Sarah Carey’s Favorite Lemon Dessert Recipes for Spring

Here’s how to use every last bit of this popular citrus to bring some sunshine to your cakes, cookies, pies, tarts, and more.

<p>Christopher Testani</p>

Christopher Testani

Lemon is one of my favorite flavors. It’s complex and has incredible acidity that balances so well with sugar in all kinds of cookies, cakes, bars, and pies. And as we transition into spring, lemon brings the brightness and sunshine that we so need. Since it’s peak citrus season now, I’m sharing some of my favorite lemon dessert recipes to help you enjoy all their sweet, tangy goodness.  

Related: Our Best Lemon Desserts Are Sure to Brighten Your Day

How to Use Lemons

You might think lemon is all mouth-puckering acidity, but there is much more to this popular citrus. The different parts of a lemon can add a variety of elements to a recipe.



Tips

When buying lemons, look for thin-skinned fruits that are heavy for their size—this should mean they are juicy. And buy organic if you can, especially if you are using the zest.



  • Zest is the exterior of the lemon skin. It contains volatile oils and has aroma and flavor, but not acidity. The best way to zest a lemon (or any citrus fruit) is with a microplane. If you don’t have a microplane, use the small side of a box grater (not the super fine one that you always cut yourself on)—the pieces will be a little coarser than if you used a microplane.

  • Juice is the part of the lemon that’s most often used in recipes. It brings acidity, brightness, and moisture to cake or cookie batter, pie fillings, etc. To make sure I get all the juice, I use a handheld citrus press and squeeze the lemons just before I use them, because citrus juice loses its fresh aroma if made too far in advance.

  • Segments are the interior sections of the lemon; we trim off their outer membranes. Once I’ve removed the peel and pith, I hold the lemon over a bowl while I slice between the membrane, so the segments can fall into the bowl and I don’t lose any juice. 

  • Slices can be candied in sugar syrup so the peel and the bitter white pith soften, without disintegrating the flesh. The candied slices glisten and are perfect for garnishing lemon cakes and other desserts.

  • Whole Lemons are not used as often in desserts as juice or zest. This is because the lemon peel is tough, and when a whole lemon is baked, the segments will break down before the rind is cooked. 

My Favorite Lemon Desserts

Lemon Curd

Paola + Murray
Paola + Murray

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When I was growing up, lemon curd was one of my mom’s favorite treats. Like me, she loves the puckery flavor of tart desserts, and we would often serve lemon curd with our sponge cake at Passover. This is my favorite lemon curd recipe and it’s easier than the one my mom used to make. It’s all made in one pot, and uses a whole egg to replace some of the usual yolks—this makes a lighter lemon curd.

I love to serve it in little baked tart shells, drizzled over ice cream with a shortbread cookie, or as a filling for crepes.



Tips

If you add a little gelatin to make it firmer, you can use lemon curd to fill cakes and tarts.



Triple Citrus Bundt Cake

Christopher Testani
Christopher Testani

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This is my number-one favorite lemon cake, but it isn’t only lemon—there’s also fresh orange in the batter. The cake is packed with bright lemony flavor that comes from using the juice, zest, and segments in the cake, and not one, but two glazes! The first glaze is super tangy and soaks into the dense cake. The second adds a bright sheen and even more citrus flavor. That might sound like a lot of work, but trust me, it’s worth it. I like to gild the lily and sprinkle the top with some finely grated lemon zest and candied lemon peel.



Tips

If you don’t have a Bundt pan, you can still make this cake: use two loaf pans instead. For a little more straightforward dessert, try this Lemon Glazed Sheet Cake, which can feed a crowd of lemon lovers.



Shaker Lemon Tarts

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As a big fan of using the whole citrus in a dessert, I love these traditional New England tarts. Slices of lemon sit overnight in sugar. The next day you mix those softened slices with eggs, pour the filling into a tart shell and bake. It’s so simple and magical, and the combination of sweet-tart and bitter flavors with the buttery crust can’t be beat.

Atlantic-Beach-Tart Bars

Johnny Miller
Johnny Miller

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Make these unique and irresistible treats for anyone who loves lemon bars, because they’re next level. The filling uses sweetened condensed milk—making it a little like Key lime pie. The result is a luxurious, dense, and creamy bite. The crust brings a hint of salt, which balances the rich filling—it’s made with ground Saltines, which is so unexpected.

Lemon-Cranberry Meringue Pie

Christopher Testani
Christopher Testani

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When I was a kid, my birthday dessert request was always lemon meringue pie. I still love the interplay of the sweet, billowy meringue atop that sunshine bright filling. In this recipe, there’s also a crystal clear cranberry gelée atop the lemon layer. This pie is a real showstopper, and as frozen cranberries are available year round, you can make it now—it’s not just for Thanksgiving.

Cookies

It was too difficult to pick just one recipe as my favorite lemon cookie. I’ve got three, so there should be one (or more) you love too.

Citrus Thumbprints are one of my go-to holiday cookies, but don’t wait for December! They’re made with a simple shortbread cookie dough that’s loaded with lemon and lime zest. A generous dusting of confectioners’ sugar and a bright dollop of jam or lemon curd in the thumbprint finishes off the cookie. They have a sandy texture that melts in your mouth with a burst of citrus flavor.

These Old-Fashioned Lemon Sugar Cookies are giant treats with crispy edges, a chewy center, and a double layer of crunchy sugar coating.

While still all about lemon, our Lemon Icebox Cookies are decidedly different; they’re delicate slice-and-bake cookies and are terrific with a cup of tea. 

Read the original article on Martha Stewart.