Reduced Fat Lemon Squares

Tangy, lemon goodness.

I absolutely love, love, love lemon. I’m always in search of the tangiest lemon tart in the land. Right now, Pascal’s restaurant in Newport Beach, CA has the best lemon tart in my book. While I’d love to eat a lemon square every day, the calories and fat would make my thighs blow up like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day balloon. The Today Show had this reduced fat lemon square recipe on the show, with the test kitchen experts figuring out how to reduce the bad stuff and keep the flavor. Give it a try.

  • For the crust:
  • 3/4 cup (3 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup (1 1/3 ounces) confectioners
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk
  • For the lemon topping:
  • 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 1 large egg white lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest plus 6 tablespoons juice (2 lemons)
  • 1 tablespoon confectioners

In this bar cookie favorite, a rich shortbread cookie crust is paired with a topping alive with bright lemon flavor. After examining several full-fat recipes, we found that the lemon topping was not all that fattening. Instead, it was the super-buttery crust that was in need of a major overhaul. Here’s what we discovered:

Test Kitchen discoveriesWhen we tried replacing the butter with margarine or vegetable oil — or even Neufchâtel cheese — the results were flavorless or just plain bad. We found that cutting back the butter to just a third of the amount used in a traditional recipe gave us acceptable buttery flavor and pared down the calories.

Butter contributes moisture and tenderness to the crust, but with such a drastic cutback the crust fell apart. To solve the problem, we turned to milk for moisture, and replaced some of the flour with cornstarch to achieve a melt-in-your-mouth quality.

Lemon zest and extra salt boosted the crust’s flavor, while baking powder helped to lighten it. We also found that we could trim the sugar a bit without anyone noticing the difference.

For the filling, we took out one of the egg yolks and gradually cut back on sugar until we had reduced it to just a fraction of that used in a full-fat recipe. Traditional lemon square recipes have 330 calories, 16 grams of fat, and 11 grams of saturated fat per serving. Our changes brought the numbers down to 190 calories, 6 grams of fat, and 4 grams of saturated fat.

To prepare:Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 8-inch-square baking pan with aluminum foil to hang over pan edges. Spray foil lightly with vegetable oil spray.

For the crust:Process flour, sugar, cornstarch, lemon zest, baking powder and salt in food processor until combined. Add butter and milk and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal, about 10 pulses. Transfer mixture to prepared pan and press into even layer. Bake until edges are lightly browned, 16 to 20 minutes. Cool crust on wire rack for 15 minutes.

For the lemon topping:Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Whisk granulated sugar, egg, egg white, flour and salt together in bowl until smooth. Stir in lemon juice and zest until combined. Pour filling over cooled crust and bake until filling is set, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool completely in pan on wire rack, about 1 hour. Dust with confectioners’ sugar. Using foil overhang, lift lemon squares from pan and cut into 9 squares. Serve.

Tip:Press the crust dough snugly against the pan edges to keep the lemon topping from running beneath the crust. Cool the crust for at least 15 minutes before pouring on the lemon topping.

Reduced-fat results:Market report: Butter down almost 70 percent. (Full-fat crust uses 12 tablespoons; this version uses just 4.)

Cornstarch, baking powder and milk work together to keep the crust tender (despite the drastic cut in butter), while lemon zest adds bright lemon flavor.

Serving Size

Makes 9 lemon squares

From: Today


About Chef Ro

I am executive chef of Barcellona Bites, a boutique catering and personal chef service in Folsom, CA. I am also a wife, mom of two college-aged daughters in the Pacific Northwest, yogi and animal lover. Please LIKE my facebook page for tasty recipes, helpful information and kitchen, cooking and lifestyle tips.
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