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. Whisk in the eggs, then the lemon juice 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

1258 Comments

  1. Chris Carson says:

    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.

  2. Jan Caylor Harper says:

    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!!!

  3. 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!

    1. Chill completely, use a sharp knife, and wipe it clean between each cut. 🙂

  4. 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!

    1. Yes, absolutely! Follow the same bake time as the 9×9 pan.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

    1. You can! I just prefer glass or ceramic!

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

    1. You can definitely add lemon zest if you prefer. Zest from 1-2 lemons would be great!

  8. These are perfection! The perfect balance of sweet and tangy <3 Thank you!!

  9. Lemon flavour is definitely one of the best flavours in the world! These lemon bars are really tasty, easy and don’t take a lot of time to make. I definitely recommend making them 🙂

  10. I love making Lemon bars. I have tried other recipes that use lemon zest. Can I use some lemon zest in this recipe? Will be making this recipe this weekend :):):):):)

    1. Hi Kim! 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.

  11. SherryinChicago says:

    Yum, I had everything on hand and I am so ready for spring, so I made these this afternoon. My only issue was the top cracked after they were chilled. Fine out of the oven and cooling on the counter but when I took them out of the refrigerator there was a crack in the top. Any idea why? Could they have been too warm going into the refrigerator?

    1. Hi Sherry! If the bars cracked, the eggs were over-mixed OR the bars were over-baked. How did they taste?

      1. SherryinChicago says:

        They tasted great, but I could have over-mixed the eggs since I wanted to make sure there were no lumps of flour. I baked them for 20 minutes and did a half recipe in a 8×8 pan since there are only 2 of us. Next time will double check a few minutes earlier and remember that I don’t want to overdo it with mixing the eggs in. They were winners at my house. Thanks

  12. HI Sally. Can you make the filling and put in the refrigerator to use later? Or do you have to bake right away?

    1. Hi Kelly! You can prepare the filling ahead, for up to 8ish hours, before baking. I wouldn’t store it for longer than that.

  13. Hey Sally! These are in my oven as we speak. I’m surprised no lemon zest in your recipe. Of course I could have added but I did not. Would it be overly lemony? Lemon zest is life!

    1. Hi Angela! 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.

  14. Trista Jefferson says:

    Made them today and they are perfect! Plan to add some coconut to the crust and do a key lime filling next time!

  15. Hi Sally,
    These look so delicious – I’m excited to bake them this weekend. I notice you don’t use any lemon zest in this recipe. I think that would be a great addition, and wondered if there was a reason not to include zest. Thanks!

  16. Heather Smith says:

    I’ve never made a challenge recipe the same day it’s posted but these looked to good to not try, plus I happened to have enough lemons on hand so why not?! They were so easy to make and so unbelievably delicious! Once again, Sally, you deliver absolute perfection!

  17. Laura | Tutti Dolci says:

    Lemon bars are my favorite and these beauties look perfect!

  18. Made these tonight because I had some lemons I needed to use! The bars came out great.
    I halved the recipe and they are perfect.

  19. Jessica Carnahan says:

    These were fantastic and my entire family were nuts for them! I happened to have a bag of lemons I was just trying to figure out what to do with. Thanks Sally, for another GREAT recipe!

  20. I LOVE lemon bars!!!! So excited about this recipe!

  21. Norma Dillon says:

    I had to try this recipe and I’m so glad I did. It’s sooooo good!! I used all myer lemons and just loved it’s taste! My husband at it also and said it was to die for!

  22. Great recipe!

  23. Sharon Roodhuyzen says:

    What a great recipe! Easy and delicious! I added a thin layer of raspberry jam over the baked crust. Wasn’t sure if it would hinder the lemon filling. They came out beautiful! Thanks Sally for another winning recipe!

  24. Hey Sally.. when i make lemon bars like this (pour over crust) they come out of the oven with a sort of sugary crust on top. Have you ever seen this? Any idea why? Hoping to troubleshoot before i waste more ingredients! Thanks a bunch!

    1. Hi Lorissa! It’s completely normal and happens to me sometimes too. It’s the eggs reacting with the citrus and the only way to prevent it is to pre-cook the filling on the stove-top prior to baking. The bars taste the same with or without it though! Just cover with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar. 🙂

  25. Made these yesterday. Oh my goodness they are DELIGHTFUL. Honestly, the hardest part was waiting the 3 hours to try them. The shortbread cake together in a snap and the no cook lemon curd was a beeeze as well.
    New favorite spring treat, for sure.

  26. Tessie Rivera says:

    Sally,
    I’ve made many of your recipes, and they’re always spot on. My question is this, do you think the metallic taste will be imparted from the pan if it’s totally line with parchment? I love my straight edges!

    1. Yes, unfortunately. I noticed it when I tested with parchment lined metal pans.

  27. Sally Camden says:

    This recipe was easy to make and had a bright, fresh “zing” with the lemon juice. I like a tart lemon bar and these were delicious. I usually like zest in my lemon-based recipes, but I appreciated the smooth texture of the filling without the zest. The shortbread crust is SO GOOD! This recipe is going in my permanent file! 🙂

  28. Cynthia Tucker says:

    I am currently baking blood orange bars. My lemon bars are georgous and taste perfect. Thank you for yet another easy recipe that everyone is afraid to tackle but crave to eat

  29. Danielle Coffin says:

    Hi sally!
    Making these as we speak….
    they just came out of the oven and I notice the edges almost look like cooked egg whites & when I opened the oven it smelled like eggs….. not sure what I did here to mess this up??

    1. Hi Danielle! It’s completely normal and happens to me sometimes too. It’s the eggs reacting with the citrus and the only way to prevent it is to pre-cook the filling on the stove-top prior to baking. The bars taste the same with or without it though! Just cover with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar. 🙂

  30. Sally, These are awesome! This is the only recipe I am going to make for lemon bars from now on. I am anxious to try it with the blood oranges. Thanks so much for sharing this recipe with us.

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