triple citrus bars – lemons and limes and oranges, oh my!

If I had to pick a favorite non-chocolate dessert, I think I’d have to go with lemon bars. This year, anyway. Next year it might be bread pudding or flan or pumpkin pie. But lately, the sweet-tart lemon bar has a place of honor in my kitchen. I posted about my favorite lemon bars here, and after a few months of searching for better ones, I haven’t found them.

In my attempts to avoid being lemon-obsessed, I decided to branch out a bit more and try using limes to make a similar bar cookie. I was inspired by a post by Jamie of My Baking Addiction about key lime pie bars. My husband and I are big key lime pie fans, and I knew that key lime pie bars would be a hit with him. But, I wanted something a bit different. And that’s when I ran across a recipe in Cook’s Illustrated from the July 1st, 2006, issue for Triple Citrus Bars. Lemon, lime, AND orange. What could be better?

I doubled the original recipe, so instead of making 16 bars, I ended up with 32. Well, after taste-testing them, there were probably 30. Or maybe it was 28. I also made a graham cracker crust instead of the crust used in the original recipe that called for animal crackers. I added some shredded coconut to the crust, too, because…well, just because.

The consistency of these bars is like cheesecake – rich and thick – and they were very sweet (courtesy of the sweetened condensed milk). There is tartness present but it’s not lip-puckering. These are the kind of bars that my mom would ask for a piece of bread with. You know, to balance out the sweetness. Because that’s just how she is.

Are they better than the lemon bars? I’m not sure they’re better, but they ARE just as good. Next up on the menu when I get a craving for citrus will be Jamie’s key lime pie bars. They were the inspiration, after all.

Yield: Makes 32 2-inch bars.

Triple Citrus Bars


Ingredients for Crust

10 ounces graham crackers
6 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt
3 tablespoons sweetened shredded coconut
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

Ingredients for Filling

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
3 teaspoons grated lime zest
3 teaspoons grated lemon zest
3 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 pinches of table salt
2 (14-ounce) cans sweetened condensed milk
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup fresh lime juice [Or you can use a good bottled juice - I used Nellie and Joe's Famous Key West Key Lime Juice.]
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice


Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 13-by-9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil, allowing excess foil to overhang sides for easy lifting when the bars are ready to remove. Spray foil with nonstick cooking spray.

To make crust: In workbowl of food processor, pulse graham crackers until broken down and evenly fine. Add brown sugar and salt; process to combine. Add coconut and process to combine. Drizzle butter over crumbs and pulse until crumbs are evenly moistened with butter, about ten 1-second pulses. Press crumbs evenly and firmly into bottom of prepared pan. Bake until golden brown, about 18-20 minutes. Cool on wire rack while making filling. Do not turn oven off.

To make the filling: While crust cools, in medium bowl stir cream cheese, zests, and salt with rubber spatula until softened, creamy, and thoroughly combined. Add sweetened condensed milk and whisk vigorously until incorporated and no lumps of cream cheese remain. Whisk in egg yolk. Add juices and whisk gently until incorporated (mixture will thicken slightly).

To assemble and bake: Pour filling into crust; spread to corners and smooth surface with rubber spatula. Bake until set and edges begin to pull away slightly from sides, 15-20 minutes. Cool on wire rack to room temperature, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Cover with foil and refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, at least 2 hours.

Loosen edges with paring knife and lift bars from baking pan using foil extensions. Cut bars into 32 squares and serve. Leftovers can be refrigerated up to 2 days; crust will soften slightly.

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated, 07.01.2006 issue.