I’ve apparently been wanting to make lemon meringue pie bars for at least eight years, as per my decade-plus log of everything I want to cook. Three different times I’ve tried to draft a recipe but I always got stuck on how much was involved, both in three separate cooking processes and eggs, just so many eggs. Whole eggs in the lemon portion, egg whites for the topping… it just felt like a lot, if not a dealbreaker, enough reason for me to pause on the idea until I had a more efficient way to approach it.
I found it in Susan Spungen’s (who you might remember from this Perfect Tarte Tatin) latest cookbook, Open Kitchen, which focuses on cooking for casual entertaining, a distant memory these days but I do love the breezy-feeling recipes here. Spungen is a recipe developer and food stylist and I know that the latter connotes images of a person moving parsley around with tweezers or using dental grip to keep a cookie in place on set, in reality, most food stylists I know arrive at work and are handed a stack of recipes that may or may not even work, which they have to cook and plate them in a very short window of time. The food stylists I know are very good cooks, skilled at cutting to the chase of a recipe. Spungen’s book benefits from this.
Spungen uses one of my favorite ways to make lemon bars (see: Whole Lemon Tart in the archives or Whole Lemon Bars in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook) — with one whole lemon, rather than the fresh-squeezed juice of half a dozen — to make a complexly flavored lemon bar. Only yolks go into the lemon portion, and only whites in the meringue in an efficiency of ingredients and processes I found deeply soothing. The resulting bars are wildly delicious — the sweet meringue, toasted like a marshmallow, is the perfect balance for the intense lemon bar. There are still three things to prep, but I add a few shortcuts — I make my crumb crust and whole lemon curd with cold butter, and I fast-cool things in the freezer — that make it more efficient. The bars you’ll get to eat when you’re done are fully worth it.
Six months ago: Unfussy Sugar Cookies
One year ago: Simplest Spaghetti a Limone
Two year ago: Linguine and Clams
Three years ago: Stovetop Americanos
Four years ago: Strawberry Milk and Corn and Black Bean Weeknight Nachos
Five years ago: Strawberry Cornmeal Griddle Cakes and Strawberry Cheesecake Ice Cream Pie
Six years ago: Valerie’s French Chocolate Cake
Seven years ago: Espresso Granita with Whipped Cream
Eight years ago: Broccoli Parmesan Fritters
Nine years ago: Dobos Torte
Ten years ago: Mushroom Crepe Cake, Braided Lemon Bread and Carrot Salad with Harissa, Feta and Mint
Eleven years ago: Lemon Mint Granita, Pickled Sugar Snap Peas and Springy Fluffy Marshmallows
Twelve years ago: 10 Paths to Painless Pizza-Making and Pistachio Petit-Four Cake
Thirteen years ago: Gateau de Crepes and Dilled Potato and Pickled Cucumber Salad
Whole Lemon Meringue Pie Bars
- 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
- 1 whole (preferably organic) lemon, any variety (see Note), 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; I skip it)
- Pinch of salt
- 4 large egg whites
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
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: [See Note up top for using different lemons.] 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 (if using), 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 coldm (I sped this up in the freezer). When completely chilled, carefully remove the parchment and, using a spatula, transfer to a small baking sheet (you can do this just before adding the topping — I missed this step and regretted it because you want the paper off before you try to toast the top or it will — whoops — burn).
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 160F). 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 like you see here.
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.