Deb Perelman’s No-Waste Lemon Bars Use the Entire Lemon

published Mar 30, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Brett Regot; Design: The Kitchn

When we decided to battle off lemon bars for the latest installment of our celebrity recipe showdown series, I was determined to try four very different variations. After all, there are a lot of ways to make a lemon bar, and I needed to find out which technique was the very best.

For this reason, Deb Perelman’s lemon bars were high on my list of recipes to try. Deb, who is behind the very popular food blog Smitten Kitchen, uses just one whole lemon (flesh and peel included) in her bars, and she also adds both cornstarch and butter to her filling.

Would this unusual technique make for the best-ever lemon bars, or would I be turned off by the bitter lemon pith? I took to the kitchen to find out.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Brett Regot; Design: The Kitchn

How to Make Deb Perelman’s Whole Lemon Bars

You’ll begin by beating 2 sticks of room temperature butter and 1/2 cup of sugar in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. When the mixture is light and fluffy, slowly add flour and salt and mix to combine. Press the sticky dough into a 9×13-inch baking dish, spreading it into an even layer and pressing 1/2-inch up into the sides of the dish. Place in the fridge to chill and firm, then bake for 15-20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Next, you’ll make the filling. Slice one whole lemon into rounds and remove the seeds. Place the lemon slices in the bowl of a food processor with 1 1/2 cups of sugar and 1 stick of cold butter, cut into chunks. Process the mixture until the lemon is pureed and there is no visible lemon pith. Add 4 large eggs, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and process again until the filling is smooth. Pour the filling into the pre-baked crust and bake it again for 35-40 minutes. Let cool before slicing into rectangles and dusting with powdered sugar.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Brett Regot

My Honest Review of Deb Perelman’s Whole Lemon Bars

I was impressed by just how far one lemon can stretch — that lemon is working hard for you! — but I found that the flavor of the filling was not quite as swoon-worthy as I had hoped. It just didn’t pack that lemony punch I was craving. And while I personally didn’t mind the bit of pith in the filling (it actually gave me lovely marmalade vibes), I can see a lot of people finding it off-putting. The generous amount of butter in the filling did add a creaminess that mellowed out the slight bitterness from the pith, but it also left visible pools of bubbling butter dotted across the pan.

Overall, if you need a lemon bar right now and you only have one lemon, this recipe will be your savior.

Credit: Amelia Rampe

If You’re Making Deb Perelman’s Whole Lemon Bars, a Few Tips

1. Add extra lemon. These bars needed to be taken up a notch in the lemon department. If you have more than one lemon, try adding some extra juice!

2. Balance out the bitterness with sugar. A little more sugar might help balance out bitterness of the pith. 

3. Use parchment paper. I found the use of parchment in the other recipes I tested to be helpful when removing them from the pan and slicing. If you don’t use parchment, you have to slice the bars in the baking dish, which is awkward and messy.

Rating: 6/10

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Brett Regot; Design: The Kitchn