Creamy Limoncello Bars

published Jul 30, 2023
summer
Limoncello Bars Recipe

Spiked with limoncello liqueur, this twist on classic lemon bars is packed with bright, citrusy flavor.

Makes24 bars

Prep30 minutes

Cook25 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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dollop of whipped cream, yellow square bars, cut in rows, graham cracker crust, crumbs
Credit: Sara Haas

A bar dessert is a thing of wonder. From simple ingredients to complex flavor combinations and textures, there are countless ways that baking a dessert in bar form is an opportunity for greatness. Take these limoncello bars, for example. They begin with a traditional graham cracker crust, but quickly get a modern makeover by adding a layer of creamy limoncello-infused filling. It’s simple yet sophisticated at the same time. 

What Are Limoncello Bars?

Limoncello is an Italian liquor made by soaking lemon peels in grain alcohol — usually vodka. The drink originated in the Amalfi coast in Italy where lemon trees are plentiful. Historically enjoyed as a digestif, or drink to “help with digestion after a meal,” limoncello is now a popular drink enjoyed around the world at any time. 

In this recipe, combining limoncello with actual lemon juice instantly elevates your basic lemon bars. But these aren’t basic lemon bars, either. I’ve swapped the shortbread crust for a buttery graham cracker one to keep things simple and add a bit of texture. Instead of a curd-style filling, I’ve used sweetened condensed milk, egg yolks, and cream to create a custard filling. Finally, I added a dollop of homemade whipped cream to cleanse the palate.

Key Ingredients in Limoncello Bars

  • Graham crackers: Finely crushed graham crackers are the base to these bars. You can crush them yourself or, to save time, purchase a box of crushed graham crackers.
  • Lemons: You’ll be using the juice and the zest, so choose lemons that are firm, but give a bit when gently squeezed. One medium lemon yields about three tablespoons of juice and one tablespoon of zest.
  • Egg yolks: Egg yolks help thicken the filling, making it creamy and smooth.
  • Sweetened condensed milk: You need something to balance the tart lemon juice, and this is it. It also adds richness and mouthfeel, thanks to the evaporated milk.
  • Limoncello: The star of the show! It’s a vibrant and bright ingredient that magnifies the lemon flavor.
Credit: Sara Haas

If You’re Making Limoncello Bars, a Few Tips

  • Make your own limoncello. Admittedly, limoncello can be hard to find. If your local grocery or liquor store doesn’t carry it, or you’re interested in making a batch for fun, then follow this limoncello recipe.
  • Bake the limoncello bars in a glass or ceramic pan. The acid from the lemons will interact with a metal pan, giving your bars a metallic taste.
  • Chill the bars thoroughly. After you’ve made the bars, it’s important to let them cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate them for at least two hours. If possible, let them chill for as long as 24 hours. The longer chill time helps them set, which will make them easier to cut and serve. 
  • Prep the bars in advance. If you’ve made the bars in advance, wait to add the whipped cream just before serving for best results. You can prep the whipped cream in advance; simply add one tablespoon of cornstarch to the cream and powdered sugar before whipping. 

Limoncello Bars Recipe

Spiked with limoncello liqueur, this twist on classic lemon bars is packed with bright, citrusy flavor.

Prep time 30 minutes

Cook time 25 minutes

Makes 24 bars

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 12 tablespoons

    (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish

  • 24

    full-size graham cracker sheets (about 12 ounces), or 3 cups graham cracker crumbs

  • 1/4 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

For the filling and topping:

  • 6

    medium lemons

  • 6

    large egg yolks

  • 2 (14-ounce) cans

    sweetened condensed milk

  • 1/2 cup

    limoncello

  • 1 cup

    cold heavy cream

  • 2 tablespoons

    powdered sugar

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla extract

Instructions

Make the crust:

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350ºF. Lightly coat the bottom and sides of a 9x13-inch glass baking dish with butter. Line the bottom and two long sides with a sheet of parchment paper long enough to hang over the sides by 1-inch to form a sling.

  2. Melt 12 tablespoons unsalted butter in the microwave or on the stovetop. Break 24 full-size graham crackers into large pieces and place in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Add 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Pulse until fine crumbs form, about 15 (1-second) pulses.

  3. Transfer the crumbs to a large bowl, drizzle with the butter, and stir until combined and the crumbs are evenly moistened. Transfer the mixture into the baking dish and press with your hands or the bottom of a measuring cup into an even layer.

  4. Bake until fragrant and starting to darken around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Place on a wire rack and keep the oven on at 350ºF.

Make the filling:

  1. Finely grate the zest of 1 to 2 medium lemons until you have 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons. Juice the zested lemons plus more as needed until you have 1 cup.

  2. Place 6 large egg yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer (or large bowl if using an electric hand mixer). Beat with the whisk attachment on low speed until combined, about 15 seconds. With the mixer still on low speed, gradually pour in 2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk. Gradually increase the speed to medium and beat until thickened, about 2 minutes.

  3. Add the lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of the lemon zest (cover and refrigerate the remaining for the topping), and 1/2 cup limoncello and beat until just combined, about 20 seconds. Pour the mixture into the crust.

  4. Bake until the filling is just set in the middle, 20 to 25 minutes. Place the baking dish on a wire and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight. Make the topping right before serving.

Make the topping:

  1. Place the reserved lemon zest, 1 cup cold heavy cream, 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer (or large bowl if using an electric hand mixer). Beat with the whisk attachment on medium speed for 1 minute. Increase the speed to high and beat until stiff peaks form, 3 to 4 minutes.

  2. Grasping the excess parchment, lift the slab out of the baking dish and place on a cutting board. Use a knife to score into 24 bars. Transfer the topping to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip and pipe rosettes onto each bar, or use a spoon to dollop the cream onto each bar. Fully slice and serve.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The graham cracker crust can be made up to 1 day in advance. Let cool, then cover tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature. Unwrap before filling and baking.

Storage: The bars can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week. To freeze, wrap in plastic wrap, place in a freezer-safe container, and freeze for up to 4 months. Thaw in the refrigerator for 1 hour or at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes.