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.

stack of 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 bar with a bite taken out of it

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.

2 images of lemon bars crust and lemon batter in glass bowls

Lemon bars before slicing 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 teal 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.

stack of 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 teal 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 (46g) 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

overhead image of lemon bars

1419 Comments

  1. Hey Sally!
    I LOVE all things lemon, and i LOVE lemon bars, and i use all your recipes when making anything and they all turn out great.
    But these…. these didnt do so well, i followed everything to a T so i dont understand what went wrong.
    They look exactly like your pictures, slightly more gooey, 100% didnt over bake, but they have this strange smell that IS NOT AT ALL appetizing. And the taste, its okay, and then this INTENSE sour lemon hits that puckers my entire face up. Everything was brand new and fresh, squeezed the lemons, bought a brand new pyrex dish.

    Im currently eating another to make this make sense, the smell is like eggy lemons. The taste is eggy, lemon, and i wanna say like a almost metallic taste? Like sucking on a penny. And TRUST me i did not overbake, i waited until it had the very SLIGHTEST jiggle, like barely.

    So please help me, what did i do wrong? Im so upset i put so much work into these and i dont even wanna eat them.

    1. Maybe it was the quality of your lemons? Sometimes you can get a dud!

    2. Noreen Griffith says:

      If you topped your lemon bars with a beet sugar it will have that metalic taste. Usually generic sugar is beet sugar. Domino brand is 100% cane sugar.

    3. Anonymous Baker says:

      Could be iodized salt, if that is what you used. It can give things a metallic taste.

  2. Great recipe. For me personally, I find lemon bars to be too sweet. I used half the sugar called for in this recipe and next time I will likely use 3/8ths. Mine came out great with 1 cup of sugar but still way too sweet! The shortbread crust came out wonderfully.

  3. Kate McCubbins says:

    I tried this recipe with freshly squeezed orange juice and sad to say the flavor was really bland. I guess lemon juice is really the way to go. I thought we’d get a more interesting orange flavor but it just tasted like custard. The custard came out pretty loose and eggy. Probably won’t make this one again.

    1. I was watching an Adam Ragusea video where was doing homemade sodas in various citrus flavors. When he did an orange one, he put lemon in it and explained, “you might think that you just want orange, but almost everything orange-flavored that you eat or drink has some additional stronger source of acidity.” Maybe you could try it again with a mix of orange and lemon, and see if that brings out the orange flavor better.

  4. Outstanding recipe! I’m not understanding the above comments regarding egg/lemon smell. These lemon bars are great! Particularly delicate crust…best recipe for lemon bars I’ve tested over 30+ years.

    1. Sarah Blanke says:

      Would you serve these at a wedding? I am tasked with making cookies for a small second wedding. Lemon bars were specifically requested.

      1. I Love lemon bars, and see no reason why these couldn’t be made for a wedding! Will be trying these in the next week to take to farmers markets to sell! They look very yummy! Looking forward to enjoying some!

  5. So I have to use parchment paper?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Mary, we highly recommend it so that it’s easier to remove and slice the bars after baking.

      1. Made these for Mother’s Day for a sister in law who has been craving lemon bars. She picked one up at a bakery this week and I was not impressed and was sure I could do better. This recipe was just right, though next time I wil bake the base a little longer.

  6. Personally, I need a bit of salt with my sweet so I make these using Salted butter and the half tsp of salt. Great results.
    I’ve made them Sally’s way as well.
    This is a GO TO recipe. Works perfectly.

    1. These came out perfect!! I made them gluten free by using King Arthur Measure for Measure flour. Awesome recipe. DH loved them. Thank you, Sally!

  7. The filling on the top didn’t even bake properly and the shortbread underneath turned into absolute mush. I followed the instructions word for word, and yet they turned out really bad. Disappointing, will not be using this recipe again

  8. Missblueberrymuffin says:

    I want to make these for Mother’s Day but my mom is sugar free. Anyone know any possible sugar replacements for this recipe?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      We’d love to help but we are not trained in baking with sugar substitutes. For best taste and texture (and so you don’t waste your time trying to adapt this recipe since it may not work properly), it may be more useful to find a recipe that is specifically formulated for sugar substitutes. Thank you!

    2. I tried them both ways. The sugar ones were just fabulous and this is the perfect recipe hands down.
      I made a sugar free version and replaced her sugar with a little less than 1:1 ratio (cup-wise, not weight) with Splenda (since it’s sweeter than sugar atleast to me) and it came out great too.
      The crust doesn’t bake initially like it does with sugar, but follow her timing and instructions for the crust and be patient.
      For the lemon filling, it baked a lot sooner like 15-20 min and I did her jiggle test and took it out. They tasted like the real deal. Definitely a must try recipe

  9. Not a fan of this crust. Mine came out a bit like cardboard. Not soft at all. Almost rubbery. Not sure what I did wrong. Filling is very good.

  10. I absolutely love how this lemon bar recipe turned out! I made it twice and was really concerned the first time that the whole top turned white with bubbles(I had to keep cooking it past the 26 min because it still wasn’t set in the middle) but they turned out great! A note on making half the recipe tho: I used a 9×9 pan and the top came out waaay too thin. I think next time I’ll try the 8×8 pan because this time there’s almost twice as much shortbread as filling. Definitely saving this recipe!

