The best lemon bars strike a perfect balance: They’re both sweet and tangy, their sharp, creamy centers anchored by a crisp, buttery crust. My desert-island dessert, they’re the one confection I can imagine eating ad infinitum — or, at least until the rescue plane arrives.
Because maintaining that sweet-tart balance is so essential, lemon bars aren’t the kind of loosey-goosey recipe that can take a lot of variation and still turn out well (chocolate chip cookies, I’m looking at you). As much as lemon-friendly ingredients like berries, herbs and almonds beckon, adding them can potentially throw things off-kilter, unless it’s done in a skilled and considered way.
And that is why I waited so long to bake something that seems so obvious in retrospect: lemon-blueberry bars.
Adding lemon to any blueberry dessert is a classic and arguably essential move; the acidity of the citrus brightens the sweet berries, making lively what can sometimes be dull.
It doesn’t necessarily work in reverse. Most lemon-focused desserts want to stay that way, guarding the fierce tartness of the citrus. In this case, I wanted the blueberries to function like vermouth in a martini — a delicate enhancement that never overwhelms the gin’s punch.
The key was to make sure that these bars remained firmly in the citrus camp. I wanted lemon bars dotted with blueberries, not blueberry bars brightened with lemon.
The biggest challenge was in countering the berries’ sweetness. Cutting the sugar and increasing the lemon juice in the curd helped. But so did adding more lemon zest, which, while not acidic like the juice, intensified the lemon flavor and kept the berries in check. I also threw in a little lime zest to round out the citrus notes. But that’s purely optional.
Since the blueberries in the filling also add moisture, these are soft, puddinglike bars that can ooze a bit when warm. So store them in the refrigerator until just before serving.
For fancier occasions, these bars hold their own served on a plate with a fork, like a mini lemon tart. But even when they’re slightly warm and gooey, I still like to eat them out of hand. After all, you may not find cutlery on a desert island, but palm fronds make good napkins in a pinch.
Recipe: Lemon-Blueberry Bars
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