Years ago, before I was a bona fide baker (although whether I am even now depends on your definition 🙂 ), I often used baking mixes. Felt like it was a perfect morning for muffin-making? I would pull out a trusty Krusteaz box. Had a hankering for brownies? Pillsbury it was (the type with the chocolate syrup pouch, of course.) Cupcakes needed for a bake sale? Hello, Betty Crocker. The fall-back line seems to be that pre-packaged mixes are faster and easier than from-scratch recipes, but in all honesty you really don’t save that much time using mixes. Unless the project at hand is something like homemade cinnamon rolls or a particularly tricky candy, it’s almost as quick to mix up a batch of homemade brownies or cookies than to succumb to a chemical-laden, artificially-flavored box mix. In my humble opinion, baking from scratch is often cheaper, yields a better-textured and better-tasting product, and allows for much more variety in your baking. Well there’s my two cents! Now we can get down to business :).
I originally found this recipe for Oatmeal Lemon Creme bars off the Betty Crocker website. The combination of crumbly oatmeal cookie and creamy lemon filling sounded utterly amazing, and I just knew I had to try them. However, the recipe called for a pouch of Betty Crocker oatmeal cookie mix, an ingredient which: a) would force me to eat my words about the evils of pre-packaged mixes and b) is unavailable at my two tiny grocery stores. They’ve got chocolate chip cookie mix, peanut butter cookie mix, sugar cookie mix, and molasses cookie mix, but no oatmeal cookie mix. Go figure! Not that I actually looked, of course, because that would mean that I was actually considering buying a mix. Which would be ludicrous, right? Um, right.
Lucky for me, a quick google of “Oatmeal Lemon Creme Bars” brought up a whole list of sites that had adapted the same Betty Crocker recipe, many of which included a from-scratch option for the cookie dough. Yay, internet! Happy that I could still try those glorious Oatmeal Lemon Creme Bars, I whipped them up in no time at all.
For such a simple recipe, these sure take the cake (or should I say bar)! Their slightly crumbly, slightly crisp, not-too-sweet oatmeal top and bottom sandwich a smooth, creamy, lemony filling for a killer flavor (and texture) combination. The lemon flavor is definitely present but isn’t overpowering thanks to the thick, cheesecake-like filling and oatmeal cookie layers. Soooo good. I have to say the bars are best after being chilled, so that the filling can firm up a little and the crust gets nice and chewy, but they are delicious at room temperature as well. You really can’t go wrong! These are a perfect low-maintenance yet stellar dessert to bring to potlucks, parties, meetings, etc. or to just enjoy at home. This won’t be the last time these wonderful little bars appear at my house!
Oatmeal Lemon Creme Bars
For the oatmeal cookie dough:
1 & 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened but still cool
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
For the lemon creme filling:
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 Tbs lemon zest (from about 1 large lemon)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from about 1 large lemon)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8″x8″ glass baking pan; set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and oats in a smaller bowl. Stir the dry ingredients into the butter/sugar mixture until combined. Press a little more than half of the dough into the bottom of the prepared pan and bake for 15 minutes.
While the bottom layer is baking, stir together the sweetened condensed milk, lemon zest, and lemon juice in a small bowl until smooth. When the crust is finished baking, pour the lemon creme over the hot crust, smoothing the top with a spatula. Crumble the remaining cookie dough over the lemon creme and bake for an additional 25 minutes, or until crust is light golden.
Let the bars cool completely before slicing into squares. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.