These classic lemon bars are perfectly sweet and tart with a hearty, partial whole wheat crust.
My dessert motto is “if it ain’t chocolate, it ain’t worth it.” Even with a powerful sweet tooth I easily pass on desserts that don’t contain my cocoa companion, with the exception of lemon bars. Lemon bars are my non-chocolate nemesis. Good intentions to control my portions and eat just one or two small squares always fail. A well made, not too sweet lemon bar is, for me, impossible to resist.
The perfect lemon bar should be a delicate balance of sweet and tart, made with fresh lemon juice and speckled with zest. The silky custard should sit atop a sturdy yet tender crust that holds its shape during cutting but melts in your mouth.
My quest for the perfect lemon bar lead me to create this recipe. It contains a third less sugar than most recipes, resulting in a sweet/tart lemon curd that sits on top of a shortbread crust. I use powdered sugar and some whole wheat flour in the crust to make it light and crumbly yet sturdy enough to slice.
This recipe is especially close to my heart because I had the privilege of baking these lemon squares for the wedding of a dear friend. Six years of wedded bliss later, I baked them for her tea-party-themed baby shower and she absolutely loved them. Simple enough to bake this weekend and special enough to share with your loved ones, you have to try these lemon bars!
If you try my not-too-sweet lemon bars, leave me a comment and let me know what you think!
1 cup unsalted butter, softened at room temperature (the butter should still be a little cold but soft)
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (8–9 small lemons)
6 large eggs, room temperature
⅛ tsp salt
¾ cup all purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Line a 9X13 baking pan with 2 pieces of aluminum foil, overlapping crosswise and pressed firmly into the corners of the pan.
Place the butter and powdered sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer (or a large bowl if using a hand mixer). With the paddle attachment in place, cream the butter and sugar together on medium speed until fully combined and fluffy 2-3 minutes.
Add the all purpose flour, whole wheat flour, and salt to the bowl. Turn the mixer on medium low until just combined, 1-2 minutes. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple times.
Dump the mixture out into the baking pan, use your hands to firmly press the crust into the bottom and corners of the pan. Make sure there are no cracks or gaps in the crust.
Bake the crust on the middle rack until fragrant and lightly golden brown around the edges, 20-25 minutes.
Remove the crust from the oven and let it cool at room temperature.
When the crust cools, it might shrink and leave a gap along the edge of the pan. To avoid having lemon custard seep under the crust, adjust the foil so it is snug along the edges of the crust.
Lower the oven heat to 325 degrees.
While the crust cools, prepare the filling.
Combine the sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, eggs, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer.
Whisk until the ingredients are well combined and the sugar has dissolved, 1-2 minutes.
Sprinkle the flour over the egg mixture and whisk until fully combined.
Carefully pour the lemon custard onto the completely cooled crust, bake on the middle rack until the custard is just set and no longer wobbly, 25-30 minutes (check the bars after 20 minutes, they may be done in that time depending on your oven.
Let cool at room temperature for at least 2 hours. Use a serrated knife to cut into triangles or squares.