I absolutely love using lemons in cooking and baking. They’re bright, flavorful and so refreshing, easily making them one of my favorite flavors in both sweet (and savory) cooking. My favorite pasta recipe has lemon in it and, truth be told, I’d chose a citrus-y dessert over a chocolate one any day - like these lavender lemon shortbread bars.
I made quite a few batches of these bars when recipe testing, and while I usually test bake things and give them away to friends and neighbors, these lavender lemon shortbread bars didn't get the chance to leave my kitchen. Each batch was consumed so quickly that I had to fight to get a piece to test the recipe. They're that good.
I've had many great lemon meringue pies and lemon cream tarts over the years, but until I developed this recipe, I wasn’t too impressed with lemon bars. I’ve made and tried many lemon bars over the years and have had some decent ones, but could never find one that was worth the calories. This lemon lavender shortbread bar has a buttery, rich shortbread crust that doesn’t become a soggy mess, a perfect balance of tart and sweet filling (more on the tart side preferred - especially if the tops of the bars are going to be loaded with confectioner's sugar) and the right ratio of filling to crust. I prefer my lemon bars more custardy with a smooth texture, and this one does not disappoint.
In this recipe, I’ve added lavender to the shortbread crust. I urge you to keep the lavender in this recipe even if you have tried lavender in desserts before and didn’t like it. It is true that lavender can be soapy and overwhelming if overused but that is not the case in this recipe. The lavender is subtle, but compliments and amplifies the lemon flavor. It’s beautifully fragrant and absolutely addictive in this recipe.
The shortbread crust starts like many others, by combining the ingredients in a food processor and pulsing, allowing the lavender to break up and blend into the other ingredients before adding softened butter. While the mixture is sandy and clumpy, it is pressed into a pan evenly and set in the refrigerator to chill for 20-30 minutes. After chilling, the crust is baked until it is a light golden brown.
While the crust is towards the end of baking, the lemon zest and the sugar are mixed together in a bowl. Rub the zest into the sugar. This releases the oils in the zest adding even more lemon flavors to the bars. Flour is then added, to thicken up the filling, followed by eggs, lemon juice and heavy cream. While the crust is still warm, pour the ingredients onto the crust and bake at a reduced temperature until the center has a slight jiggle. It's better to err on the side of slightly under baked than over baked. You want that filling to remain more of a custard and not super solid.
While I have to admit that many times I’ve dug into these lavender bars with a fork while still hot because they are THAT good, they are best served cut into squares or wedges at room temperature and finished with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar.
Love citrus desserts? Check out these recipes:
Lavender Lemon Shortbread Bars
For the shortbread base:
- 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into cubes, room temperature
- 1 ¼ cups unbleached, all purpose-flour
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- ½ - ¾ teaspoon dried culinary lavender
For the lemon filling:
- 1 ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 3 tablespoon all purpose flour
- Pinch of fine sea salt
- 4 large eggs
- ⅔ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ⅓ cup heavy cream
For the Shortbread Crust:
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 8x8 or 9x9 square baking pan with parchment paper.
- In a food processor, pulse together the flour, sugar, salt and lavender until well blended. You want the lavender to be dispersed and chopped up a bit.
- Add in the cubes of softened butter and pulse until the mixture is sandy and starts to form clumps.
- Gently press shortbread mixture into an even layer over the bottom of the prepared pan. Refrigerate for a minimum 30 minutes.
- Bake crust for 30-35 minutes or until the crust starts to turn a golden brown.
- Remove shortbread from the oven, let it cool slightly and reduce the temperature to 325 degrees F.
For the lemon filling:
- In a medium bowl, rub together the sugar and lemon zest between your hands to release the oils from the zest. Whisk in the flour until blended.
- Add the eggs and whisk briskly so that the sugar doesn't "cook" the eggs and form clumps.
- Add the lemon juice and cream and whisk to fully incorporate.
- Pour filling over the warm shortbread and bake for an additional 25-30 minutes, until the center jiggles slightly.
- Let the bars cool to room temperature, about two hours. The longer they cool, the easier and prettier they are to slice. Transfer bars to a cutting board and cut into squares or wedges. Using a sieve, sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and serve.