There seem to be two categories of lemon bars in this world–curd topped or chewy. If you follow my Instagram stories, you maybe saw the poll I posted about it. Most people fall into the curd category, myself included, but there were plenty of people in support of the classic, chewy lemon bars. I like punchy, tart lemon flavor and I think curd bars have more of those characteristics (sorry chewy fans!). I set out to make my perfect lemon bars with a silky and tangy curd on top of a rich, nutty base.
The shortbread base for these bars is rich and buttery with lots of pistachio bits throughout for flavor and texture (I am all about that textural contrast). Don’t skimp on the salt for the shortbread, I think it brings out the nuttiness of the pistachios–when I was testing I initially went with less salt but dialed it up and found the pistachio flavor to be more pronounced. The Meyer lemon curd is an old favorite that I’ve been making for several years (recipe here)–make a double batch and store half in the refrigerator for spreading on scones, making this ridiculous Lemon Bar Ice Cream, or for spooning straight into your mouth.
Winter is citrus season and now is the time to find Meyer lemons in most grocery stores. Unlike standard lemons, they are pretty much a seasonal thing (basically, you can’t find them year round) and offer a little sweeter, more floral flavor than a regular lemon. I always have regular lemons in my refrigerator for everyday cooking, but Meyer lemons are special and I love to use them for baking this time of year. You can totally sub in regular lemons for the curd here, just add a few additional tablespoons of sugar (2-4) to soften the sour edge of the standard lemons.
The shortbread base call for ground pistachios and unless you can find them already ground, you will probably have to grind your own. I just blitz them in the food processor until I get a coarse meal–meaning there are some very finely ground, almost floury bits, and some nibbly little pieces of pistachio (about the size of hemp seeds) and everything in between.
The curd is both cooked on the stovetop until thickened and then baked for a short time on top of the base to set so you can actually slice these into bars that hold their shape. The bars, hot and straight from the oven will be a bit loose and look liquidy, but they will set up into a silky, not-too-firm curd after they cool completely.
- Meyer Lemon Curd:
- 1 tablespoon Meyer lemon zest
- ¾ cup Meyer lemon juice (about 5 lemons)
- 1¼ cup sugar
- 6 large egg yolks
- pinch of kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- Pistachio Shortbread:
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- ¾ cup coarsely ground unsalted pistachios*
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- Begin by making the curd. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the lemon zest, juice, sugar, egg yolks, and salt. Whisk the mixture until combined and the eggs are completely incorporated. Add the butter and heat over medium-low stirring constantly until thickened, about 15 minutes. The curd is ready when you can drag your finger across the back of a spoon dipped into the curd and it holds the line and doesn't run back together. Set aside while you make the shortbread (or cool, pour into a lidded container, and store in the refrigerator until ready to use).
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and line an 8x8 -inch square baking pan with parchment with an overhang on two edges (to create a sling to lift the finished bars from the pan) and butter or spray the pan and parchment well.
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, ground pistachios, powdered sugar, and salt. Pulse to combine. Add the butter and process until the butter is completely incorporated and the dough comes together when pinched (you may notice the sound of the food processor will change when it's ready). Press the crumbly mixture firmly into the prepared pan in an even layer, making sure to get it all the way into the corners. Bake for about 25 minutes, the edges and top should begin to turn golden. Remove from the oven. If the base has puffed up, gently press the shortbread down with the back of a spatula. Pour the lemon curd over the base and spread in an even layer. Return to the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes or until the edges begin to bubble, the curd will still be loose but will set as it cools. Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack until completely cooled. Dust with powdered sugar and cut into squares.