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

996 Comments

  1. Such an easy and delicious recipe! The original lemon recipe was fantastic; my church potluck loved it!

    I tried it with lime also, and grapefruit…lime was better, as grapefruit gave a weak taste for some reason. The second time I reduced the grapefruit and added lemon to the grapefruit and it came out better. Looking forward to experimenting further!

  2. These are my husband’s favorite! He loved them, and my one year old son also enjoyed a taste! (Didn’t want him to have TOO much sugar…)

    1. I’m glad they were a hit with your family, Heidi!

  3. I baked these a couple of weeks ago and they were an epic hit. I will definitely be making these lots in weeks to come! Everyone at work and home enjoyed them. They were easy and quick as well! Right up my alley!

  4. Sonia Lightsey says:

    I absolutely love this recipe. Not only was it very easy to make, the taste is down right wicked!! It was a big success. The difficulty I had was the cutting part. The squares were not as perfectly clean looking as yours; any tips there would be appreciated! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Kristina Poppe says:

    These were delicious and super easy! I used meyer lemons from Trader Joe’s so they were a bit sweeter, which I appreciated. The shortbread crust is really what made this stand out to me! I baked in a 9×13 glass dish and needed to bake an extra 10 minutes for it to be set (my oven runs a bit hot, so i never have to leave things in longer than called for). The teachers at my kid’s school loved them!

  6. I missed the challenge but I made these this weekend and they were amazing. Easily the best lemon bars I’ve ever had. I loved the tart flavor and the nice crust. They taste like eating a lemon meringue pie! We will definitely be making these again!

  7. Wonderful recipe!! I have made them a few times now, with lemon and also with key lime. I have to say I think the key lime is our favorite! Thank you for such a wonderful recipe 🙂

  8. Eric Pisani says:

    As a pastry chef/Baker of 20 years I find your recipes delightful and delicious! These are my new standard!

    1. What a compliment! Thank you so much!

  9. Made these for work – my co-workers now think I need to do orange, blood orange, lemon, lime, and grapefruit…just so they can properly compare.

    1. Haha – maybe assign everyone a flavor 😉

  10. I followed the recipe almost exactly and they turned out great! I did find that I needed about 5 large lemons to get 1 cup of juice. The crust to filling ratio was perfect. The only thing I changed was the sugar itself. I recently started baking with Lakanto and so I used half sugar and half Lakanto, and NOT ONE person could tell the difference. It reduced the calories by about 1000 as well (bonus!) Great recipe!

  11. Austria Azaceta says:

    Hi Sally!!
    I made these lemon bars as is for the challenge last month & they were AMAZING!! After reading through the comments & seeing that someone brought up passion fruit I just knew I had to try it so I made them again yesterday subbing out the lemon juice for passion fruit juice making no other changes. They are FANTASTIC!! I used the passion fruit pulp that comes frozen (no seeds) & just thawed & strained it. SO SO yummy!! I also wanted to note that for both versions my crust & filling took a little longer than the recommended bake times to be done (at the 325 oven temp).
    Thanks so much for this delicious recipe Sally!! 🙂

  12. Hello. Not only is this recipe simple and quick but it’s very tasty! My sister likes lemon so she enjoyed it. Thank you Sally for all the recipes. God bless you!

  13. Casey Kelley says:

    I used Meyer Lemons and they came out perfectly! Excellent recipe!

    1. So happy you enjoyed this recipe! 🙂

      1. Isabel Nowlin says:

        These bars are wonderful! I made them for a friend but my husband got to them first. I will definitely make another batch.

    2. I loved these lemon bars and everyone else did too, such a hit and so easy to make

  14. I’m sorry but these tasted like a sweet lemon omelette. The taste and texture of the eggs was so strong that I had to throw it all away. I’m not sure how you can put 6 eggs in there and not have it smell and taste like eggs of course, but oh well.

    1. Hi Lili! The baked lemon filling should be creamy and moist, it shouldn’t taste like an omelet. If it does, it’s been over-baked. Sorry you had trouble with this recipe!

    2. I had the same issue. I baked it for less than the time indicated and it looks and smells like a souffle. I used the convection bake setting on my oven; maybe that caused the over baking. Any suggestions?

  15. Terri Kristoff says:

    These are the best tasting lemon bars I have ever made, also the easiest! The crust is amazing.

    1. Thanks so much for your positive feedback, Terri! So happy you enjoyed these 🙂

    2. I made these for Easter and they turned out perfectly! My lemon-loving husband was in seventh heaven. I recieved loads of compliments thanks to your recipe!

