Normally I make lemon bars in the spring or summer but it's been so unseasonably warm that I just couldn't resist (63 degrees in DC in late December is nuts). These shortbread lemon bars are topped with candied lemons.
My favorite thing about lemon bars is the 2 distinct flavors. The yummy buttery shortbread crust, and the tangy lemon custard top. Fair warning, I like my lemon bars to be very lemony, so if you don't want them super tangy, just reduce the amount of lemon juice.
The crust is light, flaky, and super easy to make. I add almond extract to mine because the flavor compliments the lemon nicely, but it's optional. The most important thing about making the crust, is making sure you pre-bake it. The lemon filling is very soupy and won't set properly unless the crust is already baked to act as a firm foundation.
Line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper and lightly spray the bottom with nonstick spray. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream the butter, sugar, and almond extract until smooth. Add the flour and salt and beat until well combined.
Press the dough down in a nice even layer on the bottom of the pan and about ½ inch up the sides (you may need to lightly flour your hands and the top of the dough to keep it from sticking).
Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly golden brown on the edges.
A medium lemon will usually give you about 3 tablespoons of lemon juice, so you usually need 5-6 lemons for a cup. You can use bottled lemon juice instead, but I always prefer the real thing. And if you have an actual lemon juicer, you'll get the most bang for your buck.
These lemon bars are also very tangy, so if you want them more sweet than sour, just reduce the lemon juice to ¾ of a cup instead.
Juice and zest your lemons until you have 1 cup of lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of lemon zest (be careful to only get the yellow layer, not the white pith as this will give you a bitter flavor).
Pulse the granulated sugar and lemon zest in a food processor a few times (this helps break down the zest so that you don't get big chunks of zest in your bars).
Beat the eggs, lemon juice, and heavy cream until combined. Then add in the sugar/zest mixutre, powdered sugar, flour, and salt and mix until smooth.
Pour evenly over the hot crust through a fine mesh strainer (this will help prevent big clumps of flour or zest). Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees or until the center no longer jiggles.
Allow the bars to cool completely after baking, then chill in the fridge for at least 1-2 hours so that the filling can fully set (it's best to let them set overnight and cut them in the morning).
Slice the lemon bars, then top with powdered sugar and candied lemons!
Tip: to cut your lemon bars cleanly, wait until the lemon bars have set in the fridge for at least 1-2 hours. Run a very sharp knife under hot water and make one clean slice through the lemon bars, clean your knife off, and repeat.
Candied lemons are super easy to make and so tasty! All you need is water, sugar, and lemons. I also add ½ cup of brandy to mine because I love the flavor and color it gives, but that's completely optional. They're an easy way to dress up any recipe!
Thinly slice the lemons and remove the seeds.
Bring a pot of water to a rapid boil and blanch the lemons for 1 minute and then transfer them to an ice bath to cool. This step helps maintain that bright yellow color.
In a large skillet, bring water, sugar, and brandy to a simmer. When the sugar is fully dissolved. Add the lemon slices and simmer for an hour, until the rinds are translucent. Note: if you're just using water and sugar, the lemons should still be bright and yellow. Mine look orange because of the added brandy.
Remove the lemon slices and let cool completely.
Tip: Use the leftover simple syrup for cocktails! The lemons infuse some of their flavor into the syrup which taste great in margaritas or a Tom Collins!