Lemon Bars

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Lemon tree, oh so pretty

And the lemon flower is sweet.

But the fruit of the poor lemon

Is impossible to eat.

Anybody remember that song?  I do.  And it’s one of those songs that once you’ve got it in your head, it’s stuck there for a long time.  It apparently has been recorded by artists from Peter, Paul and Mary to Bob Marley and the Wailers (and in the 70’s was used in a commercial for Lemon Pledge).  In 1965, Trini Lopez recorded the most successful version of the song.  Okay, so I’m dating myself, but I must be remembering the Trini Lopez version and I was about seven years old.

Anywaaaaay…I am about to prove those lyrics wrong with this recipe for Whole Lemon Bars from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook. Because, indeed, the fruit of the poor lemon is very possible (and even delicious) to eat!

Arnie's Meyers

Arnie’s Meyers

I love lemon bars.  Whenever I’m at some function where there are lots of cookies and brownies and such to choose from, I always pick lemon bars.  But, I’m ashamed to admit, I had never made them.  Until now.  I’ve mentioned our neighbor Arnie (of Arnie’s Avocado Cilantro Hummus fame) and his Meyer lemons.  Well, I had an abundance of them so I decided to look for a lemon bar recipe and turned to the wonderful Smitten Kitchen cookbook.  (Have you bought it yet?  You really should.  Not only are the recipes wonderful, but the photography is gorgeous.  Food porn gorgeous.)

Whole Lemon Bars.  Deb Perelman says the recipe is based on her mom’s recipe that won first prize in a regional cooking contest.  You slice the lemons, take out the seeds, then add the slices (peel and all) to sugar in a food processor.  AND the entire recipe can be made in just that one bowl of the food processor!

Note:  if you are using a Meyer lemon, decrease the amount of sugar.  They are much sweeter than regular lemons.  Deb says she prefers them with regular lemons because she likes the tartness.  Next batch I’ll try regular lemons. 

Whole Lemon Bars

(adapted slightly from Smitten Kitchen)


1 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon table salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in to chunks, plus extra for greasing pan

1 small to medium sized lemon (I used one of Arnie’s Meyers)

1 1/3 cups sugar (I decreased to 1 cup)

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks

4 large eggs

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon salt


Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cut two 12-inch lengths of parchment paper, and trim each to fit the bottom of an 8 inch square baking pan. Press the first sheet in to the bottom of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, running it perpendicular to the first sheet. Lightly butter the exposed parts of parchment.

Blend the flour, sugar, and salt together in the work bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is powdery, but if firmly pinched, will hold the pinched shape. Turn the dough crumbs into the prepared baking pan and press the dough evenly across the bottom and about 1/2 inch up the sides. Prick the dough all over with a fork and bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Should any parts bubble up, gently prick them again with a fork. Leave the oven on.

Cut the lemon in half. If the white pith is more than a 1/4 of an inch thick, you’ll need to remove it and the skin from one half of the lemon so that the bars aren’t too tart. (If you’re using a Meyer lemon, the skin is thinner and you should be able to skip this step!)  To remove the skin, place half of the lemon cut side down on the cutting board and remove the skin and pith in downward slices, working your way around the lemon.

Cut your lemon halves in to thick rings and discard the seeds. Toss the lemon rounds–whole–into the food processor. Add the sugar, then run the machine until the lemon is thoroughly pureed, about 2 minutes.

Add the butter and again run the machine until the mixture is smooth, scraping down the sides of the work bowl as needed. Add the eggs, cornstarch, and salt and pulse the machine in short bursts until the mixture is evenly combined.

Pour the lemon mixture over the crust and bake it for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the filling is set. You can test this by bumping the pan a little; it should only jiggle slightly. The bars should also start to get slightly brown on top.

Let the pan cool completely. Gently cut around the outside of the outside of the parchment paper to make sure no sides have stuck, then gently use the parchment “sling” to transfer the bars from pan to cutting board. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Cut into 16 squares.  Devour.  And then sing the Lemon Tree song.


2 thoughts on “Lemon Bars

  1. I have been wanting to make this recipe since I got smitten kitchen cookbook at christmas time, but I still haven’t done it yet!! your blog post makes me want to make them even more!

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