When you think of lemon bars, you probably picture the lemon curd-topped treats that make citrus-lovers’ mouths water. I love a good lemon bar – and I have a recipe for perfect ones – but that’s not the only lemon dessert out there when you’re in the mood for a little citrus. And in the case of this recipe, I do mean a little! These Easy Iced Lemon Cake Bars are dense, tender cakes that are topped with a lemon icing. They’re bursting with lemon flavor, though you’ll probably only need a single lemon to make a batch, and they’ll satisfy a citrus craving every time.
The cake bars start with a batter that is flavored generously with lemon zest. The zest of a lemon is the colorful outer peel of the citrus fruit and it contains lots of lemon oil, which has a very concentrated lemon flavor. The best way to get the zest from your lemon is by using a microplane, which will get the zest off of one lemon in just a few seconds. It is possible to zest a lemon without using a microplane, but it takes a bit more time. One large lemon should provide enough zest for this recipe. Though there is no lemon juice in the cake batter, the icing is flavored using lemon juice, so just set the zested lemon aside after you use it for the cake batter to use when you’re ready to make the icing.
This cake almost has a pound cake-like texture to it and, though it is quite a bit lighter in texture than most pound cakes, it still uses quite a bit of butter. The batter will not rise as high as some other styles of cake, yielding a denser bar that is still very tender. It’s firm enough that you can pick up a slice and eat it out of hand, even though it can also be served with a fork.
The cake is baked in a 9×13-inch pan and should be cut into about 20 squares, but you can make them larger or smaller depending on the number of people you need to serve. The icing should be poured over the cake once it has cooled and spread into an even layer on top of the cake, which should be relatively flat after baking. I added a little sprinkle of lemon zest to the top of my cake to hint at the flavor, but feel free to dress it up by adding sprinkles, colored icing or even some edible flowers!
Easy Iced Lemon Cake Bars
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
10 tbsp butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup yogurt (or sour cream)
1 tbsp lemon zest (from 1 large lemon)
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
2-3 tbsp lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, yogurt and lemon zest, then gradually stir in the flour mixture until the batter comes together and no streaks of dry ingredients remain.
Pour batter into prepared pan and spread into an even layer.
Bake for about 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Allow cake to cool completely before topping with the icing.
To make the icing: Whisk together confectioners’ sugar, 2 tbsp lemon juice and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Gradually add in additional lemon juice, if needed, to thin the icing to a pourable consistency. Pour over cooled cake and spread into an even layer. Allow icing to set for at least 30 minutes before serving.