Nerd Night: Identity Crisis Lemon Bars

By Mir
January 25, 2016

Listen, I am a person who aspires to balance. I’m not saying I’m a person who ever ACHIEVES balance, mind you, but I do aspire to it. So when I make a completely over-the-top dessert like I did last week, I try to go for something a little simpler and less-sugar-shock-inducing for the following week.

I had an ulterior motive, too. Lemon bars are Otto’s favorite, and I realized while looking for a recipe that I’ve never actually made them before. (I am a terrible wife.) Whenever we eat out somewhere that has lemon bars on the menu, he gets one. Anyway. Often we send dessert off and an empty pan returns, so I planned from the start to make two pansful, on account of Otto ran a Big Event for work last week and I basically didn’t see him after Wednesday morning until Sunday night. He’d worked hard. He deserved a traditional, perfect lemon bar.

Unfortunately, he’s married to me, so what he got are THESE lemon bars. And they were good, the family tells me, but they were not entirely traditional. Still, no one complained.


There’s all sorts of things people will argue about when it comes to the perfect lemon bar, I have discovered. Some harp on the ratio of gooey lemon-ness to crust, some want to talk about whether the crust should be crispy or chewy… people have a lot of opinions about lemon bars, is my point. In preparation for baking, I’d purchased an ENORMOUS bag of lemons, and I knew from years of watching Otto sample a wide variety of lemon bars that his criteria were simple: It cannot be soggy, and it must taste VERY lemony.

With this in mind, I combed through recipes and eventually settled on this one from Inspired Taste, for a few reasons. First of all, it uses melted butter in the crust (which automatically makes it easier than a recipe either calling for softened butter or—my nemesis—cutting cold butter into a flour mixture). Second, it claimed the crust is crisp and buttery, which sounded perfect. (I would say the crust I ended up with is quite cookie-like, which is perfect.) And third, it uses a higher volume of lemon juice than the other recipes I looked at, AND it calls for lemon zest in both the crust and the topping. PERFECT.

So I’m here to tell you that that recipe is likely perfection. You want lemon bars? Use Inspired Taste’s recipe.

I’m also here to tell you that my pitiful bag of lemons LET ME DOWN, man. Several of them were rotten. Many others produced a ridiculously small amount of juice, even after being microwaved and rolled and otherwise coaxed to give up the goods. The recipe calls for 3/4 cup of fresh lemon juice for one pan; I was making two, so I needed a cup and a half total. But when I finished squeezing every last acceptable lemon, I had… one cup.

Here’s where the lemon bars got confused. I made up the last half cup with a navel orange and half of a Ruby Red grapefruit. And then I tasted the juice several times to make sure it still mostly tasted lemony. It did, albeit with a bit less bite. To compensate, I added extra zest to the topping (the recipe calls for 2 teaspoons, and I added a full tablespoon).

In fact, I zested that entire bag of lemons because… I am bad at math and wanted to make sure I had enough.


(I ended up freezing a little container of zest, so it’s all good. I think I see a lemon-something scone in the children’s future.)

Anyway. I didn’t TELL anyone it wasn’t all lemon juice. I just said HERE, LEMON BARS and the kids said they were good and Otto said they were “really good” and then I told him it wasn’t all lemon juice, and he asked what I’d used and I told him and then he accused me of trying to kill him. WE ARE JUST LIKE WARD AND JUNE CLEAVER.

[In fairness, Otto takes one of those ZOMG DO NOT EAT GRAPEFRUIT WHILE TAKING THIS MEDICATION medications, and his concern pleases me in that it means no matter how weird or difficult things get here, he’s obviously not planning on the easy way out. On the other hand, I squeezed the juice of half a grapefruit into TWO entire pans of lemon bars, so by any measure that is a terrible plan for murder even if that was my goal.]

So! There were lemon bars. The kids’ pan came back empty. I will definitely make this one again, but I will hopefully get more cooperative lemons, next time.


  1. beth s

    Oh, I wish I could send you some real lemons. I have a ridiculous oversupply of lemons, grapefruit, oranges, and blood oranges that we can never use up. 5 giant overflowing trees that I cannot even donate the fruit because there is some tiny bug that might infect some trees on the other side of the state. It is horrifying to think we will end up picking tons of perfectly good fruit that is headed to the garbage dump. :-(

    • Mir

      Whaaaaaaaat??? That’s the saddest. Can’t you put an ad on Nextdoor or Craigslist? I guarantee you some home cook will happily come to your house and take your fruit. (Heck, I would, if I was closer!!)

  2. Brigitte

    Ooh, Beth S., that IS sad!

    I keep a bottle of the nasty reconstituted stuff in the fridge to help fill in the gaps in just these sorts of dire cooking emergencies!

  3. LizD

    Mir, we learned that one of the first things to do when moving into a new-to-you house is plant a lemon tree. And don’t go with a tiny newborn. Get a tree that will bear fruit the first year. Consult with your nursery and plant a lemon tree. With an abundant crop, freeze the juice and zest.

    So, plant a lemon tree!

  4. js

    We have a lemon tree. A dwarf lemon tree, to be exact. We’ve had it for years and it…does nothing. It’s barely a tree.

  5. Peggy Fry

    ok, how does one zest a lemon?

    • Mir

      I use a microplane. Looks like a baby grater. :) (Er, a small grater. Not a grater to shred your babies. I’m going to shut up, now.)

  6. yasmara

    A study was just published debunking the “no grapefruit when on statins” thing! So grapefruit away. Greyhound, anyone?

  7. Jeanie

    You have made my mouth water.

  8. Diane

    Thank you for sharing this! Lemon bars are a favorite of mine too. My grandma, who was an insanely talented maker of sweets, had them in her repertoire. Unfortunately 90% of her recipes were in her head do we have nothing to work from.
    I made a batch of Krusteaz lemon bars recently and…just, no. I may have try this recipe this weekend! (sans grapefruit)

  9. Karen

    Oooh, these look really good. I printed out the recipe, thank you. I’m assuming you used wheat flour, I wonder if it will come out as good using gluten free all purpose baking flour (I use King Arthurs… but haven’t always been thrilled with the result.)

    • Mir

      I used all-purpose—I think wheat would’ve turned them into paving bricks.

      I find straight GF substitutes very tricky, which is why I’ve basically given up on them. Let me know if it works, though!

      • Karen

        I meant all purpose flour – sorry, wheat meaning not gluten free. And… they are in the oven now, using gluten free King arthur multi purpose flour… Will come back and let you know how it goes.

        • Karen

          The crust is dust. So… the GF flour is a no-go. *sigh

          • Mir

            Sorry. I had a feeling that would happen. No matter how much a flour claims to be a “cup for cup substitute,” it never seems to really work that way.

  10. Jodie

    I made these today and they were everything I had hoped for and more!

    • Mir


Things I Might Once Have Said


Quick Retail Therapy

Pin It on Pinterest