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

1013 Comments

  1. Hello! Tried these a few weeks back and loved it! Was thinking if I could substitute the lemon with raspberries instead? Like a raspberry bar, or maybe a raspberry lemonade one? Thanks! 🙂

    1. Hi Annabelle! That sounds delicious. I haven’t personally tried it so I can’t be sure. I would maybe try a lemon and raspberry puree blend.

    2. Hi Sally! I tried making this recipe but while I was mixing the filling, I noticed that the egg whites weren’t really able to get fully incorporated. I thought it might just be normal, but when I put the bars in the oven, the egg white part stayed at the top and basically came out to have little bits of cooked egg on the top. I’m not sure if I just didn’t mix the filling enough or I made another mistake, so it’d be great if you could let me know! Thank you!

  2. Love these, very tart but I loved the flavor! A weird thing happened though, I split the recipe between 2 pans and one turned out normal, but with the other the shortbread migrated to the top and the lemon to the bottom! Why?!? Side note, they were still amazing though!

    1. Hi Lacie, Usually when the bars end up inverted it’s because I either over-baked the crust or let it cool for too long. I 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). I hope this is helpful!

      1. Joy Simeone says:

        Here’s another little tip to prevent inversion…. when you pat the shortbread dough into the pan, intentionally give it a slight lip around the edge, accompanied by a slight depression. It creates a very slight trough around the edge. The top of the edge browns well, and keeps the curd in place! This tip from an accomplished professional baker and teacher of baking at CCSA in Cambridge, MA!

      2. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

        That’s a great tip! Thanks, Joy 🙂

  3. I made these today. The only thing i did differently was that I added 2 tbsp of lemon zest to the Lemon Filling. My husband said, “These are Delicious!” I agreed. I will definitely make them again. Thank You Sally!

  4. I cooked the crust the specified time before adding the filling but after adding filling and cooling the crust is not firm but very soft like it is not done . I have thicker parchment paper , could that be it ?

    1. Hi Traci, If you try them again an easy fix is to simply bake the crust longer. Every oven is different so yours may just take a bit longer – you want to bake it until the edges are lightly browned.

      1. Joy Simeone says:

        My oven is brand new and calibrated, but I, too, noticed that the bake time for the crust was insufficient. I added time in short increments… added almost 7 minutes, but it baked perfectly. I attribute the increased time to my inability to break from my standard shortbread process: cold butter pulsed in the food processor with the flour and sugar. My dough was therefore colder!
        These bars were fabulous! The most wonderful tip you gave was to bake in glass… perfection! Much thicker bar, and great tang!

  5. The first time I made this the crust turned out great. Today the crust is not coming together and is not thick. What am I doing wrong?

    1. Hilari @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Gigi, I’m glad to help. I’m unsure what the variance would be from the 1st to the 2nd time. Make sure you are spooning and leveling the flour. Scooping the flour often gives you a little more flour than what a recipe calls for and it may have soaked up more melted butter.

  6. Hi Sally! I halved the recipe as stated but we find it too sour for our liking. What can we adjust to cut on the sourness?

    1. Hilari @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Hazel, thanks for giving this recipe a try! Next time, use 1/2 orange juice and 1/2 lemon juice (or use juice from Meyer lemons as those are a bit sweeter). That should definitely cut down on the sourness.

    2. Janine Marceau says:

      Best recipe ever!!! My family raved about them for a 4 th of July picnic at the Lake! I never knew about using a glass pan and I could tell the difference! Easy to make and fun to serve! Thank you! It is now on file!!

  7. So so so good! I made lemon and hint of orange bars. I mistook an orange for a lemon lol. I halved the recipe and they came out perfect. After refrigerating the lemon curd is still a little mushy but it wasn’t jiggly when I removed it from the oven. Is that how it’s supposed to be?

    1. Made it for the first time, and this recipe was delicious! Definitely will make them again.
      2 questions – is it normal to smell eggs being cooked while this is baking?
      And should there be any difference in the filling if I want to make lime bars? Is a cup of lime juice good to use?
      Thank you!

      1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

        Hi Lisa, Did the bars taste like eggs after they were finished? If not then you did everything right! If you detect an eggy flavor when eating that usually indicates that the bars were overcooked – an easy fix for next time. You can make an even swap for lime instead of lemon.

