Saturday, March 28th, 2009

Lemon Thyme Bars

Just a simple twist on an old favorite. I love how a snip of fresh herbs spruces up just about anything. Visually, a sprinkle for garnish adds professional panache, and ...


Just a simple twist on an old favorite. I love how a snip of fresh herbs spruces up just about anything. Visually, a sprinkle for garnish adds professional panache, and hidden somewhere in the dish, lends a lurking note of freshness. That goes for desserts as well.


Not that lemon bars necessarily need a lot of sprucing up. Fresh-squeezed tart juice with zest and bits of pulp suspended in a cloudy custard atop buttery shortbread never fails to hit the spot. I don’t think I’ve ever made these before, with or without thyme, nor really knew what the lemony layer on top was supposed to consist of. It’s eggs that give it that sunny color, for the most part, and the consistency of a thick gel. Most recipes advise to dust lemon bars with confectioner’s sugar, maybe to cover up the unmistakably eggy-looking crackled top. But since I’d already blended the herb into the crust, I just sprinkled some more fresh thyme on top.

my least favorite task: picking thyme leaves from the stem

sugar dissolves in the gently beaten egg mixture

It was a last-minute call to come up with this dessert and a last-minute flourish for the thyme. My friend Gino celebrated his twenty-eighth birthday last night, and I already knew someone was making an extravagant cake. Another friend was bringing cupcakes, too. I didn’t want to crowd the table with another frostinged thing. Now that the method behind making these lemon bars is down pat, I’m curious to try it out with other fruits next. What about strawberries when they arrive in June? Melons much later on in the summer? I’m thinking tart gooseberries, currants and blackberries are another viable option. We’ll see what my CSA has in store.

thyme gives the crust batter savory kick

just-baked and bubbly

For now, I’ll allow that while lemons are neither local nor seasonal, somebody really struck gold when they came up with this dessert. As usual, my friends gobbled them up at lightning speed, and wondered afterward what those savory sprigs of something were on the surface.

Lemon Thyme Bars
(makes about 24)

for the crust
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter, cubed
1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons thyme leaves

for the custard
1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (about 3 large lemons)
finely grated zest from the 3 lemons
4 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1-2 tablespoons thyme leaves for garnish

To make the crust, combine the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs (or cut in butter with a pastry cutter or your fingers). Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Press mixture into a slightly greased 9 x 13″ casserole. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Remove from oven.

In a large bowl, combine the eggs and flour and gently beat with a fork until there are no lumps. Stir in the rest of the ingredients. Pour mixture on top of the baked crust and return to the oven to bake at 350 degrees for another 15 minutes, or until the top has just set. Let cool completely. For neatest results when cutting, cover and chill at least 30 minutes before cutting into squares. Sprinkle tops with thyme for garnish.

Cost Calculator
(for 24 lemon bars)

1 1/2 cups plus 3 tablespoons flour: $0.50
1/2 cup butter (at $4/lb): $1.00
4 eggs (at $4/dozen): $1.33
3 lemons: $1.00
1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar: $0.25
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar: $0.45
1/4 cup milk: $0.15
4 tablespoons thyme leaves (at $2/bunch): $1.25
salt, 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch: $0.05

Total: $5.98

Health Factor

Eight brownie points: While half a cup of fresh lemon juice definitely adds a good dose of Vitamin C, and a sprinkle of thyme is a great alternative to more sugar for garnish, this dish definitely has its share of sugary calories, and the shortbread crust is no less buttery than any cookie or pie pastry.

Green Factor

Three maple leaves: Not looking good. As lamented above, lemons come in fossil fuel-burning cargoes from California. But the good thing is that while they’re definitely the highlight flavor-wise, much of the stuff in the dessert — eggs, butter, a bit of milk — can be sourced locally.

13 Responses to “Lemon Thyme Bars”

  1. Kerstin says:

    What a lovely flavor combination! They look great.

  2. Astra Libris says:

    I just discovered your incredible blog, and I’m so glad I did! I love the philosophy behind your blog, and I love your brownie points, maple leaves, and cost calculator features!

    Oh my, these lemon bars look incredible too…

  3. Francis Lam says:

    THOSE are some handsome eggs! High yolks, nice cloudy whites. Good lord.

  4. cathy says:

    Francis: I know! Those eggs are from the chickens who were attacking me a couple posts down, at Queens County Farm.

  5. noble pig says:

    Oh my word these put my lemon bars to shame.

  6. wynk says:

    Picking thyme leaves is easy if you don’t do it one leaf at a time. Just do it the same way you pull rosemary leaves off (hold the top of the sprig with one hand and pull the leaves toward its bottom with the other). It just takes a little bit lighter touch.

  7. Lilster says:

    These would be really great, as those two flavors go together really well. Something else you could do would be to use lemon thyme rather than just regular thyme. I love lemon thyme — it’s got a slightly gentler, sweeter flavor than regular thyme.

  8. Not Eating Out in New York » A ‘lil ode to eggs says:

    [...] eggs before beating into lemon bars [...]

  9. dave says:

    Love the blog, the entire idea of it is inspired! Wynk above took the words out of my mouth re: removal of thyme leaves–the task used to be my most unfavorite one relative to herbs too–till I began to do exactly what Wynk does. The “light touch” really helps too
    Will try these great sounding bars this week.
    All the best–

  10. Food Pairing Friday: Saigon Folly Cocktail and Lavender Lemon Bars — Mouth of the Border says:

    [...] For the directions, visit Cathy’s site. [...]

  11. Photo Recap — Midnight Brunch: Cooks for the Cure Edition with KitchenAid — Mouth of the Border says:

    [...] For dessert, I made my friend Cathy Erway’s Lemon Thyme bars. [...]

  12. Midnight Brunch | Dress, Dine & Sparkle says:

    [...] is the recipe for the delightful lemon bars, by Cathy Erway [...]

  13. Lemon Thyme Slices with Lemon Custard « akmagnolia says:

    [...] determined to do something with herbs. While, I was in search of baking with herbs, I came across this recipe. I adopted the recipe according to my [...]

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