I’ve been on a bit of a roll recreating favorite recipes from my childhood lately. We’re kicking it all off with these lemon bars because anyone I’ve ever known has a fond memory of lemon bars. They were always a dessert I looked forward too, even to the point I would beg for them.
I’m not sure if my mom ever made them from scratch, (I really should ask her). But I do know we would occasionally get the packaged mix for lemon bars. It was one of the only things I can ever remember her making from a package, but I sure loved them!
As I grew up, I started cooking with an all consuming passion, and of course lemon bars made from scratch were at the top of my list to figure out. And if you want the ultimate recipe for anything, just ask Cook’s Illustrated, because they really know what they’re doing.
And for a number of years, the recipe from Cooks was my go-to, since it’s nothing short of amazing. But once we changed our diet, lemon bars were out with the crazy amounts of white flour and sugar. However who wants to live without lemon bars, they’re just too good!?!
So I decided it was high time to figure out how to make lemon bars without processed ingredients. Of course I was worried about a number of potential problems with ‘healthifying’ lemon bars. But I was worried for nothing. In the end, these are the best lemon bars I’ve ever had. And I mean that as the sweeping statement it is, this recipe is even better than the one I used to make with processed ingredients.
Speaking of processed ingredients, I did dust some of these with powered sugar. And here’s the thing, it looks good, but it’s completely unnecessary in terms of flavor. Lemon bars are always dusted with powdered sugar, and my mind has come to expect it. But in the end I didn’t dust the rest of the batch, or the batch to follow. They just don’t need it unless you’re looking for visual effect.
For the crust I kept it very close to a normal shortbread crust. But since I wanted to keep it paleo and gluten free with almond flour, I found adding an egg to the crust makes the perfect texture. It also prevents the crust from becoming soggy as well.
Once the crust is mixed together…
… you pat it into a pan with a nice sized rim up the edges to hold the lemon filling.
And here’s where things get a bit fussy, I’m not going to sugar coat it. Even though this is an easy recipe, it does require a couple more steps and effort than I would normally put into a dessert. But trust me it’s more than worth it.
I adapted the filling from Cook’s Illustrated, and used their method to cook it. Which of course is why it’s a little more involved. However I’ve come to trust their process for good reason, the end result is always the best.
(Still gorgeous without powdered sugar!)
So how it all goes, is you whisk together the filling, which is essentially a lemon curd, in a double boiler until it starts to thicken and reaches the right temperature. Then the filling is strained through a fine mesh sieve to get rid of any egg bits and the lemon zest. This is essential because you want a super smooth lemon bar. Then the sieved hot filling is poured into the hot crust, and baked for just a few minutes.
The reason the extra step of pre-cooking the filling on the stove top is worth it, is because by bringing the filling up to a certain temperature, helps it to cook more evenly in the oven. Whenever I’ve tried lemon bar recipes where the filling isn’t cooked on the stove top, they never turn out as well.
When the filling is just mixed and poured onto the crust, it takes much longer to bake which presents 2 problems. First up the edges get overcooked before the center is ready, and secondly the crust becomes soggy with the liquid filling just poured right on.
So by pre-cooking both the crust and the filling, when you put the 2 together, they bake into perfection in just minutes. The crust never gets soggy, and the filling is silky smooth without any hint of over-baked egginess around the edges.Print
- 1 1/2 cups fine almond flour
- 1/4 cup tapioca starch
- 1/2 Teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 cup melted ghee, butter, or coconut oil
- 1 egg
- 6 egg yolks + 2 whole eggs
- 1/2 cup Grade A amber maple syrup
- 1/4 cup lemon zest, grated with a microplane grater, from 4-5 lemons
- 2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1/4 cup ghee, or butter
- Optional: powdered sugar for topping
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- Mix together all the ingredients for the shortbread crust until a thick dough forms. Pat the dough evenly into an 8″x8″ baking pan, pressing the dough up the sides about 1″. Prick the bottom of the crust a few times with a fork to prevent the crust from bubbling up. Par bake the crust, which means to cook until part way done, and golden brown, about 20 minutes.
- While the crust is baking whisk together all the ingredients for the filling. Then cook the filling in a double boiler until a thermometer reads 170ºF, and the filling starts to thicken. To create a double boiler choose a large pot and fill part way with water. Bring this to a boil, then maintain a simmer. Then whisk together the filling in a smaller pot placed inside of the bigger pot of simmering water. This creates a double boiler, and it’s only necessary to make sure the filling cooks evenly without curdling the eggs.
- Once the filling is up to temperature, remove it from the heat source and pour the filling through a fine mesh sieve to remove any bits of egg and lemon zest. Then pour the hot filling into the hot crust, and bake until the filling is just set, but still jiggly in the middle, about 10 minutes.
- Cool the lemon bars completely before slicing. For the best cleanest looking slices, refrigerate the lemon bars for 2-3 hours before serving. Refrigerate any leftovers for 2-3 days.