Lemon Bars - Easy and Delicious Treats
I'm always amazed at the compliments I receive for these incredibly simple-to-make Lemon Bars. It is my favorite "go-to" dessert to bring to a party, to make for company, or just as a sweet treat for my kids. I know you're probably thinking "but everyone loves chocolate", and "who's going to want something made of lemons?", but trust me when I say once you taste these, you will change your mind forever about the humble little yellow lemon. So, chocoholics beware, you can keep your ooey-gooey chocolate desserts (although, truth be told, I do love those too), once your friends and family taste these bars, they will be hooked.
That's right! You guessed it. The secret ingredient in these Lemon Bars is, well, lemon. Real lemon. Real lemon zest and real lemon juice.
I know, it sounds silly, but you just can't make delicious lemon bars if you use bottled lemon juice and, horror of horrors, lemon extract. So go on out to the market and pick yourself out the prettiest lemon there and bring it home. It's about to be the star in this production.
One Lemon is all you Need!
One lemon is perfect for giving just the right amount of zest and juice for this recipe. It's nature's perfect little ingredient.
But it's really easy, I promise!
This recipe is so incredibly simple, but there is one thing you'll need to do before you get started and that is to prep the lemon.
First, you'll need to zest the lemon. To do this, use a fine grater (such as a Microplane version), which makes a beautiful light zest that melts into this dessert and is what gives it such great flavor. To zest with the Microplane, just rub the lemon in one direction against the little blades. Keep turning the lemon as you go so you remove only the bright yellow part - that's the zest. You don't want the white pithy part just under that -- it's bitter.
Note: if you don't have a Microplane, you can use use a traditional zester or grater, but if it makes long, thin strands of zest be sure to finely chop the strands with a knife. The finer the zest is the better it will flavor.
Now you need to extract all that juicy goodness from your lemon. Cut the lemon in half crosswise (through the middle; not from end to end) and use your favorite juicing method. Some people use a fork to stab the lemon pulp, some use a citrus press gadget to squeeze the juice out, really strong people just squeeze it in their powerful bare hand. Do whatever works for you. Once you have all the juice the lemon will possibly give, strain the juice to get rid of any little bits and seeds with a fine mesh strainer.
Note: If you don't have a fine mesh strainer, picking the seeds out with a spoon will do.
Simple, easy, and no fancy ingredients
1 box Yellow Cake Mix (any brand)
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese (not whipped), softened
1/3 cup vegetable or canola oil
1/3 cup sugar
Juice of one lemon
Zest of one lemon, divided in half
In a large mixing bowl, combine the cake mix with the oil, 1 egg, and half of the lemon zest, until the mixture is crumbly. You'll want to mix this by hand so as not to make it smooth. Scoop out about 1/2 cup of this crumb mixture and set aside. Spray a 9"x13" glass baking dish with cooking spray, then pour crumb mixture into pan and gently spread out mixture to evenly cover the bottom of the pan. Pat lightly. Bake in a 350 degree pre-heated oven for 15 minutes until the edges are just barely browning. While the crust bakes, combine the cream cheese with the sugar, the remaining egg, all of the lemon juice, and the remaining lemon zest. Pour on top of the warm crust and gently spread it out so that a thin, even layer covers the crust. Sprinkle the top with the reserved 1/2 cup of crumbs and place back in the oven. Bake for 15 more minutes. Allow bars to cool completely in the baking dish. Once cool, refrigerate for at least one hour before attempting to cut into small bars. Makes approximately 32 bars.
Note: if you want to give your bars a fancy look, dust the tops lightly with powdered sugar.
Wrap up a batch as a gift
You'll make someone's day if you give them a batch of these lemon bars, so why not dress them up a little more with a personalized sticker. Place your lemon bars on a pretty plate, wrap with cellophane, tie up the package with a pretty lemon yellow ribbon and add one of these lovely custom stickers.