Lemon Bars: Little Squares of Sunshine for Dessert
Among all the various types of desserts, few treats can match the zesty charm of lemon bars. These little yellow squares are a perfect blend of sweet and tangy flavours, creating a symphony of taste that dances on your palate. For those citrus enthusiasts or those simply looking for a burst of flavours, lemon squares are a go-to option that never disappoints.
In this blog post, we will dive right into the delightful world of lemon squares, exploring their history, ingredients, and the intriguing aspect of lemon’s transformation when exposed to heat and how to put the whole fruit to good use.
Lemon Squares with confectioners’ sugar on top (weekend at the cottage)
Never Tried Lemon Bars Before? Here’s What It Tastes Like
Lemon square is a popular dessert around the world, consisting of a thin shortbread crust and a lemon curd filling. Despite slight variations in recipes, the fundamental components typically include lemon juice (preferably freshly squeezed), lemon zest, butter, sugar, flour, eggs, and a touch of salt. Many of these recipes also include confectioners’ sugar to be sprinkled atop the bars after they come out of the oven.
The texture is similar to a firm cake or a soft Blondie/Brownie. The crisp and buttery shortbread crust melts gently on your tongue, and the soft lemon filling presents a delightful balance of sweetness and tartness, forming an engaging overall taste experience. Generally, if you love lemons, you will adore these addictive lemon bars.
These treats are visually appealing too, and incredibly simple to put together. They are usually prepared in a pan, baked in the oven, and then cut into squares. Simple ingredients, easy preparation, amazing looks, and fabulous taste make them a convenient dessert choice for a wide range of events. The only real challenge is to see if you can patiently wait for them to cool before indulging!
Lemon Bar Variations
From adjustments in ingredient ratios to innovative flavour combinations, the treat has been a playground for some culinary creativity. Some variations may emphasize an extra citrusy punch with increased lemon juice, while others might introduce complementary ingredients like berries or herbs to elevate the taste profile. Various adaptations also cater to specific dietary needs, including gluten-free and vegan versions.
1. The Classic Version
Original Classic Squares (Little Bitta Kitchen)
The classic version embodies the simplest ingredients with the most straightforward recipe, enjoyed year-round, from Easter to Christmas. This classic lemon dessert can be served chilled along with a cup of tea.
2. Lemon Blueberry Bars
Blueberry Infused lemon squares (Eating Well)
These gratifying bars excel not only as a dessert but also as convenient on-the-go snacks, balancing sweetness and tanginess to perfection. What’s more, they come with an extra health boost infused with the beloved antioxidant-rich superfood: blueberries.
3. Lemon Meringue Bars
Beautiful Meringue Version (Taste of Home)
As the name suggests, this variation features meringue on top, just like our favourite lemon meringue pie. These lemon meringue bars offer an excellent lift even on the greyest of days. With a buttery crust and a light, airy meringue that complements the lively lemon filling, they create a flawless equilibrium of flavours and textures.
4. Lemon Coconut Bars
Christmas Coconut Lemon bars (taste.com.au)
This variation is an updated version of the same dessert with some coconut in the shortbread layer and on top. Despite the addition of coconut, the tangy that most of us love is still there. What the coconut does is that it introduces a nuanced depth of flavour, inviting everyone to explore the distinct taste it brings to the table.
5. Cranberry Lemon Squares
Cranberry Lemon Coconut Bars (Dinner with Julie)
This variation is a fabulous infusion with tart cranberries, unveiling a delightful twist on the timeless treat. The cranberries build an additional layer of tanginess and vibrant colour to the ensemble and provide a surprising counterpoint that elevates the flavour profile to new heights, creating a delightful balance between the familiar and the unexpected.
Lemon Bars: Going Back in Time
The fundamental elements of a lemon square, namely lemon curd and shortbread, each have their own distinct origins. Lemon curd can be traced back to 19th-century England. However, the roots of shortbread stretch all the way back to 12th-century Scotland.
