Recipe Review

Serious Eats’ Sunny Lemon Bars Are Practically Perfect

published Apr 1, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Brett Regot; Design: The Kitchn

When it comes to baking, I appreciate a detailed recipe. Whereas cooking can be improvised, baking is a science — and the less guessing I have to do, the better. That said, there’s a fine line between a detailed recipe and a fussy one. And when I decided to include Serious Eats’ lemon bar recipe in our celebrity recipe showdown, I knew it would be teetering on that line.

Serious Eats’ recipe, developed by award-winning pastry chef Stella Parks, is the only one of the four lemon bar recipes I tried that has you cook the filling on the stovetop, then strain it into the crust. It also uses significantly more eggs — 3 whole eggs plus about 8 egg yolks. And, I was excited to see that the recipe doubles down on lemon flavor by adding lemon zest to both the crust and the filling.

Would this very particular recipe yield the perfect lemon bar, or would I be frustrated by the extra time and dirty dishes? I baked up a batch to find out.

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

How to Make Serious Eats’ Sunny Lemon Bars

You’ll begin by lining an 8×8-inch anodized aluminum pan with a parchment paper sling. Combine the flour, powdered sugar, salt, freshly-grated lemon zest, and cold butter in a food processor. Pulse the mixture into a dry pebbly meal, then scatter in the baking pan and press into an even, flat layer. Bake it (without chilling first) for 30 minutes. 

You’ll make the filling while the crust bakes. Combine 3 large eggs, about 8 egg yolks (the recipe provides a weight and cup measurement for the yolks, rather than a specific number), 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon zest, and a pinch of salt in a saucepan. Whisk in 1 1/3 cups lemon juice and cook, stirring often, over low heat. This is a process called tempering — you’re slowly raising the temperature of the eggs without scrambling them.

After a few minutes you’ll increase the heat and cook the mixture until it thickens and reaches 170°F on an instant read thermometer. Immediately strain the curd into the crust and smooth into a flat layer. Cover the pan with foil and bake for another 10 minutes. Cool the bars at room temperature (remove the foil so that condensation doesn’t accumulate on the surface of the bars), then reapply the foil and refrigerate for 1 hour or until firm. Stella offers some suggestions for additional toppings, but I felt they were so beautiful on their own that they didn’t need powdered sugar.

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

My Honest Review of Serious Eats’ Sunny Lemon Bars

As I cooked through the recipe and took note of Stella’s details, I was reminded of why Stella Parks is so beloved by home bakers. Her attention to detail and smart techniques resulted in a lemon bar that was the brightest of the bunch and packed a tart, super lemon-y punch. I officially appoint Stella Parks the pastry queen of Lemon-Bar Land!

The crust, thanks to the addition of powdered sugar, tasted like lemon shortbread, with just the right amount of structure. The extra straining step ensured that the custard was silky-smooth. The recipe is not only unbelievably delicious, but I found it to be elegant as well.

Credit: Amelia Rampe

If You’re Making Serious Eats’ Sunny Lemon Bars, a Few Tips

1. Don’t skip the parchment. The parchment paper sling will help you easily remove the bars from the pan, which makes them much easier to cut.

2. Use an instant read thermometer. Using an instant read thermometer ensures you cook the custard to the correct temperature before straining, which will give you the perfect lemon bar consistency.

3. Have your strainer ready to go. You’ll need to strain the custard as soon as it hits 170°F, so have your strainer ready for a stress-free transition.

4. Smooth the custard quickly. The custard will begin to firm up as soon as it hits the crust, so move fast and spread it quickly. (Trust me — it’s easy to get distracted by licking the custard spoon).

5. Follow this recipe exactly and you won’t be disappointed. Trust Stella and don’t stray from the recipe.

Rating: 9.5/10

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