Deb’s Whole Lemon Bars

As you probably already know (unless you live under a rock), Deb Perelman is one heck of a cook and a seriously terrific writer. I’ve loved her blog for years and years and had a feeling her first cookbook was going to be all sorts of awesome.

It is.

For some reason (probably because I’ve met her a few times and I think she’s a sweetheart), I associate Deb with sweets. I think this is why, upon receipt of her book, I flipped right to the desserts. I love treats that feature citrus in the wintertime, so the Whole Lemon Bars were the first recipe I tried, and I was not disappointed.

lemon bars from the smitten kitchen cookbook

Here’s the thing about lemon bars: I love them, but I always figured they were too complicated to bother making at home. That’s not the case with this recipe, though: these lemon bars, which are prepared in a food processor, could not be easier (or more delicious). These bars feature one whole seeded lemon, and I suggest using an organic lemon. If that’s not possible, use a regular lemon but clean it well with a produce spray designed to remove pesticides and other things you don’t want to eat.

lemon for whole lemon bars

I made the base of these bars with Organic Einkorn Flour. I’ve been baking with it a lot lately and I absolutely love it. Einkorn is the most ancient form of wheat: it has not been hybridized like modern wheat and is higher in nutrients (such as antioxidants) and lower in gluten than regular flour. It is not gluten free, so it’s not appropriate if you have celiac disease (though some individuals who are sensitive to gluten may indeed tolerate Einkorn).

In another effort to make these a bit healthier, I used organic sugar and reduced the amount to 1 cup. I found them to be not quite sweet enough, and then showered them with lots of powdered sugar to compensate, though, so I think I’ll just use the larger amount of sugar next time :)

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smitten kitchen whole lemon bars

*Some disclosure-y type shout outs: I received my copy of The Smitten Kitchen cookbook for free from Knopf. The lovely mug and the nourishing nettles tea in the photos were also a gift, from Traditional Medicinals. Lastly, I won the delectable grass-fed butter that I used in this recipe from Kerrygold.

lemon bars from the smitten kitchen cookbook
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Recipe for Whole Lemon Bars

I adore Meyer lemons, and considered using one here, but Deb states in the book that she prefers these bars with regular lemon. I trust Deb and you should, too: save your Meyer lemon for a different recipe.
You can double this recipe and bake it in a 9-by-13- inch pan, if you like.
Servings: 16 2-inch lemon bars


For the crust:

  • *1 cup/125 g all purpose flour I used Organic Einkorn Flour
  • *1/3 cup/65 g sugar I used organic sugar
  • *1/4 teaspoon salt I used fine Celtic sea salt
  • *8 tablespoons/115 g or 1 stick unsalted butter cut into chunks, plus extra for greasing pan (I used Kerrygold unsalted pure Irish butter)
  • For the filling
  • *1 small-to-medium lemon about 4 1/2 ounces or 130 g, or about 3 inches long, preferably organic
  • *1 1/3 cup/265 g sugar I used organic sugar
  • 8 tablespoons/115 g or 1 stick unsalted butter cut into chunks (I used Kerrygold unsalted pure Irish butter)
  • 4 large eggs I used eggs from my backyard chickens
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch I used GMO-free organic cornstarch
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt I used fine Celtic sea salt


  • 1. Place a rack in middle of the oven and preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Cut two 12- inch lengths of parchment paper, and trim each to fit the bottom of an 8- inch square baking pan. Press the first sheet into the bottom and up the sides of your pan in one direction, then use the second sheet to line the rest of the pan, running it perpendicular to the first sheet. Lightly butter exposed parts of parchment or coat them with a nonstick cooking spray. Set the pan aside.
  • 2. Make the crust: Blend the flour, sugar, and salt together in the work bowl of a food processor. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture is powdery, but if firmly pinched, will hold the pinched shape. Turn the dough crumbs into the prepared baking pan and press the dough evenly across the bottom and about ½ inch up the sides. Prick the dough all over with a fork and bake for 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Should any parts bubble up, gently prick them again with a fork. Leave the oven on.
  • 3. Make your filling: Cut your lemon in half, and here's where I need us all to be, briefly, quite fussy.
  • Is the white part of the skin especially thick?
  • If the widest part of the white is ¼ inch thick or less, continue on to the next step; your lemon is good to go. If any part of it is thicker than ¼ inch, however, I find it safest to remove the skin from half the lemon or the bitterness of the pith can overwhelm the bars. To remove the skin, place half the lemon cut-side-down on the cutting board, and remove the skin and pith from the entire half in downward cuts and discard it. The second half, even if just as thick, can be used as is.
  • 4. Cut your lemon halves into thin rings and discard any seeds. Toss the lemon rounds – lemon flesh and peel – in the bowl of your food processor, add the sugar, and run the machine until the lemon is thoroughly puréed, about 2 minutes. Add the butter and again run the machine until the mixture is smooth, scraping down the sides of the work bowl as needed. Add the eggs, cornstarch, and salt and pulse the machine in short bursts until the mixture is evenly combined.
  • 5. Pour the lemon mixture over the crust and bake it for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the filling is set. You can test this by bumping the pan a little; it should only jiggle slightly. In my oven, I find that the point at which the filling is set is also when the lemon bars start to get very light brown on top.
  • 6. Let the pan cool completely on rack or in the fridge. Gently cut around the outside of the parchment paper to make sure no sides have stuck, then gently use the parchment "sling" to transfer bars from pan to cutting board. Cut into 16 squares.

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26 thoughts on “Deb’s Whole Lemon Bars”

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  3. I bought Deb’s book this summer but left it at my parents’ house, so I was glad to find the recipe here! I doubled the filling and only 1.5’ed the crust, putting it into a 9×13, and they seem to have come out pretty well… a bit too greasy with I had a lukewarm one from the pan, but maybe after they spend the night in the fridge all that butter will not be noticed since it’s hardened. Not nearly as sour as I was expecting either (I left out 1/4 of the peel, won’t next time). Strange. So, not bad but not super either. Next time I’m willing to wash my food processor twice in one afternoon (double-ugh), I’ll give these another try with more lemon and less oil. Thanks for sharing the recipe with your pretty photos!

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  5. Hands down my favorite dessert ever! Yet I’ve not ever attempted to make them myself. If you say they’re simple tho I’ll give it a whirl!

    P.S. Thanks for the flour tip, I’m excited to try and find some!!

    • They are seriously so easy! And definitely look for the Einkorn flour (I ordered mine from Amazon)…it’s a dream to work with, and good for you as far as wheat goes ;)

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  7. I am such a sucker for lemon bars and so wish I had seen our post before I wrote mine for tomorrow’s Meyer lemon roundup. My favorite bars with my favorite citrus. Thx for sharing.

  8. What ever cook book I’m reading I always flip to the desserts section first! Love lemons squares and yours look wonderful. Craving!

  9. It’s a lot of sugar and flour, things that I steer clear of that seem to show up a great deal on Smitten Kitchen. But lovely for a special treat!

  10. I am always on the lookout for great new lemon bar recipes!

    Thanks for posting this Winnie! I love the plate, so cute!

    And congrats on the wins, awesome! xoxo

  11. Lemon bars have been my pregnancy craving of choice. I can’t wait to give Deb’s recipe a try. I’m sure it will be a winner. Thank you for another delicious post! I hope you have a wonderful end to your week.