  8. The bars I made inverted as well. After I baked the shortbread bottom ( taking care not to over bake) I poked holes with a fork and had lemon mixture ready to pore while bottom was still warm. Maybe I poked too many holes and that’s what caused the inversion
    Very tasty bars though

  9. Best lemon bars in the HISTORY of all lemon bars. I am making them again today. Followed the recipe and they turned out perfect.

  10. I made these bars today to cut in tiny squares and stir into homemade lemon ice cream. Delicious…one thing I did different was I used cold butter in the crust and pulsed it in the food processor until the butter was fine crumbs. This makes the shortbread flaky and you don’t have to poke holes in it after it’s baked, because the top is studded with little pockets where butter melted. They are quite tart (I used half fresh lemon juice and half bottled) so next time I would put 3/4 c lemon juice or up the sugar by half a cup. Very good recipe though – love how thick and buttery the crust is!

  11. I’ve made these before as a valentine’s day treat for my friends and they were amazing! I had two questions however.
    1) Do you recommend measuring by cups or by weight for this recipe?
    2) Do you think you could do a layer of lemon bar and then use strawberries to make a strawberry layer on top or even just mix the two? Almost like a strawberry lemonade!
    These bars are an amazing summer treat and I really enjoy them

    1. Hi Maria, I’m so glad that you enjoy these lemon bars! You can measure whichever way you are more comfortable. I usually bake following metric weights. I don’t recommend adding a layer of strawberries on top of these lemon bars– they are already pretty gooey. You could try reducing the lemon juice and adding the same amount of pureed strawberries though. Let me know what you try!

  12. John McLachlan says:

    Amazingly tasty, but they were kind of ‘damp’ after being in the fridge. (all the powdered sugar got ‘absorbed’. Any thoughts on that?

    Also pondering if anyone has tried these with Lime? Might be an interesting flavor

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi John, Yes you can make them with lime. We have made them with lime, grapefruit, and blood oranges! Try dusting the confectioners’ sugar on top after they have chilled and before you serve them.

  13. Christina Carrington says:

    The recipe is awesome, however, I have horrible luck with lemon bars for some reason 🙁 I’ve made them countless times and all come out bad. I followed this recipe to a T (except I didn’t use fresh lemons and eggs weren’t room temp) and the top of the bars had an egg like layer, then a lemon curd layer, then the crust. Did I over mix them? Any tips? I know the egg like layer is something I did, it’s not the recipe And aside from that flavor was awesome and I will try again! Thank you!

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Christina, Happy to help! It sounds as though they may have been over-baked. The soft curd shouldn’t be too eggy. If you try them again try shortening the bake time.

  14. Annie Greer says:

    My nine year-old requested this as her birthday “cake”.
    Was looking forward to making this as I tend to enjoy anything lemony. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy this, and my whole family was iffy on it, including the birthday girl.
    The crust was very heavy and greasy (the dough felt saturated with butter before baking and I thought I got the measurements off, but I didn’t) and the lemon filling just tasted like I cut some lemon juice with a hefty dose of sugar – that’s it. No creativity in making the flavours blend and compliment each other, or to balance the tartness of the lemon somehow so that it doesn’t make your face pucker with every bite. After cooling in the fridge for several hours, it took on it’s final texture – very heavy, wet and hard.

  15. “Blood orange bars! See my recipe note about substituting flavors.” I can’t find this recipe note. Did it get deleted? I am thinking any kind of citrus would make an amazing bar but that’s just me.

  16. Mary Ann Trone says:

    Made these bars today–all went well. When cooled before refrigeration, the top of the filling ‘cracked’ in many places to the point that it will be difficult to cut a nice square bar. The flavor is great—the crust right–and the filling lovely when it came out of oven. Why the cracking?

    1. Hi Mary Ann! Lemon bars are an egg-heavy dessert, like cheesecake, so they’re prone to cracking. They’re either cracking because the eggs are over-mixed (more air is whipped into the filling, then deflates causing the cracking) or they’re over-baked. One easy way to help guarantee no cracks, though, is to cool the lemon bars inside the oven. Turn the oven off 1-2 minutes before the lemon bars have finished cooking. Crack open the oven door and let the lemon bars cool inside the cooling oven for 1 hour. Then remove from the oven and cool at room temperature. The slow cooling will help prevent cracks. Hope this helps!

  17. Hi Sally! My sis who lives in the U.S swears by your recipes. So when i made lemon bars i googled for your recipe and tried today. My daughter whose favourite it is loved it….. Thnx a ton!!!

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