big sur lemon bars

by jenna on October 27, 2010

It’s been days and I still have Big Sur on my mind….I miss the mountains, the waves and the fresh Pacific air.

Unfortunately, during our short trip we didn’t get to stop at Nepenthe (rain/bladder/low-gas/time constraint) but these lemon bars are straight from their beautiful cookbook. They’re creamy and tart with a crumbly not-to-sweet shortbread crust that falls right apart in your mouth.

Yeah…they’re kinda addicting. And for some odd reason, they remind me of tea parties and lace doilies. I mean, what can I say? Sometimes even a crazy chocoholic like myself needs a little citrus lovin’.

It’s good for the waistline soul.

When I was little, my mom would make Krusteaz lemon bars (the box kind!) for special occasions and they were always my favorite after school snack. Never before have I attempted to make lemon bars from scratch because why would I? The Krusteaz mix was delicious and easy.

But, one sweet powdered sugared bite of these wooed me away from Krusteaz forever. These are for the serious lemon lover….or the chocoholic looking to branch out.

Like I said, these are for the serious lemon lover. But personally, I’ve never met anyone that doesn’t love a good old fashioned lemon bar and these take the cake.

But please, whatever you do, don’t buy bottled lemon juice! The taste is just off and it’ll pretty much ruin these completely. Juicing three lemons will only take you about thirty seconds…the same amount of time it takes to open the lemon juice, pour it into the measuring cup, put the top back on and stick it back in the fridge.

Trust me. I’m a professional.

There are two steps involved in making these. The first step is the crust, which is really just a quick and easy shortbread with cold butter, flour, confectioner’s sugar and a sprinkle of salt. You could mix in the food processor, but I always just cut the butter in by hand. I like the way it feels under my fingertips…plus, who wants to dirty another bowl?

After you have prepared the crust, you bake it and then you make the filling. Lemon juice, lemon zest, granulated sugar, eggs and a sprinkle of flour….it’s like making a delicious tangy lemon curd, but without tempering eggs and standing over the stove.

The squares bake up pretty quickly—in only about twenty minutes—but the hard part is letting them cool completely in the pan before slicing and dusting with powdered sugar.

People like me haaaaaaaate to let things “cool completely in the pan”. Thus, lemon bars are good for people like me. It teaches us patience and will power in trying situations.

Big Sur Lemon Bars

from The Nepenthe Cookbook

Print this recipe!

1 cup all purpose flour

1/4 cup confectioners sugar

1/4 tsp sea salt

1 stick cold butter

for the lemon filling:

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

1/4 cup all purpose flour

4 eggs

2 tsp lemon zest

2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

additional confectioners sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350. To make the crust, combine the confectioners sugar, flour and sea salt in a large bowl. Cut in the cold butter and work with your fingers until the mixture resembles cornmeal. Press into a greased nine inch pan and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden.

To make the filling, whisk together the granulated sugar and flour in a bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Add the zest and the juice and mix until everything is smooth and combined. Pour filling over hot crust and return to oven to bake for another twenty minutes. When done, the filling will no longer jiggle. Let cool completely in the pan before slicing and dusting with powdered sugar.

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{ 71 comments… read them below or add one }

Jessica @ How Sweet It Is October 27, 2010 at 7:50 am

I am wild for chocolate but totally understand the need for something sweet and tart and citrusy. My grandma used to make lemon bars – they were her signature dessert. I can’t find the recipe anyway! Heck, for all I know it was probably on the back of a box or something. But I will definitely be trying these lemon bars.


Tabitha (From Single to Married) October 27, 2010 at 7:51 am

Oh lemon bars – it’s been forever and a day since I’ve had these, I think I must try them soon!


Daniel October 27, 2010 at 8:00 am

Bookmarked. I can’t begin to describe my love for lemon desserts – lemon bars, lemon poppyseed muffins, lemon cake, etc. Really glad you posted this. 🙂

By the way, I hate waiting for things to cool too, so sometimes I’ll take the pan out of the oven when it’s done and stuff it in the freezer. That way, when it’s cool enough to touch, I can convince myself they’ve “cooled completely in the pan.’ 😉


Liz October 27, 2010 at 8:00 am

Have you ever thought of becoming a food photographer (in addition to your writing?) Your photos are getting better and better (and not just because of your new camera!) They’re creative without looking too “staged” even though I know they were. You just make it look easy.