Although the initial widely shared lemon bar recipe surfaced in the Chicago Daily Tribune on August 27, 1962, references to the dessert can be traced back to earlier instances found in community cookbooks and local newspapers.
Today, these bars have a widespread presence at a wide array of events. In fact, there’s even an official National Lemon Bar Day marked every October 15th, established by Michael McCarthy in 2019, prompted by his experience of making lemon bars for a fundraiser bake sale.
Fresh Lemons (snaped.fns.usda.gov)
What Are the Nutritional Values of Lemons?
Lemon comes from the flowering plant family Rutaceae, and its scientific name is Citrus limon. Its distinctive sour taste is due to its rich citric acid component, making it a popular ingredient in drinks, desserts, and meals. Did you know that almost all parts of a lemon can be used in foods, lemon desserts, drinks, sauces, dips, and as a garnish for meat and fish dishes?
There’s documented evidence of lemon’s value from almost 2,000 years ago. They are high in vitamin C and are also fat-free, cholesterol-free, and low in sodium and calories. Lemons are a good source of iron, calcium, magnesium, and fibre.
Lemon’s Nutritional Facts Table (USDA)
Do Lemons Lose Their Nutritional Value if Baked or Cooked?
Yes. Like many fruits and vegetables, lemons contain specific nutrients, including vitamin C and certain antioxidants, that are sensitive to heat and can be partially degraded during the cooking process.
For example, vitamin C is easily destroyed by heat, especially at high temperatures and with prolonged cooking. Therefore, when lemons are cooked or baked, the vitamin C content can be significantly reduced.
Similarly, some antioxidants present in lemons, such as flavonoids, can also be affected by heat. These antioxidants contribute to the health benefits of lemons, but their levels may diminish when exposed to high temperatures.
Despite some nutrient loss, lemons still retain some of their beneficial compounds and flavours after cooking. Plus, cooking lemons can provide a different taste sensation and add some brightness to various dishes.
To maximize the nutritional value of lemons, consider consuming them raw or using their zest, as the outer peel is rich in beneficial ingredients. Additionally, you can add fresh lemon juice to dishes after they have been cooked to preserve as much vitamin C and other heat-sensitive nutrients as possible.
Lemons: How Can We Repurpose Them?
Instead of throwing away unused or even used lemons, you can put them to good use in various ways! Here are some creative and practical ways to take advantage of lemons:
- Using its zest
Lemon zest is a fantastic ingredient that can add a burst of citrus flavour and aroma to many dishes, including on top of lemon bars. You can shred the outermost layer of lemons with a citrus zester and freeze it to use in another recipe or sprinkle it over side dishes, salads, grilled vegetables, pasta, and rice to add a zesty, tangy flavour.
Lemon juice is a natural acid which can serve as an effective agent in eliminating lingering bacteria present on kitchen appliances like cutting boards, microwave ovens, blenders, etc. It can also help effectively dispel stubborn stains left from meat or spices.
- Freezing for Later
If you have extra lemons that might go bad, you can always wash and dry them well, slice and freeze them in a freezer-safe container or freezer bag. These are great to squeeze into drinks or recipes for a quick shot of lemon juice.
- Making Compost
If you have zested and juiced the lemons, don’t let those leftovers go to waste! Instead of tossing them out, consider incorporating them into your composting routine. Lemons, with their natural acidity and nutrient-rich composition, can be a valuable addition to your compost pile. As they break down, they contribute essential nutrients to the compost, enriching the soil and promoting healthy plant growth.
Throughout this journey, we’ve delved into the origins, ingredients, and variations of lemon bars. We also explored the nutritional value of lemons and their transformation when introduced to heat, revealing the culinary magic at play. Moreover, we’ve learned how to maximize the use of the whole fruit, from creating delectable treats to contributing to kitchen hygiene and composting. With all this, why not try these little squares of sunshine!