A really good lemon bar is the perfect summer sweet. It’s got that snappy acidic edge that shakes up lazy taste buds. A snowy cap of confectioner’s sugar that fairly screams “cool, cool, cool.” And—despite its decidedly caloric content—it seems just a little lighter than, say, a dusky slice of fudge cake. Did I mention you can cut them into those cute little squares, which makes them that much easier to sneak? (Go figure they’re made with a winter fruit. But I’m ignoring that little detail.)
So, I’ve tried a lotta lemon bars in my day. Some memorably good. Most too sweet, too runny, or just plain blah. In fact, I think it had been a good decade since I’d even bothered sampling a lemon square when some doozies caught my eye at this year’s Fourth of July blowout at our friends Gina and Louie Napolitano’s house.
I knew I was onto something when in-the-know revelers abandoned their broccoli rabe and ribs and started buzzing around the outcoming tray like tipsy bees. “Oooh! Gina’s lemon squares. These things are unbelievable,” cooed a burly guy holding a beer. I instantly put my reporting skills to work. Apparently, these weren’t the love children of Gina, of the Louie and party-hosting fame. They were created by Gina’s friend Gina—a hilarious pixie who looks like she’s never eaten a lemon bar or anything else caloric in her lifetime.
I pushed the other bees out of the way and got to work, gobbling down around five in one go. They were perfection: An uber-buttery, crisp crust, cradling lemon heaven that was just right balance of sweet and tart, sturdy and silky. And those killer corner pieces?? Don’t even get me going on where they sent me. I accosted little Gina in the kitchen and demanded the recipe pronto. The good news: She drummed it up right on her phone. The bad news: It’s, um, Paula Deen’s! But you’ve got to know that if I am giving this icky woman any positive exposure a) I apologize b) I apologize and c) THESE LEMON BARS MUST REALLY BE THAT GOOD!!!!
Make them for your Labor Day last hoorah. And maybe make a donation to Deen’s least favorite charities if you feel you must pay some sort of penance. It’s worth it!
One note: I like these babies chilly. Build in enough time so that yours can cool completely and spend some quality time in the fridge.
For the crust:
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces and at room temperature, plus more for greasing the baking dish (if you are baking on a hot day, don’t let the butter get too too soft. It should be firm enough to still be able to cut into small pieces but not hard)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting
Pinch of salt
For the filling:
4 large eggs
2 cups of granulated sugar
6 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
6 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a 9x13 inch baking dish with foil and butter the foil. Make sure foil is flat and has no creases, otherwise it will catch filling and stuff and be hard to peel from the bars. Also leave enough extra foil coming up the sides so you can lift the bar easily out of the pan in one piece.
Make the crust: Whisk the flour, confectioners' sugar and salt in a large bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingers to make a crumbly dough; press into the prepared baking dish. Bake 20 minutes, then transfer to a rack and let cool slightly.
Meanwhile, make the filling: Mix the eggs, granulated sugar and flour in a bowl with a fork. Mix in the lemon juice. Pour the filling over the crust and bake 25 more minutes; transfer to a rack and let cool completely. Sprinkle generously with confectioners' sugar. Lift out of pan in one piece and cut into cute little squares. Store in the fridge.