Lemon Bars with Shortbread Crust

You only need 7 ingredients to make these lemon bars. The lemon curd filling is extra thick and creamy and sits on an irresistible butter shortbread crust. Always bake lemon bars at a lower temperature to avoid over-baking. They’re simply the best lemon bars and are perfect for picnics, bake sales, spring brunches, baby showers, and bridal showers.

Lemon bars with shortbread crust

Today I’m teaching you how to make lemon bars. I love this lemon dessert recipe so much that I published it in my 1st cookbook, Sally’s Baking Addiction. These are the best lemon bars and I don’t use that statement lightly. After 1 taste, I’m confident you’ll agree. Everyone needs this recipe.

The process is pretty simple and I’m walking you through each step in the video tutorial below. Pick up some fresh citrus and let’s get baking. Spring is in the air!

Lemon bars

Video Tutorial: Lemon Bars

These are classic lemon bars featuring a soft butter shortbread crust and a tangy sweet lemon curd filling that’s baked to the perfect consistency. The lemon layer is thick and substantial, not thin or flimsy like most other lemon bar recipes.

Only 7 Ingredients in these Lemon Bars

  1. Butter: Melted butter is the base of the shortbread crust.
  2. Sugar: Sugar sweetens the crust and lemon curd filling layers. Not only this, it works with the eggs to set up the lemon filling. If reduced, the filling will be too wet.
  3. Flour: Flour is also used in both layers. Like sugar, it gives structure to the lemon filling. These days, I add slightly more flour to the shortbread crust compared to my cookbook version. You can get away with 2 cups, but an extra 2 Tablespoons really helps solidify the foundation of the lemon bars.
  4. Vanilla Extract: I use 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract in the shortbread crust. Not many lemon bar recipes call for vanilla extract and I promise you it’s my best kept secret.
  5. Salt: Without salt, the crust would be too sweet.
  6. Eggs: Eggs are most of the structure. Without them, you have lemon soup!
  7. Lemon Juice: I highly recommend using lemon juice squeezed from fresh lemons. You can also use another citrus like blood orange, grapefruit, or lime juice.

Lemon bars crust and batter

Lemon bars with powdered sugar on top

How to Make Lemon Bars in 5 Steps

  1. Prepare the crust: Mix all of the shortbread crust ingredients together, then press firmly into a 9×13 inch baking pan. Interested in a smaller batch? See my recipe note.
  2. Pre-bake: Pre-baking the crust guarantees it will hold up under the lemon layer.
  3. Prepare the filling: Whisk all of the filling ingredients together. No cooking on the stove!
  4. Bake: Pour the filling on the warm pre-baked crust, then bake for around 20 minutes or until the center is just about set. I slightly increased the baking temperature from my cookbook version. Either temperatures work, but 325°F is preferred.
  5. Cool: I usually cool the lemon bars for about 1 hour at room temperature, then stick the whole pan in the refrigerator for 1-2 more hours until relatively chilled. They’re wonderful cold and with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar on top!

Prepared in only 2 bowls and a baking pan, clean up is a breeze. These lemon bars win 1st place every time because they’re the perfect balance of tangy and sweet. In fact, I made them for my friend’s baby shower last weekend and they were the first dessert to disappear. And that’s saying a lot considering the competition: homemade brownies and adorable animal cracker cookies. 🙂

Lemon bars on cake stand

2 Guaranteed Tricks to Make the Best Lemon Bars

  1. Use a glass pan. Ceramic is fine, but glass is best. Do not use metal. I always detect a slight metallic flavor in the lemon bars when baked in metal pans.
  2. Use fresh juice. Store-bought bottles are convenient, but you miss out on a lot of flavor. You will definitely taste the difference! I have a super old citrus juicer, but I recently purchased this juicer for my mom and she loves it. Highly recommended.

White Air Bubbles on Top of Baked Lemon Bars

Do you notice air bubbles, perhaps even a white layer of air bubbles, on top of your baked lemon bars? That’s completely normal. It’s the air from the eggs rising to the surface. Some batches have it, some don’t. Regardless, the lemon bars taste the same and a dusting of confectioners’ sugar covers it right up!

Blood orange bars! See my recipe note about substituting flavors.

Lemon bars and blood orange bars

Want to kick it up a notch? Here is my lemon meringue pie recipe!

