too much, which will make the crust dry and hard.
Works at any elevation.
Make in an 8-by-8-inch square metal baking pan.
- 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup (4 ½ ounces) plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour — spoon and level
- Two large eggs
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1 ¼ teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest.
- Powdered sugar, for dusting
Prep: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line your pan with nonstick aluminum foil or regular foil, extending it past the pan on two opposing sides to use as handles when removing the baked slab of cookies. Generously grease any exposed parts of the pan and the foil, if you’re not using nonstick foil, with a baking spray that contains flour.
Make the crust: Place the melted butter, sugar and salt in a bowl and whisk until well combined. Add the flour and stir/knead until a stiff dough forms. Scrape it in the pan and press it into an even layer with no high edges. Freeze it until it’s very firm (about 10 minutes) and bake until the dough is set and lightly colored, 25-30 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool for 2-3 minutes, but leave the oven on.
Make the filling: About 5 minutes before the crust is done, start preparing the filling: In a small mixing bowl or 4-cup measure, whisk the eggs, sugar, flour and salt until very well combined (at least 1 minute). Add the lemon juice and zest. Whisk the mixture again. After the crust has rested 2-3 minutes, whisk the filling a final time and slowly pour it over the hot crust to ensure no air bubbles form.
Bake: Return the pan to the oven, increase the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake until the filling is set, (check by gently shaking the pan; the center shouldn’t wobble) and the edges darken just slightly, 15-20 minutes. Remove the pan to a rack to cool completely. Use the foil handles to lift the slab of uncut bars from the pan, carefully run a knife between the foil and the sides of the slab and gently peel back the foil. Use a sharp, straight-edged knife to cut it into squares, wiping the knife clean after each cut. If the knife is tearing the filling, refrigerate the slab of cookies until it’s chilled and will cut more easily. Sprinkle powdered sugar over the tops (use a mesh strainer for this) and serve. Store loosely covered (so condensation doesn’t form), in the ‘fridge for 2-3 days. Reapply a coat of powdered sugar before serving any stored squares.
Editor’s note: This recipe is a variation of one published in Fine Cooking Magazine.
Vera Dawson’s column “High Country Baking” publishes biweekly in the Summit Daily News. Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks. Her recipes have been tested in her kitchen in Frisco, where she’s lived since 1991, and altered until they work at elevation. Contact her at email@example.com.
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