Creamy Cherry and Lemon Bars

I wanted to make something in the spirit of Valentine’s Day. And use up various baking project leftovers.

This is the result.

Creamy Cherry and Lemon Bars

From the Maraschino Cherry White Chocolate Cookies and the Rum Runners, I had maraschino cherries left over. Rather than just eating them out of the jar, I thought baking with them for Valentine’s Day was a better idea.

A fresh batch of Seven Minute Microwave Caramels left me with half of a can of sweetened condensed milk. I really hate recipes that use partial cans of things, but it can’t be avoided in that one. Unless you want to make a double batch of caramels, and I can’t argue with that.

Creamy Cherry and Lemon Bars

When I started recipe trialing for The Best Lemon Bars, I didn’t know how many lemons I’d need, and bought more than I needed and had a surplus to use. Plus, on my daily runs here in San Diego, lemons are in season and are falling off the trees.

Some days I literally stumble on them on the sidewalks and will pick a few up and take them home with me. Either that or the birds eat them or they rot. Some of these hundred-year old lemon trees have 200 or more lemons on them at any time. And that’s just one tree. More than any one person could ever dream of using.

lemon tree

So after pondering about what I was going to make on a long run, which is when I do my best thinking, I came inside and got to work.

The bars come together in minutes by hand, in one bowl, and makes an 8-by-8 inch pan, just eight wedges. My kind of recipe, on all accounts.

Creamy Cherry and Lemon Bars

In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt half of a stick of butter. To the melted butter, add an egg, half of a can of sweetened condensed milk, which is a heaping half-cup. Also add lemon juice, vanilla, and whisk it together. The batter smells so fragrant and is so creamy from the sweet milk and lemon.

Notably absent is any kind of added sugar. The sweetness for the whole pan of bars comes from the half can of sweetened condensed milk and the cherries. The resulting bars are not an overly sweet and you may think by looking at the pictures that they would be, but they’re not. Especially because the lemon juice and zest also cut through the sweetness.

Creamy Cherry and Lemon Bars

Fold in two teaspoons lemon zest, flour, and chopped cherries. I put them on my cutting board, and roughly and haphazardly chopped them into small pieces of varying sizes. Red cherry juice ran all over the place, and that’s what paper towels are for. Gently fold them in, and they’ll turn your luscious white batter into a pale shade of pink. You don’t have to dry the cherries before adding them, but don’t add excess juice to the batter because it will thin it out and water it down too much.

Transfer the batter to the baking pan and bake for about twenty minutes. Like my blondie recipes, the base layer for Cranberry Bliss Bars, or these Browned Butter Caramel and Butterscotch Bars, the batter is quite a thin layer in the pan and it bakes up fast. Don’t overcook them or they’ll turn rubbery.

Creamy Cherry and Lemon Bars

Before serving, optionally drizzle them with melted white chocolate. As an afterthought after the photos, I added some and although it’s optional, I’d recommend it. It adds just another little pop of flavor and touch of sweetness. White chocolate should never be an afterthought. Clearly I wasn’t thinking straight.

I didn’t want to take my camera out again so use your imagination. It looks like this.

Creamy Cherry and Lemon Bars

The bars have a dominant cherry taste. I really thought lemon was going to take over, since tartness usually wins in the taste wars, but surprisingly, cherry won. Although there are lemon notes, they are no where near as lemony as The Best Lemon Bars.

They remind me of this Blueberry Yogurt Cake with Lemon Vanilla Glaze where blueberry took center stage and lemon was a background player. These bars and that cake have a similar texture, too. The cake was made with creamy, thick, Greek yogurt and the two have similarities.


In terms of texture, they remind me of of a few things. Scott said instantly that they remind him of cheesecake. Although that wasn’t first in my mind, he’s right. The creamy sweetened condensed milk, acidic lemon juice, and protein-filled egg created a cheesecake-like texture while baking, albeit denser and firmer.

In some ways, they’re reminiscent of a Clafoutis; dense and custard-like, but firmer. If you’ve never made clafoutis, it’s essentially like making pancake batter and uses eggs and flour. It’s made in a blender in thirty seconds. Pour it in a pan, toss in some fresh or frozen fruit, and bake. It’s like a big pan-sized pancake, minus having to babysit flipping individual pancakes or be a slave to the stovetop, with no pancake pan grease splattering your wrists.

Creamy Cherry and Lemon Bars

There’s nothing worse than a fruit-based dessert that’s skimpy on the fruit and these are anything but, and are packed with an abundance of  juicy, sweet, texture-filled cherries in every bite.

The tang from the lemon juice and zest, balanced with the creaminess and gentle sweetness from the sweetened condensed milk, made these a fun little project that’s ready from start to finish in less than thirty minutes.

Leftovers can be a good thing.