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Lemon bars on cake stand

Lemon Bars

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Total Time: 3 hours, 50 minutes
  • Yield: 24 bars
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: American

Description

You only need 7 ingredients to make these lemon bars. The lemon curd filling is extra thick and creamy and sits on an irresistible butter shortbread crust. Always bake lemon bars at a lower temperature to avoid over-baking. See recipe notes for important tips. They’re simply the best lemon bars and are perfect for picnics, bake sales, spring brunches, baby showers, and bridal showers.


Ingredients

Shortbread Crust

  • 1 cup (230g; 2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups + 2 Tablespoons (265g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)

Lemon Filling

  • 2 cups (400g) granulated sugar
  • 6 Tablespoons (48g) all-purpose flour
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup (240ml) lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
  • optional: confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (163°C). Line the bottom and sides of a 9×13 baking pan* with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on the sides to lift the finished bars out (makes cutting easier!). Set aside.
  2. Make the crust: Mix the melted butter, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt together in a medium bowl. Add the flour and stir to completely combine. The dough will be thick. Press firmly into prepared pan, making sure the layer of crust is nice and even. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned. Remove from the oven. Using a fork, poke holes all over the top of the warm crust (not all the way through the crust). A new step I swear by, this helps the filling stick and holds the crust in place. Set aside until step 4.
  3. Make the filling: Sift the sugar and flour together in a large bowl. Add the eggs and lemon juice and whisk until completely combined.
  4. Pour filling over warm crust. Bake the bars for 22-26 minutes or until the center is relatively set and no longer jiggles. (Give the pan a light tap with an oven mitt to test.) Remove bars from the oven and cool completely at room temperature. I usually cool them for about 2 hours at room temperature, then stick in the refrigerator for 1-2 more hours until pretty chilled. I recommend serving chilled.
  5. Once cool, lift the parchment paper out of the pan using the overhang on the sides. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and cut into squares before serving. For neat squares, wipe the knife clean between each cut. Cover and store leftover lemon bars in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
  6. Freezing Instructions: Lemon bars can be frozen for up to 3-4 months. Cut the cooled bars (without confectioners’ sugar topping) into squares, then place onto a baking sheet. Freeze for 1 hour. Individually wrap each bar in aluminum foil or plastic wrap and place into a large bag or freezer container to freeze. Thaw in the refrigerator, then dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

Notes

  1. Glass Dish: Use a ceramic or glass pan. I always detect a slight metallic flavor in the lemon bars when baked in metal pans.
  2. Halve the Recipe: Halve each of the ingredients to yield around 12 squares in a 9×9-inch baking pan. Same oven temperature. Bake the crust for 16-18 minutes and the bars for 20 minutes or until the center no longer jiggles.
  3. Sifting: More often than not, the flour doesn’t fully incorporate into the lemon filling unless it’s sifted with the sugar. As directed in the recipe, sift the two together before adding the eggs and lemon juice. I don’t always do this (and didn’t even do it in the video above!) but it’s preferred to avoid any flour lumps. If you have a sifter, it’s worth using. If you forget, it’s not a huge deal. Here is my favorite sifter. You use it again to dust the lemon bars with confectioners’ sugar.
  4. Lemon Juice: For exceptional taste, I highly recommend fresh lemon juice. Here is a wonderful inexpensive juicer if you don’t have one. Or use another fresh-squeezed citrus like grapefruit, blood orange, lime, or regular orange. You can slightly reduce the sugar if using a sweeter citrus. I recommend no less than 1 and 2/3 cup granulated sugar in the filling as it’s needed for structure.
  5. Room Temperature: Bringing the eggs and lemon juice to room temperature helps them mix easier into the flour and sugar. However, I never notice a taste or texture difference when using cold. Room temperature or cold, use whichever!

From Sally’s Baking Addiction cookbook

Keywords: lemon bars

Lemon bars

1089 Comments

  1. Hello, Sally and everyone. I just made this recipe and it was so easy. They came out great. This is definitely a keeper.

  2. Hey Sally,
    Can you make ahead of time, and freeze your lemon bars (freeze slab or pre-cut?)?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lew, Yes! Lemon bars can be frozen for up to 3-4 months. See step 6 of the recipe directions for freezing instructions.

  3. My new go to recipe for lemon bars. I made these for a party and they were fabulous. I followed the recipe exactly and used all the suggestions. I made them last minute and they were great served room temp. I did not have a sifter so used a whisk for flour and sugar and they came together beautifully. Also just greased my pan and skipped the parchment step and they came out fine.

