So here we are, just moments away from Independence Day. Certainly not the 4th of July for this year that I imagined last year. Not that the Husband and I have made a habit out of heading off to big fireworks displays on the 4th, but still…Needless to say, we’ll be spending this one right here at home. Where we have been. For oh – months and months. Perhaps years at this point. 2020 has certainly made months seems like they go on for years. Facing the tedium of yet another social distanced holiday, I thought it might be nice to make the Husband a little treat. Now I’ve told you how he absolutely loves any fruit based dessert and of the many fruit desserts out there, lemon bars hold a special place in his heart. So I was absolutely delighted when I saw that Smitten Kitchen – one of my favorite blogs – had just shared a recipe for Whole Lemon Meringue Pie Bars. Clearly, it was just meant to be!
And the whole lemon thing is true. Yup – you actually use a WHOLE lemon in this recipe. Well – you take the seeds out and remove the stem, but otherwise the whole thing – skin and all.
I was afraid that the whole lemon might have caused the lemon filling to be bitter, so I kind of held my breath a bit when the Husband took his first bite. Hooray! Not bitter at all. I think using the whole lemon actually gave it a much more – well lemony taste. I mean these bars actually tasted perfectly sour and tart and also sweet. But just the right amount of sweet. Sometimes when I’ve gotten lemon bars, they taste very, very cloyingly sweet with only a slight hint of lemon. Like maybe someone had only waved a lemon over the mix. That is certainly not what the Husband is hoping for in a lemon bar. He wants that pucker up sour citrus zing of a real lemon. Let me tell you, these bars definitely delivered in that regard.
And although I have made lemon bars before, I had never added the meringue layer on top. With these Lemon Meringue Pie Bars the sweet marshmallowy toasted meringue works to perfectly balance the lip puckering intensity of that velvety lemon filling. Both the Husband and I were very well pleased.
I don’t know what you’ll be getting up to this 4th of July, but I do know that no matter what it is, these Whole Lemon Meringue Pie Bars will make it better. Make yourself a batch today!
Whole Lemon Meringue Pie Bars
For the crust:
- 9 whole graham cracker sheets (1 sleeve), broken into pieces or 1 1/2 cups (150 grams) crumbs
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
- Large pinch of salt
- 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
For the filling:
- 1 whole (preferably organic) lemon, any variety (see Note below in filling directions), scrubbed
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 4 large egg yolks
- 8 Tablespoons (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (optional)
- Pinch of salt
For the meringue:
- 4 large egg whites
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
Make the crust:
Heat your oven to 350°F [180°C]. Line an 8-by-8-inch [20-by-20-cm] baking pan with two pieces of parchment trimmed to fit, going in both directions, with some extra hanging over the edge so that you can easily remove the bars later.
Place the graham crackers, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process until the fine crumbs form. Add the cold butter and pulse until the cold butter blends into the crumbs. It should look and feel like wet sand. Transfer to the prepared pan and mix it up with your hands to make sure the butter is well distributed. Press into the pan, going up the sides a bit, and bake for 10 minutes, or until just golden. Let cool while you make the filling.
Make the filling:
Note on lemons: Deb Perelmen of Smitten Kitchen advises that you can use any variety of lemon but that you want to stick to a smaller lemon weighing approximately 4 – 4.5 ounces and that you do not want the skin to be too thick. The pith (white bit) should not be over 1/4 inch. If you feel the lemon you have is a bit too thick skinned, simply remove half of the skin from the lemon before proceeding.
Trim the stem end of the whole lemon and cut it into thin slices. Remove any seeds. Add to a food processor or blender jar (preferably a high speed blender) along with the lemon juice, egg yolks, butter, sugar, vanilla and salt and blend until very smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Pour over the crust (it’s ok if it’s still warm) and bake for 30 minutes, or until it is bubbling and browning around the edges. It won’t look at all set, and might even look like a total mess (unevenly browned or bubbly), but it will set up as it cools. Place on a cooling rack. After about 10 minutes, run a small, sharp knife around the edges. Cool completely, then chill until cold (you can speed this up in the freezer). When completely chilled, carefully remove the parchment and, using a spatula, transfer to a small baking sheet.
Make the meringue:
An hour or so before serving, make the topping. Combine the egg whites, sugar, vanilla, and salt in the metal bowl of a stand mixer and set over a pan of simmering water. Keep the mixture moving, using a whisk or the whisk attachment, until the sugar is completely melted and it’s hot to the touch (or 160°F). Transfer to a stand mixer and beat on high speed until glossy and very stiff, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to the top of the lemon bars, smooth out, and use a large serving fork to create a pattern in the meringue, or the back of a spoon or offset spatula to make swirls.
Finish the bars:
When you’re ready to finish, use a kitchen torch or your oven’s broiler to brown the meringue. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Use a knife dipped into hot water to cut bars into 12 to 16 squares, depending on how large you want them.
Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Whole Lemon Meringue Pie Bars:
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook– This recipe is not in this cookbook, however a ton of other great ones are!
Smitten Kitchen Everyday: Another awesome cookbook by Deb Perelman