Last year, not seconds after putting the final touches on what I certain was The Lemon Bar To End All Lemon Bars, a recipe intended for that little cookbook I wrote, I couldn’t quite change the station and became immediately absorbed in making something I wanted to call a pink lemonade bar. They’d be as awesome as a summer carnival, the kind that rolls into town with sketchy rides that your parents forbid you to go on but you do so anyway (or so a friend once told me!), or maybe a play date at the friends house whose mom served prettier, thus cooler, lemonade than what you had at home. I had great plans for these bars, I just had one tiny problem: I had no idea what made pink lemonade pink.
I don’t mean that I am naive; I was aware that in 99 percent of the iterations of pink lemonade out there, the pink was supplied by food dye. I was also bummed to learn that some other people had thought to make pink lemonade bars first — being the type who still clings to the silly notion that there are new, uncharted waters to bake our ways through — but the vast majority of the recipes called for red food dye too. Surely, before pink lemonade was made with red food dye, it was made with a fruit of sort, like strawberry or raspberry or cherries, right? Since last summer, this article has been written but even it doesn’t come to a singular conclusion as to what should make pink lemonade pink. The only thing that is apparent among its discussions of clothing dye and red hot candies is that if you can make it with something natural and/or tasty, you’re probably improving upon its lineage.
With that, I decided that seeing as raspberry lemonade is a delicious thing to drink, it would have to be a delicious thing to eat in a bar format. The bars exceeded expectations, and I couldn’t wait to tell you about them but then I ran into another spot of drama: how was I going to tell you about this riff on a lemon bar so close to publishing a cookbook with the lemon bar of my dreams in it? I mean, how does that conversation go? “Here’s a lemon bar but there’s an even better one in my cookbook!” or “Basically I found my lemon bar nirvana but this isn’t it!” As you can imagine, none of these options were very appealing so I tabled it for the year and that pretty much brings us up to today, when I decided that this is ridiculous and must stop. I cannot go another minute without telling you about these because you should not go another minute without having them in your kitchen. Because they’re wonderful. Because there’s enough space in the world for multiple ideas of lemon bar perfection. These are pinked with raspberries, buttery with shortbread and they have that 1:1 crust-to-curd ratio that I dream of in bars cookies. They’re as happy as a summer picnic, which is exactly where they were hoping you’d take them this weekend. And by “them,” I mean me. But these will probably fit better in a tote bag, so I understand.
One year ago: Tomato Salad with Crushed Croutons
Two years ago: Everyday Chocolate Cake
Three years ago: Plum Kuchen and Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad
Four years ago: Huevos Rancheros and Blueberry Crumb Bars
Five years ago: Quick Zucchini Saute and Summer Berry Pudding
Pink Lemonade Bars
The bars as written yield a not overly sweet lemon bar (I know it must have been nicely tart because this guy wouldn’t eat them, and he considers turning down a cookie a breach of toddler contract) with a subtle raspberry kick and
pale pink color. Updated: A few days later, I made these again… twice! The first time, I forgot the flour in the lemonade layer but let’s not talk about that. The next time, I used raspberries that were much older and darker than the ones in these photos. Three tablespoons of that puree made the bars absolutely purple/magenta! So, very pretty but hardly a color I’d associate with pink lemonade. So, this is just to note that clearly the amount of red tint one gets from the berries can vary greatly by the berries. If yours looks crazy saturated with pink and you’ve only added two tablespoons puree, you can always add another tablespoon lemon juice instead of the last spoonful of raspberry. On the flipside, if your berries seem pale, you can always add one less tablespoon of lemon juice and one more of the raspberries. The main thing is that you keep the amount of liquid (lemon juice + raspberry puree) at 7 tablespoons. More, and the bars might seem too soft. Less, they might seem too eggy.
My cup of berries yielded 1/3 cup strained puree, which is more than you’ll need, but it seems safer to estimate up as last time I called for a berry puree, many people ended up with less than I’d gotten. If you have extra, I highly recommend stirring it into your morning yogurt. Or smoothie. Or vanilla ice cream.
For the base:
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup (125 grams) flour
For the lemonade layer
1 cup (about 5 ounces or 140 grams) raspberries
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice; this should only require 2 lemons
1/3 cup (40 grams) all-purpose flour
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C) and line an 8x8x2-inch baking pan with parchment, letting it extend up two sides. Butter or coat the bottom and sides with a nonstick spray and set the pan aside.
Make the base: In a food processor, pulse together the sugar, zest and salt until combined. Add the butter and pulse until it is evenly dispersed in the dough. Add the flour and pulse the machine until it’s just combined and the mixture is crumbly. Press the dough into the prepared pan and about 1/2-inch up the sides. Don’t worry about making this perfect; mine was an uneven mess and nobody can tell. Bake for 15 minutes, until lightly browned at edges. Let cool on a rack while you prepare the filling (though no need for it to be completely cool when you fill it). Leave oven on.
Make the pink lemonade layer: Puree the raspberries in your food processor until they’re as liquefied as they’ll get. I don’t even bother cleaning mine between steps, but I’m also probably lazier than you. Run the puree through a fine-mesh sieve, trying to press out all the raspberry puree that you can, leaving the seeds behind. I ended up with 1/3 cup strained puree; don’t worry if you get a smidge less.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of raspberry puree. Stir in flour. Pour into cooling crust and return pan to the oven, baking the bars until they’re set (they’ll barely jiggle) and slightly golden at the edges, about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into rectangles. (You can speed this up in the fridge.)
I intended to cut mine into 32 2×1-inch rectangles but actually cut them into 28 2×1-ish rectangles. I like lemony bars small but you could also cut them into 16 2×2-inch squares. Dust with powdered sugar before serving. Store in fridge for up to a week.