Lemon is such a refreshing flavor to me. It adds much needed acidity to dishes, flavor to ice water, and it just evokes images of a warm, relaxing summer day.
I enjoy lemon flavored desserts and I am eager to always find any excuse to make lemon bars. The Murder Mystery “Casual Tea” we were planning to have while watching the new Hallmark Hannah Swensen film is based on a book called “Lemon Meringue Pie Murder” by Joanne Fluke. I justified that “lemon meringue” could mean “lemon bars” and “pavlovas” and conveniently ignored the “pie” part 😄
Lemon bars are composed of three layers
- a buttery shortbread base
- a fresh, tart lemon filling
- a ton of powdered sugar sprinkled on top
As a Food Network fan, I’m familiar with Ina Garten, the host of the show Barefoot Contessa (cue Rockapella singing “Contessa” from Where in the World is Carmen San Diego). Although I haven’t seen too much of her show, I’ve watched Ina Garten’s lemon bar video so many times. One, because I like how she constantly mentions her picnic party with her friends and two, because I can’t believe how easy these lemon bars really are so I constantly rewatch to make sure I’m not missing a step.
For some reason, the recipe is marked as “intermediate” on the site, and I’m not quite sure why. Either someone made a mistake, or they want beginner people like me to feel good by inflating our baking skills.
Preparing the Lemon Bars
Ina Garten’s recipe can make about 20 squares or 40 triangle shaped lemon bars which is… quite a lot. Since it’s just Xak and me, we usually have the following conversation:
Xak: “We should make a half batch of these.”
Me: “You’re right, we should.”
(Proceeds to making a full batch)
This is what freezers were made for!
Lemon bars only have a few ingredients: Butter, flour, sugar, salt, eggs, lemons. It is important to gather all the ingredients and let the eggs and butter sit out until they get to room temperature.
Most recipes unfortunately don’t include the “wait to get to room temperature” time, so it is something to definitely keep in mind when planning to bake OR to do some sort of hack (like Xak’s) to speed up the process. Trying to cream a cold solid stick of butter is not pleasant.
Lemon bar base
Making the shortbread base is the first step. All you do is combine all the ingredients together (again, after letting the butter and eggs sit out for a bit) and throw it in the mixer. You then pat the dough into a baking tray and pop it into the fridge for around 15 minutes and then into the oven. Simple!
This is the first time I’ve made lemon bars with a stand mixer and I love it! Really grateful that we were able to get this as a wedding gift.
Lemon Bar filling
The lemon filling is a mixture of lemon zest, lemon juice, eggs, sugar, and flour. The ingredients go together in a bowl and are whisked together. You do have to be careful when putting in the ingredients. Although the recipe doesn’t say how to put the ingredients in, the video shows Ina Garten whisking things one at a time and then putting the flour in slowly to avoid lumps. Your kitchen will smell very fresh at this point.
The first time I did this, I dumped everything in, even after watching the video because I was so distracted by how Ina Garten just casually throws egg shells in her kitchen. There were lumps galore in my filling. Luckily, Xak helped smooth out the lumps and now I know better.
In the past, I also severely underestimated how many lemons I needed for “1 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice.” I often keep lemons in my home for my water or to make salad dressing and on that particular day, I didn’t have that many left. The lemon bars still tasted lemon-ish but I was off maybe by a half cup or so. Since then, I’ve learned to buy a ton of lemons.
After pouring in the filling (hopefully with 1 full cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice), the lemon bars go back into the oven for around half an hour and then removed and cooled.
Taking the Bars out
I always get nervous about the appearance of the lemon bars when I take them out of the oven. I always seem to have some bubbles, bumps, or imperfections in the filling. However, what I’ve realized is that life is not a cooking show. The perfectly sharp cuts and flawless food we see on TV isn’t what’s going to happen in a home kitchen without an industrial oven and state of the art appliances. While I could probably improve my technique, the important thing is making sure the filling is set and that it tastes good.
Maybe this recipe was marked “intermediate” because of the lessons you learn along the way. 🤔
The last step is waiting impatiently for the bars to set, cool, and then sprinkle a ton of powdered sugar on top. I don’t really use powdered sugar that much except to make icings, but I absolutely love how it makes a lemon bar look (and how it hides my multitude of sins).
Although Ina cuts her bars as big as tea saucers, the top of my three tiered tray is pretty tiny, meaning I have to cut them into bite sized pieces. Just for the tea time at least. Later, when I’m not bound by etiquette, tea saucer sized lemon bars sound perfect!
Onto the last part before our tea party can begin: the pavlovas.