The Secret Ingredient for the Easiest-Ever Lemon Bars Is in the Jam Aisle

published Apr 11, 2023
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Two lemon bars stacked on top of each other.
Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Lemon bars are so nostalgic for me, so naturally, they’re one of my favorite desserts. My dad and I had a ranking system for lemon bars — no matter where we went, if we saw a lemon bar, it was going home with us! I’ve always loved the balance they strike between sweet and tart, supple and sturdy. 

For some, this lemony dessert can seem a bit daunting. It’s easy to accidentally overbake a shortbread crust and attempting to make a citrus curd can quickly end in lemony scrambled eggs. Over the years, I avoided making lemon bars out of fear of something going wrong, and opted for the store-bought variety instead.

Use Jarred Lemon Curd for Lemon Bars

One day at the grocery store, while I was searching for apricot jam, I stumbled upon a jar of lemon curd. I immediately shelved the apricot dessert I had been planning and thought, “why not make lemon bars with pre-made curd instead?”

I came home and whipped up a quick shortbread crust. I baked it until the edges had the slightest golden brown, and then I added two 11-ounce jars of lemon curd to the crust and put it back into the oven. After 25 minutes, I jiggled the pan, saw the curd had set, but it also turned a deeper, yellow color than before. Hopeful my idea would work, I popped the pan into the fridge to set for a few hours. 

Once it was fully set, I sliced into it, eager to try a piece. The first bite was an explosion of lemon flavor but with added notes of caramel, which totally shocked me! It was like eating a lemon tart with a hint of molasses or burnt sugar. This flavor, mixed with the tender shortbread crust, blew me away and from then on, I was hooked. 

Tips for Using Jarred Lemon Curd for Lemon Bars

  • Be sure you’re using lemon curd that has real eggs in it. If not, it makes it harder for the curd to set in the oven like a traditional lemon bar.
  • Add a tablespoon of cornstarch slurry to the lemon curd. This helps the bars set and maintain their structure and prevents them from falling apart. You may need more, however, depending on the brand. 
  • Be sure to allow a few hours for the lemon bars to set in the refrigerator. I’ve found that semi-homemade lemon bars need a bit more time to cool and fully set than with a homemade curd, but it’s well worth the wait. 

So I say to you all, no more dirtying pots, or setting up double boilers. From now on, we’re getting our lemon bar fix the easy way!