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Makeover Recipe: Easy Lemon Squares

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Easy Lemon Squares

Lemon Squares are often made with gobs of butter and sugar and well, that’s one reason why they are so good. But, they are really about the lemon. Lemon is, or should be, the star of the show. I am convinced there are ways to lighten things up and still have great flavor with baked goods, desserts, and sweet things – lemon squares included. My Easy Lemon Squares are not any harder to prepare and do not require any special ingredients. There are no boxes or mixes. It’s one bowl and one pan. Bonus. My tasters had no idea it was a healthier version of a lemon bar – and loved it. Read on to learn more!

Easy Lemon Tart

Sweet Tart

Clearly, that’s not a square. I wasn’t very good at Geometry, but that’s a triangle. Call it lemon square, tart, or bar – Lemon “Squares” are a buttery shortbread topped with sweet-tart baked lemon custard. And, they need to be all about the lemon! When in season, I prefer to use Meyer Lemons instead of regular Eureka or Lisbon lemons. These are the two most common lemon varieties found in the produce section. Meyer lemons are a cross between an orange and a lemon. They are one of my favorite ingredients and worth the extra money for cooking and baking.

When giving a recipe a healthy makeover and still have it taste good is all about editing. Removing the extraneous, but keeping enough that makes it still recognizable.
I am not in the camp that thinks cocoa powder swirled into yogurt is chocolate mousse. That is not chocolate mousse. It is not pudding. It is yogurt. Don’t lie to me. A lemon square can keep its soul, adapted to be more healthy, and still taste indulgent and rich.

Easy Lemon Tart

Almond Flour

Almond flour shortbread is deliciously more buttery than plain pure butter and wheat flour shortbread. Almond flour is made from ground almonds. The process involves blanching almonds in boiling water to remove the skins, then grinding and sifting them into a fine flour. Almond flour is not the same as almond meal. (Almond meal is made by grinding almonds with their skins intact.)

Almond flour is rich in vitamin E and magnesium, two important nutrients. It is high in fiber and heart-healthy, too. It contains no gluten and while it seldom be used interchangeably for wheat flour cup to cup, it works with shortbread with a few adaptations.

All-purpose flour is actually fewer points than almond flour, but I wanted to try this recipe both with regular flour and gluten-free almond flour. Personally, I do not need to cook gluten-free for health reasons. I like to use almond flour for flavor. It makes an excellent shortbread.

Easy Lemon Tart

Baked Custard

Sliceable lemon custard is set most often in three ways: flour, cornstarch, or cooking the eggs on the stovetop. The latter was an instant no-go. The results are clear and lovely, but I don’t want effort in this instance. I am looking more along the lines of dump-and-stir.

With an almond flour gluten-free crust, it may as well have a gluten-free custard, so cornstarch is the answer. Cornstarch like many starches can be tricky. Cornstarch has twice the thickening power of all-purpose flour. The key is hitting the mark with the set – too much is too much and not enough is not enough.

Easy Lemon Tart

Small Bakes

There’s a trend starting I think with “small bakes.” Baking seems intimidating because it always seems so “big.” But it doesn’t have to be. It’s like canning. You don’t have to can a bushel of green beans. You can preserve a pint. Increasingly, I am making smaller desserts. It helps with portion size and feels manageable.  It’s potentially less wasteful, too. Small pods and solos need small bakes. (In WW world this luscious dessert comes in at 5.5 blue points per 1/16th slice.)

In terms of the pan. I had a 9-inch cake pan and wanted a tart. These Easy Lemon Squares can also be made in an 8-inch square pan. Let me know what you think! Thanks so much for reading. Please make sure to check out Cookbooks with Virginia. It’s now streaming LIVE on YouTube at 11:30 am EST every Friday and you can also check it out after it airs live. Lots of great guests in the works!


Bon Appétit, Y’all

Virginia Willis

Here’s my little 30-second how-to video on Instagram. Check it out. Keep scrolling for the recipe!


Easy Lemon Tart

Lucious Lemon "Squares"

One slice is 6 WW blue points. I prefer the almond flour shortbread as a base for these Lemon Bars, but if you don't have almond flour you can use regular all-purpose flour, simply leave out the cornstarch in the pastry.
Prep Time10 minutes
Cook Time45 minutes
Course: Dessert, Snack
Cuisine: American, Southern
Keyword: baked custard, bar cookie, lemon bar, lemon square, lemon tart
Servings: 16
Author: Virginia Willis


  • ¼ cup 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • Pinch salt
  • 4 eggs
  • Zest and juice of 3-4 lemons (¾ cup juice)
  • Confectioner’s Sugar for serving


  • Heat the oven to 350°F. In a microwave-safe bowl heat the butter until just melted, 1 minute or so, depending on the strength of your microwave. (Don't melt it until it's oil, stop when there's a hunk of semi-solid butter at the center. It will melt as you make the dough.) Add almond flour, sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Using a rubber spatula, stir to combined and solid. (The shortbread dough will feel like Play-doh.)
  • Press the dough into a 9-inch cake pan or 8-inch square. Prick all over with the tines of a fork. Transfer to oven and bake until browned and set, about 20 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, IN THE SAME BOWL combine the sugar, cornstarch, salt, eggs, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Whisk to combine and make sure to stir until any and all clumps of cornstarch are incorporated. (You can use a whisk or a handheld mixer.) Pour into the still-warm crust.
  • Bake until set and it starts to pull away from the sides of the pan, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove to let cool for several hours uncovered. Shake over Confectioner’s Sugar to garnish.

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Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 2 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Kristin S,

    I made this today and it was great! Wonderful lemon flavor. I did use regular ap flour and omitted the cornstarch in the crust like the note says, and it worked well. I did have some trouble getting it out of the cake pan, so I think I’ll make sure I put some parchment paper in the pan next time.

  2. Rachel Smith

    Can’t wait to try this recipe. Lemon bars are a favorite of mine. I’m so glad chefs are downsizing recipes because we get tired of eating a dish after a day or two. Thanks so much

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