When I was pregnant, I ate in our campus dining hall about once a week because I craved the salad bar. Particularly, I craved a combination of peas, hard boiled eggs, Goldfish crackers and Ranch on my salad. I really can’t blame that on hormones because that’s normally how I fix my salad there; it’s just that I wanted it pretty often while pregnant. Anyway, our dining service has always made a mean lemon bar and one day they stepped it up and had a lemon bar with a cream cheese filling. I inhaled one then grabbed another on our way out the door, planning to take it with me for later. I guess my dining companions were moving too slow because the next thing I knew I was cramming this lemon bar in my mouth while standing in the middle of the dining room.
It was that good.
This recipe-while tasty-is not an exact replica of that wonderful morsel but it’s pretty darn good. And it’s very simple to make.
2 (8 ounce) packages refrigerated crescent roll dough
2 lemons, zested and juiced, divided*
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons white sugar
*First, let’s talk about zest, shall we? It’s tempting to use bottled lemon juice and skip the zest all together. Don’t do that! The zest provides a wonderful, fresh lemon flavor. Plus, the fresh juice is much better than bottled. Don’t be intimidated. Here’s what you need to do:
Wash your lemons thoroughly since you’ll be using the zest. Next, find something to hold your zest. I used a ramekin but you could use a measuring cup or even a paper towel or piece of foil. I have a lemon zester that I bought years ago from Pampered Chef but a small grater works just as well. (OXO makes a very similiar zester that you can find here-affiliate link) Gently, run the zester or grater over the lemon. You should only be peeling off the thin yellow layer and not dipping into the white stuff called pith which is very bitter. Zest one whole lemon and half of another.
Set aside. Now zest the remaining half lemon into another ramekin/bowl/paper towel and set it aside.
Now that your lemons have been zested, squeeze out the juice from both of them into a cup or small bowl. You can use a lemon squeezer (like this one-affiliate link) but I just use my hands. If the lemons have been in the refrigerator, roll them across the counter to get the juices flowing (literally). You can also microwave them for about 10 seconds if you like.
Ok, let’s move on now.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.
Press 1 can crescent roll dough into the bottom of the prepared baking dish stretching it to cover the bottom of the pan. Pinch together the perforated lines if they start to pull apart.
Mix your bigger pile of zest and the juice in a bowl. Beat cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar into lemon zest mixture using an electric mixer until smooth and creamy; spread over crescent roll dough layer.
Unroll the second can of crescent roll dough and layer over cream cheese mixture, stretching dough to the edges but again pinching together any breaks. Brush melted butter over crescent roll dough layer. Mix remaining lemon zest and 3 tablespoons sugar together in a bowl; sprinkle over butter.
Bake until top is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Allow to cool for about 20 minutes. Lift from baking dish using foil; transfer to a cutting board. Cut into squares, leaving on foil. Return dessert to the baking dish and refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour.
Warning: Your house will smell amazing.