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I Tried Reddit’s Wildly Popular Lemon Bars (and They’re Worth the Hype)

updated Sep 8, 2020
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Credit: Grace Elkus

Do you turn to Reddit to plan out your weekly meals? No, me neither. But you certainly could, if you were so inclined. The platform is packed with user-generated recipes, cooking hacks, and weeknight dinner inspo — and that barely scratches the surface of what it has to offer.

I was oblivious to all of this until a few months ago, when I was clued in to all the food-related subreddits (Reddit is not, as I had wrongly assumed, just a place for memes and cute puppy videos — although that’s there too). I’m now a member of baking subs, Trader Joe’s subs, and Instant Pot subs, and I do my fair share of lurking to see what people are cooking, buying, and feverishly excited about. Still, I hadn’t considered cooking a recipe from the site until I began noticing one pop up over and over again on the subreddit Old_Recipes. It quickly became clear that people were obsessed with a recipe for “Grandma’s lemon bars,” originally shared by user u/JustHood about two months ago.

What made Reddit users go gaga for these bars? I have to believe it’s the sense of nostalgia associated with the dessert — and their simplicity. They are the very definition of no-fuss: You simply cream together flour, butter, and powdered sugar for the crust, and parbake it. While it’s in the oven, beat eggs, lemon juice, sugar, flour, and salt for the filling. Pour it onto the baked crust, and send it back to the oven. Twenty-five minutes later it gets topped with powdered sugar, and voila! These are easiest lemon bars ever. But are they good?

Credit: Grace Elkus

Yes, These Lemon Bars Deserve All the Hype

I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical throughout the baking process. The dough for the crust, made with two full sticks of butter, was super soft and on the verge of sticky when I pressed it into the pan. But sure enough, it baked up into a sturdy, shortbread-like base for the lemon filling. The powdered sugar made it extra tender, and parbaking it ensured it didn’t get soggy when I added the filling.

Because my stand mixer bowl was already dirty, I beat together the filling in the mixer as well, but you could certainly do it by hand with a whisk. And the best part is, you don’t have to heat it on the stove, as some lemon bar recipes ask you to do). Onto the warm crust it went, and back into the oven. After 25 minutes, it was perfectly set. I was nervous about dusting the bars with powdered sugar while they were warm. I assumed the sugar would melt into the filling. But nope; it sat right on top, creating a nice, clean layer.

The result is a pretty perfect lemon bar — especially given how easy it is. The crust is thick and delightfully buttery; the filling is smooth and rich and packed with lemon flavor. They’re very sweet — you could likely get away with adding less sugar — but I find the sweetness contributes to their nostalgia. After running my knife around the edge of the pan, I was able to cut clean slices that popped right out. This is a grandmother’s recipe, after all. I should have trusted it would be good.

Credit: Grace Elkus

What to Know If You, Too, Make These Lemon Bars

Because of the recipe’s brevity, there’s a fair amount of guesswork that comes with making these. Here are a few tips to ensure success.

  • Use room-temperature salted butter in the crust. The recipe doesn’t specify what temperature or type of butter to use, but because you’re creaming it with flour and powdered sugar, it will be easiest to work with if it’s softened a bit (here are some ways to soften butter quickly). Because there’s no salt in the crust, I opted for salted butter (plus, I love any excuse to bake with salted butter). You could also use unsalted and add a pinch of salt.
  • Bake the crust a few extra minutes. I recommend using a glass baking dish for these bars, so that you can see the underside of the crust. After 20 minutes, mine was very pale. A few minutes longer would have helped it get nice and golden-brown.
  • Use seven tablespoons of lemon juice — and add some zest. I don’t think there’s such thing as a too lemon-y lemon bar, so I opted for the full seven tablespoons (the recipe calls for a range of five to seven), which I juiced from two small lemons. I also added the finely grated zest of one of the lemons, and I highly recommend it.
  • Let sit before serving. After dusting the bars with powdered sugar, you’ll want to let them sit and firm up for at least 30 minutes. This will make them much easier to slice. If you refrigerate them overnight, like I did, let them sit on the counter for a few minutes to take the chill off before slicing.
Credit: Grace Elkus

Curious about how to tweak this recipe to your liking? Search “lemon bars” on the Old_Recipes sub. Users have made them into tarts, shared gluten-free and vegan versions, and even used orange juice or lime juice in place of lemon juice. There’s endless room to get creative.

More Lemon Bar Recipes from Kitchn

Curious about other popular Reddit recipes? Check out our review of the molasses “murder” cookies.

Credit: Kitchn