Lightened-up creamy lemon goodness!
A happy sunshine mid-week welcome to you! I type this as a light dusting of snow falls outside my window. And I’m LOVING every second of it.
Today I’m sharing a recipe for tangy Greek yogurt lemon bars. A recipe yielding 12 larger squares, all at only 130 calories a pop. With enough flavor, buttery graham cracker crust action, and healthy protein to keep you satisfied, which– let’s face it– is not typical for light desserts.
Is this real life?
Staying true to my healthy January resolution, I decided to take advantage of citrus season and concoct a lightened-up, completely refreshing lemon bar. Today’s recipe is just that, though it’s more cheesecakey (technical terms) than anything else. If you know my tastebuds at all by now, cheesecakey is a very good thing. We had them for dessert* after this creamy garlic chicken. Belly = happy and full.
*And they only lasted 1 more day.
First thing to know is that these Greek yogurt lemon bars are not super sweet. I reduced the sugar from traditional lemon bar/cheesecake bar recipes to a scant 1/3 cup for the entire pan of bars. What you’ll really taste is that tart lemon flavor and tangy Greek yogurt. Kevin, who usually prefers sweeter desserts, loved ’em. So regardless of the reduced sugar, I think you’ll really like these. That is, of course, if you like Greek yogurt and umm… lemon.
The reduction of sugar in these lightened-up lemon bars really got me thinking that traditional lemon bars or cheesecake do not actually NEED all that sugar. Some is required for the structure and texture of the finished baked good, but if you’re ever curious– you can certainly reduce the amount of sugar in recipes like that.
The crust for today’s lemon bars is the same I use for my skinny chocolate chip cheesecake bars: 6 full sheet graham crackers and 2 Tablespoons of melted butter. I’ve made this crust with melted coconut oil and it’s still perfection. You want to use a fat that is solid at room temperature because it helps keep the crust intact. So butter or coconut oil, your choice.
Let’s talk about that lusciously creamy lemon filling. It’s a total breeze, made from only 6 simple ingredients: plain Greek yogurt, cream cheese, eggs, lemons, sugar, and vanilla extract. Make sure you are using Greek yogurt, aka my double chocolate muffin secret weapon. You need very thick and rich yogurt for today’s lemon bars. My preferred brand is FAGE, but I’ve also had success with Chobani. The filling will not set without a thick-style yogurt. I always use nonfat.
Likewise, the filling won’t appropriately set without the eggs or brick-style cream cheese– the kind that is sold in a block. Do not use cream cheese spread or whipped cream cheese; both disasters in the baking world. I use reduced fat brick-style cream cheese and the 130 calorie count reflects that.
Bake the lemon bars at a low temperature to prevent the top from browning and to really cook that filling on the inside. They will take about 30 minutes in the oven, then you’ll have to impatiently wait for them to cool at room temperature. THEN (ugh!) chill them for at least 3-4 hours. Lemon bars with a side of patience, anyone? Though if you pace around the house waiting for them to finish (me), you’ll burn off enough calories to eat the whole pan. Or something like that.
↑ Little dessert heart plates! We got a set of four for our wedding.
The squares in these pictures are a little smaller than what you’ll cut them. I cut mine into 16 squares, which would make these 98 calorie treats! But do yourself a favor and cut larger for only 30 more calories. You’re welcome.
130 Calorie Greek Yogurt Lemon Bars
Lightened-up creamy lemon goodness for only 130 calories.
- 3/4 cup (85g) graham cracker crumbs (about 5-6 full sheet graham crackers)
- 2 Tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter, melted (or melted coconut oil)
- 6 ounces (168g) brick-style light cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 3/4 cup (181g) plain nonfat or low fat Greek yogurt, at room temperature
- 2 large Eggland's Best eggs, at room temperature1
- 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature1
- 1/3 cup (67g) granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup (80ml) fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)2
- 1 Tablespoon lemon zest2
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- optional: top with fresh fruit when serving
- Preheat oven to 300°F (149°C). Line the bottom and sides of an 8 or 9-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil or parchment, leaving an overhang on all sides to easily lift the bars out of the pan before cutting. Set aside.
- Make the crust: Mix the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter together in a medium bowl until combined. Evenly press crust into the prepared baking pan. Bake for 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
- Make the filling: In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, beat the cream cheese on high speed until completely smooth, about 1 minute. On medium-high speed, beat in yogurt until completely combined. Then beat in the eggs and egg yolk until combined. Finally, beat in the sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and vanilla extract until everything is combined and no lumps remain.
- Pour filling onto the crust. Bake for 28-32 minutes or until the center of the bars no longer jiggles (remove from the oven and gently wiggle the pan to check). Allow the bars to cool at room temperature set on a wire rack for 30 minutes, then transfer to the refrigerator to chill for 3-4 hours or even overnight.
- Once chilled, lift the foil out of the pan using the overhang on the sides and cut into squares. For neat squares, I use a very sharp knife and wipe it clean with a paper towel after each cut. Leftovers keep well in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Make ahead tip: Prepare the bars 1-3 days in advance and store covered tightly in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Bars can be frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before serving.
- You will need 2 large eggs plus an additional egg yolk making a total of 3 egg yolks and 2 egg whites.
- Instead of lemon juice and lemon zest, try lime juice and lime zest for a tangy lime bar instead.
Room temperature dairy and eggs mix easily and more evenly into one another. I always recommend room temperature, especially cream cheese, when making these types of bars.
Using SparkRecipes calculator, these bars come out to 130 calories, 6g fat, 13g carbs, 4g protein each. This is using Philadelphia light cream cheese, FAGE nonfat plain Greek yogurt, Eggland's Best large eggs, and Nabisco graham crackers.
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