Are you looking for the easiest, most ridiculously delicious lemon dessert? Look no further. Cheryl Day’s lemon pie bars from Back in the Day Bakery are the One.
The ingredients list is short, the preparation required is minimal, and the bake time is short too. These must be thoroughly cooled and then chilled before serving, but then your patience will be rewarded a hundredfold.
One of my co-workers has been keeping a list of his favorite desserts I’ve ever made. These lemon pie bars are in the top 10, out of 70 or so desserts in the last year. BAKED’s Derby cookies are in there too. [The bottom of the list, to my everlasting chagrin, was the total flop of an almond Amaro cake from Near & Far.]
I made these for the first time at the end of last summer, when I brought them to a friend’s house party, along with the mint mojito cake from Layered I had slaved (and slavered) over. People liked the mint mojito cake, but they went nuts for these simple lemon bars. They’re utterly addictive, tart but sweet, with a buttery graham cracker crust that’s the perfect height for pairing with the lemon filling and the whipped cream.
In my mind, the original recipe makes a huge number of servings. A 9-by-13-by-2 inch tray yields about 32 squares, which is great for a party, but not ideal for small dinner gatherings or family dessert. Inspired by my mom’s Meyer lemon overload, I decided to make a half batch with fresh Meyer lemon juice and see how they turned out. The lemon pie filling uses sweetened condensed milk (which is just whole milk cooked down with sugar), so I worried the sweeter Meyer lemon juice might throw off the balance. But happily, they didn’t, so you can feel free to use either regular or Meyer lemons here for the juice.
If you’d like the make enough to feed a crowd and don’t want to double the ingredients yourself, you can find Cheryl’s originally-sized recipe here.
There are two possible tiny gotchas in this recipe: not incorporating the egg yolks into the rest of the filling and accidentally pouring the hot water for the water bath onto the filling. This is easily solved by whisking the egg yolks by themselves first and pouring the hot water out of a teakettle or other container with a spout.
Lemon Pie Bars
Phenomenally delicious and easy to make
- 1 1/2 cups Honey graham cracker about 12-13 crackers
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter melted
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
- 3 large egg yolks lightly whisked
- 1/2 cup lemon* juice freshly squeezed and strained, from about 2-3 large lemons
- 1 teaspoon lemon* zest grated, from about 1-2 large lemons
Fresh Whipped Cream
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1-2 tablespoons confectioner's sugar
Position the oven rack in the middle and preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 8-by-8-inch square baking pan with butter (and if desired for ease of retrieval, line with parchment allowing the long ends of the parchment to hang over the sides).
Make the crust by first pulsing the graham crackers into medium-fine crumbs using a food processor. You could also do this in batches by placing the graham crackers in a clean Ziploc bag and rolling over them with a rolling pin.
Once the graham crackers are all evenly fine crumbs, combine them in a medium bowl with the melted butter and sugar. Mix together with a fork to moisten the crumbs, then firmly press the mixture into an even layer onto the bottom of the prepared square pan. Cover the crust with parchment and press with your hand or a drinking glass to completely level the crust.
Bake the crust for 8 minutes, until it is lightly golden. Remove and allow to cool completely before adding the filling, about 30-60 minutes. Turn the oven temperature down to 325 F.
Start 2-3 cups of water boiling in a pan or kettle with a spout.
Make the filling by whisking together the cream, condensed milk, and egg yolks. Add the lemon juice and zest, continue whisking until combined. The filling should be a thick, cohesive yellow mixture. Pour it over the cooled crust.
Place the filled pan inside a 9-by-13-by-2-inch pan or any other baking pan with an equivalent height. Pour the hot water from the pan or kettle into the larger pan, such that the hot water comes up halfway along the sides of the square pan.
Bake the lemon pie bars for about 17-18 minutes, until the filling is puffy along the edges and tapping the pan no longer causes the center to jiggle. Carefully(!), remove the pan from the hot water bath and set it on a wire cooling rack for 1 hour. Refrigerate until fully chilled, at least another 2 hours or ideally overnight.
Make the whipped cream by whipping the cream on medium speed until it begins to thicken. Add the 2 tablespoons of confectioner's sugar and continue whipping until the cream holds soft peaks.
Dollop the chilled bars with cream, cut into squares, and serve.
If you are going to keep some portion of them for later, don't put whipped cream on top of that portion. The untopped bars will keep in the refrigerator for no more than 3 days.
*Either regular or Meyer lemons will work here.