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

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

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

Lemon Filling

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

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 18-20 minutes or until the edges are very lightly browned.
  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

687 Comments

  1. Honestly I’ve only ever made the box version of lemon bars and these are SO much better and also so easy! I am so proud of how they turned out, Sally always sets you up to win! I saw Sally cut 40 but that seemed small to me so I cut 24 which now seems too big since they are quite rich…definitely recommend smaller. Next time!

    1. Love how simple this recipe is, but next time I would double the lemon juice to 2 cups to make it more tart and lemony!

      1. Allison, for more lemon flavor I suggest adding lemon zest. Doubling the lemon juice will completely mess up all your ratios

    1. Sally-thanks for a great recipe!!

      I used some lemon zest in the crust (hated to waste it) and it added the flavor but retained the smooth filling.

  2. I have made these multiple times now and they are OUTSTANDING !
    I have one question…do you think I can make the filling a day or two in advance?
    I feel like I could but wanted your opinion..
    Thanks
    Allison

  3. I made these once and loved them! Can I turn them into a lemon meringue pie? I made one recently for a coworker and it was too bitter for her and not enough sugar in the crust so I want to try again with this recipe.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed them! I would suggest using my actual lemon meringue pie recipe for the correct ratio of ingredients and LOTS of tips: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/lemon-meringue-pie/

  4. I have made this recipe twice because my coworkers are obsessed with it. So much fun and makes the house smell great. Thank you!

  5. Hi Sally, I only want half a batch. I am having a small family dinner & a 9 x 13 pan is just to much. Thank you for a quick reply!

  6. I was wondering if you get all the pulp out of the juice or if you leave it in. I don’t know if the pulp would give it a weird texture or what but I feel like it’s a waste to throw the pulp out. I haven’t had lemon bars in years and I’ve only ever had them from a box or using lemon juice you can buy in a bottle. I am so excited to try this recipe!

    1. Yes, when squeezing the lemons for the lemon juice, leave in the pulp. The pulp cooks out. 🙂 You don’t really taste the texture of it in the lemon bars.

  7. How long could these be left on display out of the fridge? I have a family event coming up and would love to make them again as they are simply devine!

  8. The filling on these lemon bars is incredible! I tend to prefer the crust to be a bit more crisp, while this is a more tender base. Still lovely, just not necessarily my preference. I may try softening the butter rather than melting next time.

  9. This is my third time making this recipe and I love it. My boyfriend’s favorite dessert is lemon bars and your version is the one he asks me to make Everytime now!

    1. Hi Haley! You can use salted butter. Adjusting the added salt is not necessary. The bars are sweet enough that salted butter won’t make a difference.

  10. Just made these. I love shortbread cookies so this caught my attention when searching lemon bars recipe. They are very easy to put together, so easy And delicious. My boys really liked them. I will be making these again! Best shortbread crusted lemon bar recipe. Thank you so much for sharing.

  11. These are the absolute best Lemon Bars ever! I have the key lime bars in the oven using this Lemon recipe with this shortbread crust and I’ll see how they turn out! Your family will love the Lemon bars! Thank you Sally for this wonderful recipe!

  12. This is a great recipe. As a lemon bar virgin i was so pleased to have such great results. Perfect silky smooth lemony goodness. I made this using 1/2 whole wheat flour in the crust and zest of 2 lemons. Ill make it again!

  13. Sally, I wonder if you can substitute lemon juice for pomegranate juice. The beautiful color and sharpness of pomegranates would be delicious! I think you’d have to decrease the sugar, but would that have an effect on the structure of the curd?

  14. This recipe is easy and so good! I used brown sugar and salted butter because it’s what I had at home but it still came out yummy!

  15. I want to try making these but don’t want an overly tart or sour lemon bar – I once had a really sweet and delicious one and have since been trying to replicate it to no avail (some of the other recipes I’ve tried are too sour for my taste). Would you say that these bars are on the sweeter side, or should I reduce the amount of lemon juice/increase the amount of sugar slightly to make them sweeter?

    Thank you for all of your wonderful recipes!

  16. Hello,
    I wanted to try substituting another flavour instead of the lemon and am thinking of using a fruit juice, one from a carton and not an actual fruit. Do you think this would work, or would it have too many artificial sweeteners? I would have to reduce the amount of sugar significantly, but I’m just wondering to what extent this recipe could be achieved with other flavours (e.g. mango or pineapple juice).

    Also, I’m afraid I don’t have a glass or ceramic pan (I only have a metal one) – would the taste still be affected if I were to put some cooking paper in it to prevent the metal from touching it directly?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Dreya, by reducing the sugar you are also playing with how the lemon bars will set. I recommend sticking to juicing fresh citrus fruit. Some have used pure cranberry juice (With no artificial sweeteners) with good luck too. Parchment will definitely help prevent that metallic taste from coming through.

  17. I have a bunch of your lemon curd left from making a triple batch with the leftover yolks from your angel food cake… what I somehow be able to use the lemon curd in this recipe?

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