  11. Not sure if I did something wrong but mine turned out with a layer of like scrambled egg type texture on top :/ I peeled it off after it cooled down but the middle is a little less firm than I was hoping for! Still tasty though!

    1. This happened to me as well. Not sure what happened.

    2. Same – I think the key is to mix the eggs with the sugar/flour BEFORE adding the lemon juice – the recipe doesn’t specify that. But eggs mixed with lemon juice without being incorporated into the sugar first can make them scramble.

  12. Really easy recipe to follow – in my (old, electric) oven I ended up cooking for about 12 minutes longer, I checked every 3 minutes to see if it was ready until I was satisfied it didn’t jiggle anymore. I think you have to really love the bitterness of lemon on this one though (I used freshly squeezed lemons). Everyone who tried it said it was tasty but couldn’t get through a whole slice because it was a bit much… I’ve frozen the leftovers to give to lemon lovers in the future and see what their opinion is!

  13. Fabulous!! Made these yesterday and they’re the BEST!!!

  14. It was far too lemony for how I like my lemon bars. I think in the future I’ll use part lemon juice part zest to make a sweeter and less sour taste. It tasted too much like biting into an actual sour lemon for me. It turned out great otherwise, the crust was amazing, it just wasn’t to my personal preferences.

  15. I think the recipe is nice flavor wise but didn’t seem to quite turn out right with a gluten free flour replacement I use 1:1 that usually works out with no problems. Used a kitchen scale to measure so the ratios were right but the crust wasn’t as firm as it should’ve been. Then the filling didn’t quite combine as it should and then got quite brown on the top after baking . I don’t want to blame this recipe though, have to guess the gf flour is the culprit in both cases. Would only scale back the sugar a bit if making again and try a different flour.

  16. Can you use this shortbread crust with a pecan pie filling top? I like how dense and soft this one is compared to the typical pecan bar filling, but am not sure if the differences in bake time and temperature will make that impossible to get them both cooked to the right consistency?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi T, you may love this recipe for brown butter pecan pie bars. The shortbread crust recipe is essentially the same, just made with brown butter. If you prefer not to brown the butter for your crust, you can absolutely leave it plain.

  17. I’m having a hard time getting my crust to get thick, I followed it to a t, but it’s soupy. Nothing firm enough to use my hands to push down on. What am I doing wrong?!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Alana! Make sure to let the melted butter cool a bit before mixing in the other ingredients, if it’s piping hot the crust won’t come together correctly. Hope this helps for next time!

    2. Susan Norton says:

      This is my first time making lemon bars and they were delicous; my guests agreed. Loved the tartness! BUT…the recipe called for one cup of fresh lemon juice, or four squeezed lemons. I squeezed twice the amount…eight lemons…to get a cup of juice.

  18. Deyon Burke says:

    These are the BEST!!! Only change I made was not melting the butter for the crust. I used room temp butter & mixed in using my food processor. My adult daughter’s favorite dessert is lemon bars & she raved about how delicious these are.

  19. I haven’t made this particular recipe yet but I’m just wondering how to adapt the recipe (including cooking temperature and time) to fit in a restaurant size hotel pan?
    This link shows the size of the pan for reference: https://www.hubert.ca/product/68562?gclid=Cj0KCQjwp86EBhD7ARIsAFkgakjKs1k8LKs-3uPKEfo9X4LP9zXCOYFs7wkxhM1XV020nVOrp3xQkJYaAqIyEALw_wcB

    Thank you!

  20. Because I’m in LOVE with your creamy lemon pie…can I substitute the graham cracker almond crust from that recipe for the shortbread crust in this recipe? Or, can I make the creamy lemon pie into bars? I’ve got lemons galore and want to make something easy to share with friends. Thank you for your amazing recipes and helpful videos! I truly appreciate all you do.

    1. Hi Connie! You can turn the creamy lemon pie into bars. I recommend a 9×13 inch baking pan. I’m unsure of the best bake time, but it would be a little shorter than the pie.

  21. The Starving Artist says:

    One of the worst recipes I’ve tried. Barely set, too sweet, and tasted worst with each bite.

  22. These were easy AND delicious. I had 8×8 glass dish so the custard part portion was a little thicker and need about 12 more minutes in the oven. I also like mine a little tart, so I added some lemon zest.
    I made these for mothers day brunch and they were a hit.
    Thank you!

  23. These lemon bars are delicious! My only gripe is that the filling did leak down the long sides of my pan (where the parchment was) just a touch, but it honestly didn’t make a difference when eating them since I trimmed the very edges for super even bars anyway. The crust to filling ratio is perfect and they are suuuuuuper lemony (which I personally love even if others may not)!

  24. Turned out great! My mom loved them for Mother’s Day. Idk if anyone said this already, but I didn’t have a 9×13 pan so I used an 8×8 instead. Had to add about 15 mins to each bake & the bars were kinda thick, but still great! I have a 9×9 too. Next time I might try that one. There was some definite concern that the pan might overflow, but it didn’t. lol

  25. These were delicious! My first time ever making them and everyone at Mother’s Day dinner enjoyed them!

  26. Mushy shortbread that floated to the top. I’ve made tons of lemon bars and never had that happen. Followed the recipe exactly and everything. Disappointed.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Caroline, we’re so sorry to hear that this recipe didn’t work out for you. Usually when the bars end up inverted it’s because we either over-baked the crust or let it cool for too long. We have, however, found an easy trick to help prevent this. 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). Hope this is helpful!

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