I’ve been looking for the ideal lemon bar recipe for ages. Over the years, I’ve made bars with fabulous citrus zing and bars that held their shape when cut, but only rarely did I get both in the same pan. More often than not, the very best tasting bars never set properly and I ended up chilling them to the edge of freezing before cutting. Or I’d just slurp up the soupy center squares with a spoon.
Leave it to Martha Stewart to solve the problem. I found these luscious squares in “Martha Stewart’s Cookies,” Clarkson Potter, 2008, one of the best cookie cookbooks in my experience.
These bars are bright and fresh tasting with just enough mouth-puckering tartness to satisfy a real lemon lover. Yet they’re also firm enough to slice into perfect squares when cooled.
The secret is a little milk in the topping, which adds body but doesn’t mask the tangy citrus flavor. I’ve also added the grated zest of a lemon to boost the flavor. More lemon is always better, in my book, as long as there’s enough sugar for balance.
The crust is a bit unusual, too. You grate frozen butter right into the flour and sugar mixture, pat the dough lightly into a pan, then freeze before baking. The result is a very tender, light crust with crisp edges.
I like to use Meyer lemons for this recipe when I can mooch them from my friend Sheila or find them at the farmers market. Their flavor is a little more complex and the floral aroma is especially lovely. Ordinary Eurekas will do in a pinch, however.
When life hands you lemons, forget the lemonade. Lemon squares are so much more satisfying.
Makes about 2 dozen
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, frozen, plus more for buttering the baking dish
1¾ cups plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided use
¾ cup confectioners’ sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1-1/3 cups granulated sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
¾ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup whole milk
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and line with parchment, letting it overhang the ends of the pan by a couple of inches.
To make the crust, whisk together flour, confectioners sugar and ¾ teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Grate butter on the large holes of a box grater directly into the flour and sugar mixture. Stir together just until mixture is crumbly. It should still be fairly loose.
Dump crust mixture into buttered baking pan and press evenly into the bottom with your hands. Freeze crust for 15 minutes, then bake for 16 to 18 minutes, until golden. Leave oven on.
While crust is baking, make filling. In a medium bowl, beat together eggs, granulated sugar, flour and ¼ teaspoon salt until smooth. Stir in lemon juice, zest, and milk. Pour this mixture over the hot crust.
Lower oven temperature to 325 degrees and bake until filling is set and edges are beginning to brown, about 18 minutes.
Remove pan from oven and cool slightly on a wire rack. Using the overhanging parchment as handles, lift the bars out of the baking pan and leave on wire rack to cool completely. Dust with confectioner’s sugar and cut into 2-inch squares.
Lemon squares may be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
“Martha Stewart’s Cookies,” by the Editors of Martha Stewart Living (Clarkson Potter, 2008)