P.S. those lemon bars look soooo good.


jenna October 27, 2010 at 8:10 am

thank you!!! I’m learning by experience…I’ve found the best way (and only way) to get better is just to keep taking a gazillion photos. I almost broke my leg while taking this one because it involved a very intense balancing situation on the stove.


Taysa October 27, 2010 at 8:06 am

The Nepenthe cookbook is really beautiful, and the restaurant has the perfect seating to take in Big Sur on a sunny day with a glass of white wine, but I was not impressed with the food when I was there in May. I thought it was super overpriced and nothing amazing.


Megan October 27, 2010 at 8:46 am

I agree. In my opinion Big Sur Bakery is by far the best food in the area (even better than the pricier restaurants at Ventana and Post Ranch)


Steph October 27, 2010 at 8:08 am

Jenna, I must say that I absolutely love your blog and the changeover into the food lover’s category. I find myself drooling over every post and the recipes you post really are fantastic. I NEED to make these Lemon Bars, they sound sooo good and!

Keep doing what you’re doing because I will always be back to find new and delicious recipes!


Beth @ Beth's Journey to Thin October 27, 2010 at 8:09 am

i absolutely LOVE lemon bars. Thank you for the recipe!!


Heather (Heather's Dish) October 27, 2010 at 8:09 am

you are indeed a woman after my own heart…lemon bars are my favorite treat!

my mother-in-law got remarried and requested lemon bars at her reception just for me. words don’t even express my excitement 🙂


Jen @ Keepitsimplefoods October 27, 2010 at 8:09 am

Whenever I’m at a party (for some reason I only see lemon bars at parties which is kind of sad), I make a bee line for the lemon bars. I cannot get enough of the sweet tart flavor combo. Yours look gorgeous. I want one stat!


Tina @ Faith Fitness Fun October 27, 2010 at 8:12 am

I CRAVED lemon like crazy the first half of my pregnancy and lemon bars would have done me in. I could have eaten an entire batch. Good thing you waited to share this recipe until now. Now I will just eat half the batch. 😉


Clare @ Fitting It All In October 27, 2010 at 8:23 am

My mom makes those same boxed lemon bars. Maybe i’ll have her branch out with these!


Alina (Duty Free Foodie) October 27, 2010 at 8:26 am

I have to agree with the commenter above about your food photos. I mean, I can kind of taste lemon and sugar right now. Except not actually, which makes me sad.


Katherine @ Left Coast Contessa October 27, 2010 at 8:27 am

yum! I am a chocolohlic but I lovvve lemon bars! They do make me feel like I’m at a tea party! Best fruit dessert for sure.


R @ Learning As I Chop October 27, 2010 at 8:29 am

Those look delicious!


Laura October 27, 2010 at 8:30 am

Aww, these lemon bars remind me of when I worked in a restaurant/bakery in middle school. They had the best lemon bars. I think I had about 3 during every shift! Thank you for bringing back the memories!


sassy molassy October 27, 2010 at 8:31 am

I do love a good lemon bar. And these photos make them look gorgeous!


grocery goddess jen October 27, 2010 at 8:32 am

Oh, I never can wait for things to cool, either. Which is why I eat my brownies in a bowl with a spoon! These look great, Jenna.


Suzanne de October 27, 2010 at 8:34 am

Love anything with lemon & esp lemon bars. These look amazing!


Louise October 27, 2010 at 8:37 am

These look delicious. I adore lemon bars. If I didn’t have to watch my sugar intake, I would be all over these bad boys.


Rachel @ The Avid Appetite October 27, 2010 at 8:40 am

I wouldn’t consider myself a ‘lemon’ person, however, I have been itching to make lemon bars. I don’t know why, but something about them has been calling my name!


Amanda (Eating Up) October 27, 2010 at 8:44 am

I loovvveee fruit in desserts, especially lemon. People should eat more lemon in the fall and winter, I think.


Steph@stephsbitebybite October 27, 2010 at 8:48 am

Lemon is a good break! Especially around the holiday time when things start to get real heavy


Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman October 27, 2010 at 8:49 am

I could totally go for one of these with a cup of tea and a good book. Right. About. Now.


