My appearance is far more outgoing than I am. While I favor brightly colored rainbow hair and sport dozens of tattoos, as far as personality goes I'm a shy, introverted, and highly sensitive type. I often joke that you’d never guess how quiet I am by looking at me. Because of my innate introversion, when I came out in my twenties I found it hard to make friends with other queer women or enter the local LGBTQ+ community. It took a random occurrence involving my culinary skills and a batch of lemon bars for me to stumble into a group of other twentysomething queer folks, whom I’d end up spending the following years galavanting around San Francisco with.
Despite my shyness in person, there are spaces where I’m quite comfortable with being outgoing. Giving a speech on a convention stage is one of those spaces, and, like so many others in the world, on the internet is another. Back when Myspace was everything, I began adding people as friends who I’d see when I was out but had been too quiet to approach. Somehow I got into conversation with local lesbians about lemons, and subsequently, lemon bars. I mentioned that I would be happy to bring them lemon bars one night, knowing that my baking expertise would speak louder than my voice could.
I adapted a recipe for a unique type of baked good known as Shaker lemon bars. They involve slicing whole lemons on a mandoline, then macerating them in sugar for a full day. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this version of lemon bars and pie is known as “Shaker” because it is common for Shakers to avoid waste by using whole food items. I just thought they sounded like a fun experiment!
The lemon bars were a hit, and I had something to talk about so I felt less awkward. The act of having made the bars and bringing something physical to the table made me confident about what I bring to the table metaphorically, and I found myself able to open up in ways that to this day—two decades later—can still be terribly challenging for me around strangers. After that night, I suddenly had a group of friends. I’ve made these lemon bars countless times since, and not only because they bring back fun memories.
Unless you’ve made Shaker lemon bars or pie, you’ve never tasted anything quite like these lemon bars. Because they contain the peel, these bars have the most intense lemon flavor possible. Think lemon extract, but with a much more natural taste. Regular lemon bars are a delight, and these have everything that they do,such as a tender shortbread crust and gooey, tangy filling–but with an additional depth of flavor you just can’t wrap your brain around until you try them.
I can’t promise that these lemon bars will yield you a new group of friends, but I can promise that all the friends you have will adore them. They’re a little persnickety to make in that the lemon mixture requires a full day of rest and you have to use your food processor numerous times, but they’re definitely worth it.
The Overnight Step Is Not Optional
While it might seem odd to start making a batch of lemon bars today only to bake them tomorrow, the overnight step is what makes this recipe. If you’re concerned about timing, know that two days of macerating in the fridge is better than less than a full 24-hour day.
Mandoline vs. Food Processor
Most fruit can be sliced on a mandoline, but a lemon can be tough because it’s so juicy. I use a food processor’s slicing blade every time I make these, and recommend the same. If you don’t have a food processor, opt for a thicker mandoline setting for best chances of the slices coming out in one piece.
Eureka vs. Lisbon Lemons
You may not realize that when we buy lemons at the grocery store, we’re buying one of two types. Eureka lemons have thicker skin and less juice, where Lisbon have thinner skin, less pith, and more juice. It’s imperative that you choose Lisbon lemons for this recipe to minimize bitterness.
Too Much Jiggle? Turn Off Your Oven.
If after 35 minutes of baking your bars seem done but you’re not completely sure if the amount of jiggle is too much, I suggest turning the oven off and leaving them in for up to an additional five minutes, then removing them.
Don’t Worry About the Bubbles
Some amount of bubbles in the filling is perfectly ok. The act of processing the lemon mixture and eggs will likely yield some. Since you’ll be covering the top with powdered sugar, it won’t be noticeable, so don’t worry about them.
Super Lemony Lemon Bars
Lisbon lemons have thinner skin, less pith, and more juice than the other common variety called Eureka. It’s imperative that you use Lisbon lemons for this recipe. Otherwise, they will be too bitter and won’t be juicy enough.
- For the filling
- 2 Lisbon lemons, knobby ends trimmed off
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- For the crust
- Cooking spray
- 1 3/4 cups (188g) all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
- 1/3 cup (35g) powdered sugar, plus more for sprinkling on top
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 large egg yolk
Prepare the lemons:
Use a food processor with the second-to-thinnest blade attachment to slice your lemons. Cut them in half lengthwise if they are too large to fit through the slicer shoot. You can also slice the lemons as thinly as possible (about 1/8 inch) on a cutting board with your sharpest knife. Pick out and discard seeds, if you see any.
In a medium bowl, toss the sliced lemons and sugar. Tightly cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 48 hours. The lemons will macerate, releasing some of their juices.
Preheat the oven to 350°F:
Line the bottom of a 7x11-inch baking dish (glass or ceramic) with parchment. Then, spray it generously with cooking spray. You could use a 9x9-inch baking dish.
Make the crust:
In a food processor, pulse the flour, butter, powdered sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt until pebbly in texture, about 30 seconds. Add the egg yolk and pulse for 10 to 15 seconds. The mixture should be crumbly and hold together when pressed between your fingers.
Transfer the mixture into the prepared baking dish and press it down with your hands into an even layer. Use your fingers to help guide it 1/2 inch up the sides. It’s ok if it’s imperfect as long as it’s about the same thickness throughout.
Bake the crust until golden at the edges, about 15 minutes.
Lower the oven temperature to 325°F. You’ll need it to bake the lemon bars.
Make the filling:
Pour the lemon-sugar mixture, 4 eggs, and 1/4 teaspoon salt into the food processor, and process until the peels are broken down into 1/4- to 1/2-inch pieces. Pour the filling over the baked crust.
Bake the lemon bars:
Bake it until set around the edges but still slightly jiggly in the center, about 25 minutes.
Allow them to fully cool on your kitchen counter.
Sprinkle the top with powdered sugar. Cut into squares and serve. These are gooey lemon bars, so you will not get clean cuts.
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