Lemon bars are a classic. Buttery, shortbread topped by bright lemon curd. But, these Meyer lemon bars are my new classic. A salty, buttery crust that stays crisp for days and an absolutely silky curd made from Meyer lemons adds a more complex and less acidic flavor than more traditional recipes.
Most lemon bars treat the crust as a bland, soggy, par-baked afterthought rather than letting it contrast the filling. But, adding a heavy pinch of sea salt and baking until deeply golden make the crust pop and stand apart from the citrus curd. I love Maldon sea salt for its large crystal shape, crunch, and salinity. Also, don’t be afraid of over-baking the crust – all that lemon filling will keep the crust crunchy but still tender.
Once the crust is baked and browned, a generous amount of Meyer lemon curd is poured on top and gently baked until just set. The secret to a smooth, silky curd is sugar, thickening agent, and temperature.
Too much sugar overwhelms the citrus and uniqueness of the Meyer lemons. But, not enough is like an acid assault on your taste buds. So, I ran some numbers and tested the ratio of sugar to lemon juice. My favorite recipes all fell into a 7% tolerance of a 2:1 ratio of sugar to acid. For me, a little more than half the amount of sugar hits the right amount of tartness.
Now that the filling is perfectly sweetened, it’s time to thicken it. Too much flour makes the curd gummy, but relying solely on eggs increases the risk of curdling or making a sweet, lemon quiche. Which is to say, not the goal.
So, I ran some more numbers of flour to liquids in my favorite lemon bar recipes. I noticed the ones with smoothest, silkiest filling use about 1 part flour to 10 or 11 parts sugar and lemon juice. Here, I use 70 g of flour to give me that 1:11 ratio and a straight up luscious filling.
Lastly, the baking. Gentle cooking is the key. Eggs coagulate if cooked at high temperatures for a long time, which leads to tough, rubbery clumps of egg proteins and an unpleasant texture (this is why cheesecakes are often cooked in water baths). Turning the oven down to 300°F will ensure a more gentle, even baking.
One final note, if you don’t have Meyer lemons use regular lemons with a big squeeze of orange or tangerine juice.
Get The Goods & Gear
Meyer Lemon Bars on Salty Shortbread
Salty Shortbread Crust
- 99 g (1/2 cup) sugar
- 213 g (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
- 170 g (3/4 cup) unsalted butter – at room temperature
- 1 generous teaspoon sea salt + more for sprinkling
Meyer Lemon Filling
- 70 g (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
- 495 g (2 1/2 cups) sugar
- 10 fl oz (1 1/4 cups) Meyer lemon juice
- Meyer lemon zest – from 1 lemon
- 6 large eggs
- A pinch of Kosher salt
Make the Crust: Preheat the oven to 350°F and butter a 10×10-inch baking pan. While the oven preheats, bring the butter to room temperature. It should be soft where you can easily press your thumb into it.
Add the sugar, flour, butter, and salt to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream the butter mixture on low until blended and a smooth dough forms, about 1 minute.
Transfer the dough to the buttered pan. Use your fingers or a measuring cup to press an even 1/4-inch thick layer into the bottom. Sprinkle an extra pinch or two of sea salt on top for extra saltiness. Prick the bottom of the crust all over with a fork to prevent bubbles.
Bake the crust in the center rack until deeply golden brown, about 30 minutes.
Make the Filling: While the crust bakes, make the filling.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and sugar. Add the lemon juice and zest and stir until dissolved.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and salt. Add the eggs to the lemon juice mixture and whisk vigorously until well blended, about 1 minute.
When the crust is golden brown, pour the filling directly onto the hot crust right from the oven. Put the pan back in the oven and reduce the temperature to 300°F. Bake until the center of the filling is just set, about 35 minutes.
Remove the pan from the oven and let cool on a wire rack, about 15 minutes. Cover and cool in the refrigerator until completely chilled, about 2 hours. Cut into squares and dust with confectioners’ sugar.
Lemon bars will keep in an airtight container for 3 to 4 days.
This looks delightful! Do you think it will still turn out okay if I only use regular lemons?
Hi Klaire – Yes, these will turn out great with regular lemons (albeit a bit tangier). If you don’t have Meyer lemons try regular lemon juice with a big squeeze of orange/tangerine juice.