Nikita October 27, 2010 at 8:59 am

Jenna, I absolutely LOVE this new direction that the blog is taking! Just love it!! 🙂


monicanelsonfitness October 27, 2010 at 9:00 am

Great! I too would burn my mouth on these. 🙂
It is true, I would think of this for summer but I LOVE the idea for Fall and Winter. Way to think outside the box or shall we say (season!).


Sarah @ Sarah's Shaping Up October 27, 2010 at 9:11 am

These look delisssssh!


Alexia@ Dimple Snatcher October 27, 2010 at 9:23 am

your most beautiful photos yet!!


Amber K October 27, 2010 at 9:24 am

Patience? What’s that? 🙂


Camille October 27, 2010 at 9:26 am

These look so lovely and ladylike 🙂


Alexia@ Dimple Snatcher October 27, 2010 at 9:26 am

my favorite photos on your blog yet!


Jaime Ramsay October 27, 2010 at 9:32 am

Ok, this one I’m definitely making. Looks sooo good!


Meaghen October 27, 2010 at 9:43 am

My mom loves all things lemon and we usually make Krusteaz mix because honestly, for a mix, it’s pretty good. Now I’m totally going to make these for her birthday in a month. And since you mentioned a tea party, I’m inspired to insist that we take out her good china and have a tea part for her birthday complete with tiny sandwiches!


The Blue-Eyed Bakers October 27, 2010 at 9:46 am

Goodness we need this cookbook! This is like the 10th recipe we’ve seen from it that we need NEED to make!!


Krystina (Organically Me) October 27, 2010 at 9:48 am

You know, I’ve never had a lemon bar. Now I desperately want one.


chelsey @ clean eating chelsey October 27, 2010 at 9:56 am

My mom LOVES lemon bars – I think she would go crazy for these.


Maria October 27, 2010 at 9:57 am

Ohh they look ab fab- can’t get enought of Lemon bars!!
I’m making these tomorrow.. For sure!!! Made eggplant curry and your garlic Naan yesterday- sooo gooood!!! Thanks for all the inspiraton, love your blog!


Lauren at KeepItSweet October 27, 2010 at 9:58 am

i’ve never been a big fan of lemon bars (or really any lemon dessert) but they always look so pretty and i want to like them!


Sarah (Running to Slow Things Down) October 27, 2010 at 10:03 am

I am a true chocoholic. But there are times and situations when I only want lemon. Intense lemon. Lemon that doesn’t mess around. With that being said, this recipe is going into my collection. Thank you so much for sharing! 😀


Liz @ Tip Top Shape October 27, 2010 at 10:06 am

Oh, I love lemon bars!! And the Krusteaz really is a good boxed version!! My mom would make them all the time when I was a kid, too 🙂


Lindsay @ The Ketchup Diaries October 27, 2010 at 10:18 am

Oh my gosh, Jenna. I love, love, love lemon bars and never had a good recipe. Now I do!


Estela @ Weekly Bite October 27, 2010 at 10:38 am

Love lemon bars! I normally make Ina Garten’s recipe! I need to try this one 🙂


The Wife of a Dairyman October 27, 2010 at 10:44 am

Well, it just so happens I have a few lemons in my fridge. I’ve never baked lemon bars….maybe that’s what I’ll be doing this afternoon:)


Kelly October 27, 2010 at 10:47 am

Yum…lemon bars are the best!!! My mom always makes homemade lemon bars from scratch during thr holidays!!


Dee October 27, 2010 at 10:50 am

oh my! these look delish!


Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) October 27, 2010 at 10:57 am

“The Krusteaz mix was delicious and easy.”—Yes that’s the only one I’ve ever done and made!

My grandma made lemon bars from scratch and they were like a taste of citrus gods heaven smiling down with a buttery crust…oh yes, indeed amazing.

I love the looks of yours..and yes, even devout chocolate lovers can use a lil lemon in their life 🙂


Lisa October 27, 2010 at 11:10 am

OH MY GOD….lemon squares are my weakness. They are the best treats. My mouth is watering just thinking about them.


jenna October 27, 2010 at 11:25 am

i’ve never actually had lemon bars. but i always crave lemon so I”m eager to make these!! yum! they look dreamy.


