These lemon bars are by far the most requested item I make. My friends love the buttery-tart combination and recently, I was asked to make a whole bunch of them for a wedding! Since I had to mass-produce these guys, I decided to go with… bottled lemon juice, something I hadn’t done for nearly a decade. However, in so doing, I discovered that bottled lemon juice is the key to making these lemon bars consistently tart and perfect in consistency!
You see, when I first started making these bars in college, I always used bottled lemon juice. Ain’t nobody have time to take the bus to the grocery store to buy real ones each time. They turned out great each time, and everybody loved them. But several years ago, I got it in my head that fresh lemon juice was even more gourmet or something. When friends gave me freshly picked lemons from their yards, I’d hand-squeeze those suckers and make lemon bars. I thought I was being fancy. If people didn’t gift me lemons, I insisted on buying real ones from the store to harvest the juice for these treats.
Not long after, though, I started getting feedback, like, “Hmm. These bars are a little too sweet. Maybe less sugar,” and “You should make these lemon bars more tart. More lemony.” So I started experimenting with less sugar and more lemon juice.
Throughout the last few years, I’ve watched the consistency of the lemon part of my lemon bars vary. Sometimes they seemed soggier. Sometimes sweeter. Sometimes not lemony enough. Did my tastebuds just change over time? Did I just not like these bars as much as before?But last month, when I used the bottled lemon juice to make allll those bars, I realized it was the lemons! Guys, BOTTLED LEMON JUICE > REAL LEMON JUICE for lemon bars! Unexpected, right? I’m not exactly sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with the water content or varying tartness of the fresh lemons (oftentimes Meyer, which are milder) I’d use. Every lemon is different, so the inconsistency of the fresh lemons I used sure didn’t help my lemon bar experimentation.
Anyway, I made nearly 200 lemon bars last month, and each one was satisfyingly tart and lemony and no one said anything about, “Hm… less sugar, maybe?” They were all happy customers so I felt the need to repost this favorite recipe with the suggestion to stick with the bottled stuff!
*I usually double the recipe and use a 9” x 13” baking pan so there’s more to share.
**Really, make sure there are no cracks. Some friends have ended up with inverted lemon bars, and I think this is the culprit.
***I think the bars are the best the next day, so I always make them at least one day ahead of time!