  4. These are by far, the BEST lemon bars I’ve ever had. The crust is tasty and holds it’s own against the yummy filling. Now for the filling… not too sweet, great lemon flavor and not runny- exactly how I like lemon bars. Recipe was easy to follow and I will be making these again very soon!

  5. Barbara Weingarten says:

    Hi Sally,
    I would love to bake your lemon bars. I have an opportunity to do so next weekend. The home I’m invited to is dairy free and I would like to know if your shortbread crust would work with 2 unsalted margarine sticks and would that achieve the same delicious crust. If so is it 2 for 2 or is there a different formula when you do this? Any suggestion would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks.

    1. Hi Barbara! I’ve had readers swap out the butter for 2 sticks of margarine instead. Or you can try vegan buttery sticks (the brand I know works is Earth Balance). Readers have reported luck with both options!

      1. Hi Sally, thanks for your reply. I found Becel brand (brick) margarine and I’m going to try baking the crust with that, I’ll let you know how they turn out.

  6. My very first attempt at lemon bars and I’d say they were to die for. I also got many compliments and request for the recipe.
    I’ll never try another recipe.
    I’m dreaming about the next time I can make these!

  7. Cook time for the halved recipe was way off. Bars were inedible my first try because they were so undercooked….

  8. Question…what could cause the filling to get between the crust and the pan and cause the crust to lift above the filling? What did I do wrong or how do I prevent that?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Corey, Usually when the bars end up inverted it’s because either the crust was over-baked or the crust was cooled for too long. If you ever want to try this recipe again, use a fork to poke holes into the warm crust after you take it out of the oven. This helps the topping stick to it and holds the crust in place (below the filling). I hope this is helpful!

  9. madonna Ryan ryan says:

    Thanks to you,I now make the best lemon squares I have,or anyone else I have (reluctantly) shared them with has ever tasted!Thank you for this delicious recipe!

  10. My first attempt at making lemon bars and they turned out great! My husband said they were so good he took some to work and came home saying people wanted the recipe . Love this recipe !

  11. I baked these this weekend and they turned out perfect. The part where you polk the fork in was made 10 times easier because I had bought ( At a very inexpensive store) a hand held foot messager and ended up using that. The crust was perfectly uniformed.

  12. I would love to make these lemon bars but I was wondering if I could make them with a graham cracker crust instead of the shortbread. Can I just make this switch without changing the recipe too much? Thank you!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Allison, For a graham cracker crust- follow the directions for Nutella swirl cheesecake bars recipe (but double it for a 9×13 pan per the recipe notes)

  13. Hi I’m going to try making these KETO. I’ll let you know how they turn out.

  14. The recipe is amazing but mine turned out liquidity in the middle… can anyone help??

    1. Hilari @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Mikayla, thanks for giving this recipe a try! If you make these again, bake them for a few minutes longer. Bake the bars until the center is relatively set and no longer jiggles. I hope this helps for next time!

  15. Hi Sally,
    My lemon bars were good, but the custard and bottom crust separated when I served to family.
    Also, bottom crust crumbled. What did I do wrong?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lotus, Make sure that you pour the lemon filling on the warm crust right after pre-baking. That will help it stick. Or try pre-baking the crust for a little less time so it’s not as “solid” before pouring on the filling. I hope this helps!

      1. Thanks, Sally
        I will try these tips soon. Will let you know the outcome.

  16. I’m a bit confused so are we supposed to put the crust in the oven twice?

    1. Yes! The first time is called a “pre-bake”, so the crust goes in solo, then with the filling. It helps set the crust for a better end product!

  17. Just made these and couldn’t wait till they were chilled all the way through..they are DELICIOUS!

  18. This recipe is great! The first time I made these, they turned out perfect. However, the second time they came out a little too tart (even though I used the same amount of freshly squeezed lemon juice like before). Are there any tips on diluting the lemon juice down a bit? Perhaps mixing it with a little water?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Tatiana, You can always add a little more sugar or use Meyer lemons, which are naturally less tart than regular lemons. Or use a mix of fresh orange juice and lemon juice.

  19. Made this and it came out looking perfect. Crust was on point, filling was the right consistency but it tasted slightly bitter. What could be the reason? Too much lemon juice?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Cindy, Thank you for trying this recipe! Usually the bitter part of the lemon is the white part of the rind. Next time try squeezing the lemons more gently to be sure that you don’t get any of the oils from the rind in your juice. You can also use Meyer lemons, which are naturally less tart than regular lemons. Or use a mix of fresh orange juice and lemon juice.

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