Give Lemon Bars A Boozy Upgrade With Limoncello
Looking to elevate your lemon bars? Look no further than limoncello. If you've never worked with it before, limoncello is a flavored Italian spirit made by soaking fresh lemon peels in a neutral grain-based alcohol, typically vodka. It's popular along the Amalfi Coast, where lemons are such a big deal that the region has become home to the "sagra dei limoni," an annual lemon festival. Limoncello totes a pleasant neon yellow color and is more viscous than a typical liqueur because it's tempered with simple syrup. The result is a sweet, flavorful, vibrant spirit that can stand on its own, no mixer necessary. In Italy, limoncello is traditionally enjoyed chilled and straight-up as a digestif. But, that knockout flavor can do just as much heavy lifting for your baked goods.
It's no secret that bar desserts are killer choices for baking for a crowd, from potlucks to picnics, dinner parties, girls' nights in, book clubs, and more. But, bar desserts can also be a little predictable. Limoncello's bright acidity complements the richness of the cream in the filling. Incorporating the spirit into your tried-and-true lemon bars makes for a tart and tangy treat with sophisticated grown-up flair.
Start with ¼ or ½ cup of limoncello and adjust to taste from there in future batches. To help the flavor of the limoncello really shine in the filling, swap your classic lemon curd for condensed milk, egg yolks, and heavy cream – effectively a boozy custard.
We recommend opting for a crispy graham cracker crust here; with creamy citrusy filling, the textural dimensionality keeps the mouthfeel interesting. But, a classic shortbread crust would work well here, too. Also, be sure to bake your limoncello bars in a glass or ceramic baking dish. Metal pans impart a less-than-delicious interference on the bright lemony flavor. Finally, be sure to give the bars a good chill to help them maintain their structural integrity.
From there, simply slice into bars and serve. For an aesthetically pleasing presentation, you could make a batch of homemade whipped cream, transfer it into a piping bag, and pipe a decorative dollop into the center of each bar with a star-shaped piping attachment. If you'd like to add a flavorful garnish, try a fresh mint leaf, rosemary, lavender sprig, or two raspberries. These cheerful yellow bars also look lovely garnished with an edible flower, like a violet or a golden calendula.
Our favorite go-to limoncello brands are Luxardo and Pallini, both of which can be purchased via online spirits retailers. If you live near a Little Italy neighborhood, one of the specialty shops there will almost certainly carry limoncello. Limoncello can even be found in many liquor stores ... but mad culinary props if you make it yourself.