Dave from Running Tips October 27, 2010 at 11:29 am

I like lemon bars for two reasons. One, they are tasty and rich. Two, they are too rich for me to go for seconds.


Cathy B. @ Bright Bakes October 27, 2010 at 11:35 am

the Mister loves loves lemon! I forsee myself becoming even more loved when I show him a pan of these babies! 🙂
cathy b.


Errign October 27, 2010 at 11:36 am

Have any leftovers you wanna send my way?! 🙂

I never would have guessed that making lemon bars is that simple!


Hope October 27, 2010 at 11:39 am

Oh my….it would take a lot to woo me away from chocolate, but I think these might just do the trick! Yummo!


Sana October 27, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Are these the lemon bars you were locked outdoors with?


Heather October 27, 2010 at 12:16 pm

OMG, I don’t even bake and I’m feeling like I NEED to make these. Like this weekend. Or sooner. I am one of those serious lemon lovers, and I pretty much was drooling here in Starbucks. Embarassing.


Mary @ Bites and Bliss October 27, 2010 at 2:16 pm

Lemon bars bring my back to junior high when we’d have movie nights and my mom would always make lemon bars. My friends would try to recreate the recipe but never could and would always beg for her to make some more. You’ve inspired me to get some baking, too 🙂


Lizz @ Leading the Good Life October 27, 2010 at 2:45 pm

I made lemon bars from scratch once. So good. No, SOOOOO goood. I really need to make them again. Perhaps I’ll try this recipe!


Liz October 27, 2010 at 4:02 pm

Have you been to the Big Sur Bakery? The food is delicious! They also have a really fabulous cookbook with many delicious baked goods. I highly recommend it!


Jenna October 27, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Great minds, or Jennas, must think alike. Today I posted an over the top lemon cake with lemon filling and lemon buttercream.

These bars are definitely going on my todo list of things to make gluten-free.


Kellie October 28, 2010 at 3:33 am

I made these lemon bars last night…. they were DELISH! and the only thing I had to pick up from the store was lemons. I love it when the recipe is soooooooo simple and it turns out fabulous.



Chelsea @ One Healthy Munchkin October 28, 2010 at 6:18 am

My grandma makes these and they are to die for!


erin October 28, 2010 at 7:00 am

Oh goodness. I LOVE lemon. Lemon bars have long been my favorite food but I’ve never attempted to make them. I think now I just might try. Thanks for the recipe!!


Nicole-Lynn October 29, 2010 at 1:29 pm

I love lemon everything! Thanks for the recipe! 🙂


sd November 4, 2010 at 2:44 am

1 stick of butter is 4 oz, NOT 8 oz!


Orla November 16, 2010 at 3:11 pm

I tried to make these, but the crust ingredients are off: should the butter be halved to 4oz, or should the dry ingredients be doubled and the butter held at 8 oz?

I went with doubling the dry but wasn’t sure if the crust was too thick!


jenna November 16, 2010 at 3:17 pm

hey! I’m so sorry. You need a stick of butter, like I said….1/2 cup. Sorry about that!


Stephanie December 27, 2010 at 6:36 pm

Instead of buying expensive presents for people that they may or may not actually want, I decided to bake yummy stuff for everyone on my list this year. It went over really well- but the 6 hour baking marathon was rough. After filling various tins, we didn’t really have any leftovers. When my boyfriend gave away our leftover lemon bars (my favorite!), I made him bake a new batch following your recipe. They’re awesome- I’ll never use another recipe again, ever! Thank you! 🙂

P.S. Thank you for making me try out my zester!


Heidi - Apples Under My Bed May 7, 2011 at 10:50 pm

Jenna, I just made these…….. thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m in love with them.
That is all 🙂 xo


Kelly July 21, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Just made these today for a summer treat. So, so simple, and so delicious. Thank you!


Mel September 15, 2012 at 5:35 am

Another fabulous recipe! You are 100% right about using real lemons!


irina February 14, 2014 at 12:05 pm

I’m sad to say I failed this recipe 🙁 I’m not sure what I did wrong…I’m sure I just didn’t follow it exactly. All measurements were right on. Hmm.


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