Creamy Cherry and Lemon Bars

Creamy Cherry and Lemon Bars
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
A creamy bar that's bursting with cherries and cherry flavor, with subtle notes of fragrant lemon. They're dense and firm, and have lots of texture from the cherries. Extremely easy and fast to make, the batter comes together in less than 5 minutes and no mixer is required. A small-batch recipe, making just 8 wedges.
Serves: one 8-by-8-inch pan, 8 wedges
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter (half of one stick), melted
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ heaping cup sweetened condensed milk (half of one standard can)
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon lemon extract, optional and to taste (I didn't use it)
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • ¼ teaspoon salt, optional and to taste
  • 1 cup maraschino cherries, roughly chopped and patted dry
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons white chocolate chips, melted for drizzling; optional but recommended
  1. Preheat oven to 350F, line an 8-by-8-inch pan with aluminum foil, spray with cooking spray; set aside. Add butter to a large microwave-safe bowl and heat on high power to melt, about 1 minute. Wait for butter to cool for a minute or two before adding the egg (so you don't scramble it). Add the sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, vanilla extract, optional lemon extract, and whisk until smooth. Add the flour, lemon zest, optional salt, and stir to incorporate. Gently fold in the cherries. Transfer batter to prepared pan and bake for 19 to 23 minutes, or until center is just set; don't overbake or it will turn rubbery. Allow bars to cool in pan for at least 15 minutes before removing. Optionally, drizzle with melted white chocolate.
  2. While the bars cook, melt the white chocolate in a small microwave-safe bowl in 15-second increments in the microwave, stopping after each burst to stir. Heat in bursts until chocolate can be stirred smooth. Note that white chocolate scorches easily and so don't overcook. Some people find it's easier to get it to melt smoothly if they heat it on 50% power. Drizzle bars with melted white chocolate, wait a few minutes until it's set, before slicing and serving. Bars will keep for up to 5 days in an airtight container at room temperature, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Related Recipes:

The Best Lemon Bars – I wouldn’t say they’re The Best if I didn’t think they were. Easy to make and intensely lemony. Not overly sweet and if you like lemon bars where the lemon flavor takes center stage, these are the ones to make

Blueberry Yogurt Cake with Lemon Vanilla Glaze – Made with Greek Yogurt, blueberries, and lemon, a dense, moist, fast and easy snack cake to make

Mixed Berry Clafoutis – Custard meets pancakes meets the texture of creme brulee. The batter takes 30 seconds to make in a blender, and any fruit can be used that’s seasonal or you have on hand. An impressive-tasting and almost work-free dessert

Cranberry Bliss Bars {Starbucks Copycat Recipe} – Every bit as good as the real thing, if not better. Extremely popular with readers and everyone who writes saying they’ve tried the recipe gives a glowing report about them. One of my 2012 Favorites

Chocolate Chip and Cherry Blondies – Easy to make, and any type of fruit or baking chips can be used from frozen mango to white chocolate, to fresh strawberries. Like a chocolate chip cookie in a pan, spiked with fruit

Rum Runner – I love eating the cherries out of this drink almost as much as I enjoy drinking it

Maraschino Cherry White Chocolate Cookies – One of my husband’s favorite cookies that I’ve ever made. Soft, tender, moist, bursting with cherries and white chocolate, we love these. And the dough base is one of my favorite doughs to adapt

What do you make with your baking leftovers or bits and pieces? Making anything for Valentine’s Day?

Thanks for the FoodSaver Vacuum Sealing System Giveaway and Kind Healthy Peanut Butter Snacks Giveaway entries

61 comments on “Creamy Cherry and Lemon Bars”

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  5. oh my gosh lemons just falling from trees and you can pick them up…just like that…seems like a dream to me as i sit and stare at our snow covered trees…the best we get is apples in the fall…which i love…this desert sounds oh soo good…lemons and cherry what a great combo.

  6. I do my very best thinking on my long runs too Averie. Actually, whenever I’m working out – my mind is so clear. It’s a blessing for the mind, body, and soul. :) Anyway I am LOVING all the cherries popping up all over Averie Cooks lately. And what a recipe to use up some goodies. Before I read what you wrote about Scott’s first though I go… “these are kind of like cheesecake!” and I’m loving that. Sort of cheesecakey, creamy, sweet, and packed with fruit. Fruit desserts are my favorite, especially lemon. Oh and carrot cake, which you’ve already checked off the list with today’s recipe. These are such gorgeous bars and I love the triangle shape. :) So much more interesting than regular square or rectangle. A dessert like this makes for some gorgeous photos!

    • They were a fun photoshoot. I actually loved taking the pics for these. You know how sometimes you get like 2-3 images you love and the rest are meh. Well this one, I got like 20. I wish all shoots were like that :)

  7. These look incredible! I wonder if I could figure out a way to substitute sweetened condensed coconut milk to make them non-dairy :)

  8. These are super beautiful. I love the fun and fancy colors of the bars!

  9. These are so pretty! I bet they are great with texture like cheesecake. Love that there are so many lemons out and about. Just another reason I want to move to CA. I just got diagnosed with runners’ knee. Any advice since you run so much?

  10. I’ve never seen a lemon bar quite like this, it looks like candy! What a great treat!

  11. Your photos are so vibrant and lovely! Makes me want to eat with my eyes :-)

  12. I need a lemon tree stat! And these bars! :)

  13. These look so refreshing and yummy! Amazing that you didn’t have to add sugar. I also love that you added white chocolate! You are so right…white chocolate over anything is always a welcome addition! These remind me of your cranberry bliss bars. I need to try both of these! YUM! :-)

  14. So not only is California warm and gorgeous (and home to one Jamie Bamber), but there are lemons falling from trees! I so need to head west. :D

    I love that these bars get their sweetness from sweet milk (yum!) and maraschino cherries- more lemon flavour to shine through! So pretty too!

    • Valerie you would be in heaven here…the old architecture, the lemons!! everywhere, and there are certain little nooks and crannies and pockets of the city that I can just see you loving so much. One day maybe :)

  15. I’m always delighted by the bright red shock that maraschino cherries leave in baked goods! These are SO pretty, and definitely perfect for Valentine’s Day!

  16. These are so pretty Averie! And I love that you used ‘leftover’ ingredients to make them. I need someone like you at my house that uses up every last drop!

  17. Totally gorgeous and perfect for Valentine’s Day

  18. Averie, that is so-so funny! I just finished dealing with my leftover bits and pieces, got to my comp, opened your e-mail and here you are, asking what I am doing with my leftover! It wasn’t baking leftover, but still it were bits and pieces. Anyway, I love your new cherry lemon bars, anything with lemons and cherry is right for me! :)

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