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

706 Comments

  1. This is perfect Sally! I looove lemon bars, but I just bought blood oranges at the store so I’m going to try them!

    1. I am so excited about this recipe! I absolutely love lemon bars but it is difficult to find a good recipe for them. Can’t wait to try this one.

  2. These look so yummy! And definitely scream springtime. My husband and I both LOVE lemon desserts so you’d think lemon flavour would be a no brainer, but after you mentioning blood orange flavour – I can’t shake the thought from my mind. I even have some in my fridge already!
    Also…. that mama bear spatula! Where is it from!? I’m obsessed

    1. The blood orange bars were SO GOOD, though I will always choose lemon over anything else. 🙂 But let me know if you try either. The spatula is from Williams Sonoma!

  3. These lemon bars sound so good! I will likely be making them a few times this month, because not only do I have Meyer lemons (swoon) but I also bought blood oranges for the first time ever yesterday. I tried one and loved that gorgeous maroon color. I’ll bet it’ll make the bars look incredible!

  4. I see one difference in the ingredients, between here and SBA. SBA says 2 cups flour and the recipe posted says 2 cups + 2 tbls. Which is correct? Thanks. Can’t wait to make these. Love lemon bars.

    1. Hi Sheila! Yes, that’s correct. I mentioned that a bit in the post if you want to check it out. It helps solidify the crust a bit more. 🙂

    1. Hi Shar! A cookie-like crust, even made from shortbread cookies, won’t hold up nicely under the wet filling. You’ll want a sturdy crust made from flour and butter.

  5. Hi!
    I made these once from the book for my friend’s retirement. They were super delicious but I had a problem when I put the lemon on the crust, bits of the crust “floated” in the lemon. I thought maybe crust was too hot. Who knows?? Everyone loved them. But will definitely try again with the extra flour! Thanks!!love all your recipes!

    1. Hi Chris! I wonder if the crust just wasn’t baked long enough? I raised the oven temperature with this recipe, so the crust sets a bit more.

  6. When life gives you snow……make Lemon Bars !!
    Snow is on the way over the next few days here in New England…….I can’t wait to break out the Lemons and let the house smell like Springtime.
    Thanks Sally ! The timing of this recipe could not be more perfect.

  7. I am so ready for Spring and this recipe should do the trick! They look delicious and easy! Thanks Sally…we can always count on you!!!

  8. Hey Sally!
    i’m only fourteen but your recipes have made me discover how much fun cooking can be! your honey garlic shrimp and cinnamon rolls have been a huge hit for my parents and sisters and i’m so excited to try these bars out… my family LOVES lemon!!!

  9. The lemon bars look so yummy! How do you get the bars cut so clean and neat? I always have trouble cutting into neat squares without squishing (also for brownies!)
    Thank you!

  10. What if I only have an 8×8 pan? Can I still halve the recipe using that? I’ve always wanted to make lemon bars!

  11. I loooove lemon bars and haven’t had any I’ve like since my Grandma’s. I can’t wait to try these! Have you tried almond extract in the shortbread?

  12. I LOVE any dessert made with lemons so I am going to definitely try this one. It will be my first challenge and I’m excited! Thank you for sharing.

  13. Looks delicious! Just wondering why the butter is melted for the crust as most shortbread recipes call for colder butter cut into the flour?

    1. Hi Esther! This is a great question. Cutting in cold butter translates to a very crumbly texture. Which is great for cookies and other types of desserts, but as a crust– this spells disaster because the bars would simply fall apart.

      1. The lemon bars that I have made all my life use room temperature butter creamed lightly with sugar and vanilla and then the flour and salt cut in with a fork or pastry blender. The result is a soft dough that is patted into the pan. The crust has never been crumbly, but is more cookie-like and less oily/greasy than one made with melted butter.

  14. Hi Sally! I just ADORE lemon bars and can’t wait to try this recipe out, especially since it’s starting to maybe feel like spring? Also, you BLEW MY MIND saying you can swap citrus juices to create different bars. Lemon bars are so lovely, but I am SO intrigued by the thought of grapefruit bars! Or like bars? Orange bars? Maybe I’ll make a few batches of these haha!

  15. I’ve made this recipe before from your cookbook, but I always found them too tart. Is there a specific type of lemon that lends itself to being sweeter? Or can I add more sugar to the filling? Thanks, Sally!

    1. Hi Heather! 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.

  16. Hi Sally — I was immediately drawn to this recipe. I’ve been making my mother’s recipe for lemon bars for years now, and always to heaps of praise. I’ve tried others that I didn’t like as well; always came back to mom’s. I’m curious about yours and will try it in the next couple of days. (The note about which pan to use is very important.) Basically, yours and my mom’s share the same ingredients, with just a couple variations. The crust prep is a bit different (melted butter vs. cold butter cut into the dough). But what really stood out for me is your recipe doesn’t call for any lemon zest, which I’ve always thought was where the best lemon flavor lies. Most other recipes for lemon bars call for zest; why did you decide to leave it out of yours? Thank you!

    1. Hi Patti! I’m so excited for you to try this recipe and I hope it can live up to your mother’s! (Big pressure!) You can definitely add lemon zest if you prefer. I usually don’t as I prefer a super smooth lemon curd on the shortbread crust.

  17. Sally, these bars look perfectly delectable! I can’t wait to make them! Lemon bars are the best. But is there any way I can use a metal pan? I only have those, unfortunately. Maybe if I lined it with parchment or something? Thanks!

  18. Oh, and could I add lemon zest to the shortbread crust for extra lemon flavor? If so, how much zest should I add?

  19. I love lemon bars! When I make lemon bars, I have always used confectioner’s sugar in the shortbread crust. Is there any difference in taste or texture when using the granulated sugar in the crust? Thanks!

    1. Hi Courtney! Either sugars work. I prefer granulated for the crust. If using confectioners’ sugar, reduce the flour a bit.

  20. All your recipes are absolute perfection. Will definitely be trying this one…lemon bars are a family favourite around here. Thank you so much.

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