Basil and lemon are an amazing pairing. Sure on their own they are good but together, they are even better. These basil lemon bars are a delicious sweet and tart treat.
One bar, two layers
While in essence these are one bar, they bake in two sections and are composed of two distinct layers. The bottom layer (and the first to bake) is essentially a basil shortbread. When you put it into the pan, it’s important to use your clean hands to press it down and spread it evenly. It will be very crumbly but that’s okay, it means you did it right!
The second layer is the lemon layer. It is tart, packed with citrus flavor and exactly what you need to brighten up your day. Let the crust cool before pouring this layer on top of it or else they will mix into each other and you won’t retain those distinctive layers.
Can I use dry basil instead of fresh?
In many of my recipes that contain herbs, like my basil shortbread and my rosemary shortbread with lemon icing, I opt for fresh herbs. It’s a personal preference rather than an unbreakable rule so if you know you won’t have fresh herbs on hand but you still want to make these basil lemon bars, dried herbs are a tasty alternative!
Dried herbs often have even more flavor than fresh herbs, but make sure to adapt the recipe quantities. Fresh and dry herbs aren’t a 1:1 substitute. Since this recipe calls for 1/4 cup fresh basil, use 1 tablespoon of dry basil as a substitute.
Can I make these ahead of time?
While you can make these ahead of time, I wouldn’t make them more than a day or two before. The longer you wait to eat them, the more moist the super buttery crust will get. This isn’t a negative but it is something to think about as it means they will get harder to hold the longer you wait to eat them. Of course, I don’t have enough self restraint to actually wait that long but I imagine that’s how this would play out. Another positive is that the lemon layer is strong enough on its own that you can top it with powdered sugar and it won’t absorb it all before you eat it all.
The first time I made these, I brought them to an outdoor cookout. I forgot to take into account how windy it was. The wind hit these bars before anyone at the cookout had the chance to grab one off the plate and everyone in the vicinity got covered in powdered sugar. Sorrynotsorry.
Tips for success:
- Line the pan with parchment paper. the bars will be soft while they are hot so getting them out of the pan will be very difficult. These bars are also on the wet side, which will add to the difficulty of getting them out of the pan. An overhang of parchment paper will make it very easy to pull it out.
- Let the bars cool completely in the pan before using the parchment to pull them out. As I mentioned above they are soft but they become manageable once they are cool. I know it is hard to wait (they will smell good but do your best) but I promise it is worth it!
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar, separated
- 1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
- 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, separated
- 2 large eggs
- Zest of one lemon
- 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9x9 baking pan with parchment paper so that it overhangs the edges. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and 1/2 cup sugar together until combined. Add in the basil and one cup of the flour. Press into the prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes.
- While the base bakes, prepare the lemon topping. In a medium bowl, combine the rest of the sugar, the eggs, lemon zest and lemon juice and whisk to thicken slightly. Add in the remaining flour, whisk to combine and set aside until ready to bake.
- Once the base is removed from the oven, let cool for about 10 minutes before pouring the lemon topping on top and putting back in the oven. Bake for another 18-20 minutes or until the middle is set and not loose.
- Let bars cool completely in pan before using the parchment paper to remove. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.
Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker’s Classic Lemon Bars