March 4, 2011

Quick Fixes with Mixes: Lemon Bars

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Margaret's Morsels | Quick and Easy Lemon Bars

I have a recipe box -- actually four of them -- that contains untried recipes I've collected over the years from a variety of sources:  magazines, newspapers, friends, family, cookbooks and the Internet.  Sometimes when I go through the boxes searching for a new recipe to try, I'll discover two copies of the same recipe.  The recipes have different names, but the ingredients and method are identical.  When I find a recipe that sounded so good I filed it twice, I know I need to try that recipe.  This is how the recipe for Quick and Easy Lemon Bars went from my untried recipe box to my tried and true recipe box.

I never had much success making lemon bars.  They always turned out dry, even when I made them from a packaged lemon bar mix.  That changed once I made the Quick and Easy Lemon Bars.  They received rave reviews and requests for the recipe!

Lemon bars are a layered bar cookie consisting of a crust and a lemon topping.  Traditionally, the crust is made with flour, butter or margarine and confectioners sugar.  A variation is to add flaked coconut or chopped nuts to the crust.  The crust is partially baked before the lemon topping is added.  The topping usually contains eggs, sugar, lemon juice and a little flour to help it thicken.

To save time, you can substitute packaged ingredients for both the crust and topping.  You can use refrigerated sugar cookie dough or a cake mix for the crust.  The topping can be made with a package of lemon pudding with additional ingredients added for taste and texture.  The recipe for Quick and Easy Lemon Bars relies on packaged ingredients for both the crust and topping.

Margaret's Morsels | Quick and Easy Lemon Bars
Ingredients for Quick and Easy Lemon Bars.

The recipe starts with a package of lemon supreme cake mix.  You can use a yellow cake mix, but the lemon cake mix gives the finished product an extra burst of lemon flavor.  The cake mix is combined with butter and an egg and patted into a 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan.  Unlike traditional lemon bars, the crust is not partially baked before adding the topping.

Margaret's Morsels | Quick and Easy Lemon Bars
The unbaked crust.

The topping only uses two ingredients:  sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice.  The two are combined and poured over the crust. 

Margaret's Morsels | Quick and Easy Lemon Bars
The lemon topping added to the unbaked crust.

The pan goes in the oven and in less than 30 minutes you have a batch of lemon bars.

Margaret's Morsels | Quick and Easy Lemon Bars
The finished product.

One advantage of bar cookies is you can make a lot of cookies at one time.  A disadvantage is cutting the cookies.  You can't turn the lemon bars out of the pan because of the lemon topping.  This means you have to cut the cookies in the pan.  It's almost a given the first cookie will tear up, but that's ok because the rest will come out easier.

To avoid this problem, I use a 13 x 9 x 2-inch spring-form pan I purchased several years ago. 

Margaret's Morsels | Quick and Easy Lemon Bars
My 13 x 9 x 2-inch spring-form pan.

I love to use it for bar cookies because the sides are removed which makes for easier cutting.  Not only is it good for cookies, it's also good for cakes, especially when it needs to be cut into layers.  If you do a lot of baking, I highly recommend this pan.

Margaret's Morsels | Quick and Easy Lemon Bars
The open spring-form pan.

The lemon bars need to be completely cooled before being cut into squares. The bars are rich so you don't want to cut them too big.  For a fancier presentation, sprinkle the bars with sifted powdered sugar.  Don't put the powdered sugar on until until you're ready to serve the lemon bars. The lemon topping will absorb the sugar if it's added too early.

The lemon bars can be stored at room temperature, but the flavor is enhanced when stored in the refrigerator.  You can cover the pan with plastic wrap or cut the lemon bars and store them in a single layer in an airtight container.  If you need to make layers, place a piece of parchment or waxed paper between the layers to keep the bars from sticking together.

Living in the South, I always associate lemons with the summer.  However, these bars are good year round.  After the winter we've had, maybe a batch will make it feel as though summer's just around the corner.

Quick and Easy Lemon Bars
24 Servings

1 (18.25 oz.) pkg. lemon supreme cake mix
1 stick butter, melted
1 egg
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350°.  Stir together the cake mix, butter and egg.  Press mixture evenly into the bottom of a greased 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan.  Combine the sweetened condensed milk and lemon juice.  Pour mixture over the top of the cake mixture.  Bake for 23 to 27 minutes.  Cool completely.  Cut into bars.  If desired, dust with powdered sugar right before serving.

© Margaret's Morsels


  1. I made these last night for Easter dinner. So excited. They turned out perfect! I sampled one and it is perfect. I love anything lemon.

  2. I'm glad you liked them! This is the only lemon bar recipe I've ever made that wasn't dry. The lemon bars are really good on a hot day, especially when they've been stored in the refrigerator.

  3. Hi Margaret, I plan to try out this recipe for a gathering. We have a Bible study that meets at our house and I just have snacks for 10 people. Any suggestions on something healthy or salty or protein-like to serve in addition to the bars? Thanks!

  4. Hi Christi, I've thought about your question and have a few ideas. If you want to stick with fruit, you could serve fruit kabobs. I've taken them to parties and adults loved them as much as the kids. I wrote about them here:
    You could use other fruit, such as strawberries (I've seen imported strawberries in the grocery), grapes and, for protein, a cube of cheese. I'd avoid apples and bananas since they turn brown easily. A bowl of nuts would be high in protein, plus they'd be salty. For protein, maybe some finger sandwiches using tuna fish or egg salad (I'm posting an egg salad recipe tomorrow). Club sandwiches would also be good as finger sandwiches. I hope this helps!