  16. Kay Brittain says:

    Sally I was wondering if your lemon bar recipe would freeze well?

    1. Yep! See freezing instructions.

  17. This recipe is so simple and so easy to follow! The bars taste amazing! I will definitely be adding this recipe to my main staples to take to potlucks and for my own events.

  18. I’m planning on making these this weekend for Easter, and I was wondering if you might be able to answer a question for me. I was thinking a meringue on top of these – would you lower the amount of sugar in the bars since meringue can be pretty sweet, or make as is? Also, would you lower the baking time by 10 min, add the meringue, and then bake for that extra 10 minutes?

    These look delicious, and I can’t wait to try them!

    1. Hi Jennifer! I recommend sticking to the recipe no matter what you are topping the bars with. I think topping with the meringue 10 minutes before they’re finished baking is the best idea. However, you may want to bake the bars plain for at least 15-18 minutes first– when the meringue covers it, it will slow the filling from cooking through. 25-28 minutes total would be ideal.

  19. I am a bourgeoning baker and have never made lemon squares (or left a comment on a baking website). I tend to stick with chocolate desserts. I was a bit intimidated but these were amazing. A-mazing. The BEST i have ever had (not exaggerating)in my life. I am in Mexico and did use límon which are like tiny limes because lemons are harder to come by. I REALLY appreciate your detailed recipes and explanations of the “why” and how certain ingredients interact or affect the outcome and how to account for variations. Thank you for all the thought you put into these recipes. I also did your peach cobbler which was a HIT! I didnt taste it. That’s the only reason i cant personally comment on its level of amazing. Cant wait to try more. This is my new favorite recipe site!
    Cheers!

  20. I made this recipe and when they first came out, and after they cooled down I tasted them it they were delicious. Well the I stored them in the fridge over night and then next day they tasted awful, and very metallic. Is it possibly something I did wrong?

    1. Hi Taylor, Did you use a glass or ceramic pan? Do not use metal. I always detect a slight metallic flavor in the lemon bars when baked in metal pans.

      1. I used a glass baking dish

  21. These bars are delicious!! Just curious, did you prepare your crust using a mixer? Thanks for a wonderful recipe :)$

    1. I prefer to use a rubber spatula and mix it by hand. You can use a mixer if desired.

  22. I made these this weekend and they were WAY too sweet and WAY too much lemon. They turned out perfect consistency-wise when I added 5 minutes to both the crust bake time and the bar bake time. But the flavor of sugar and lemon were overpowering.

    1. Thanks Jen! By nature, lemon bars are very sweet and citrus-y as they are mostly sugar and lemon. Thanks so much for trying them, appreciate it!

  23. Lisa S Burke says:

    I made these for Easter and they were a smash hit! My daughter had been craving lemon bars for a few weeks prior. I followed your recipe exactly and it was simple and so delicious! Thank you for making my dinner ending a success!

  24. These were scrumptious! Followed recipe exactly and they came out perfect! I’m glad that I found this fun recipe!

    1. I’m glad you tried it, Kristine!

  25. Hi Sally!
    I used your recipe to make lemon bars for my family and friends, and they came out great! I’m new to baking, so I’m very proud of myself. 🙂 I’m wanting to bake another batch with a different crust, maybe a graham cracker crust. What are your thoughts on how many graham crackers and how much sugar and butter I would need for a 9×13 pan?

    1. For a graham cracker crust you can follow the directions for this recipe (but double it for a 9×13 pan per the recipe notes): https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/nutella-swirl-cheesecake-bars/
      Let me know how they turn out!

  26. I can’t wait to try this recipe! My friend made some for Easter yesterday, claiming a reknown status of them, and we were all so excited! She even knew the recipe in her head. Well…. they weren’t quite all that. Now that I see this recipe, I know she didn’t have enough eggs or lemon juice in the recipe, and her sugar amounts were all off. She even put powdered sugar in the crust recipe and it was very dense, even kind of hard. Of course I told her they were delicious! It was nice to offer to make them for us. 😉 😉

  27. These are EXCELLENT! I’ve spent the last few days scouring the internet and searching through all my cookbooks to find the perfect lemon bar recipe for Easter dinner. I decided on these and I’m so glad I did. Everyone raved about them. These were simple to make and taste like classic lemon bars with the perfect balance of sweet and tart. I also loved the addition of vanilla in the shortbread. I made a regular batch and a gluten free/dairy free batch. To both, I added the zest of one lemon (I like it really lemony) with the lemon juice and eggs.

    To make them gluten free/dairy free, I used the King Arthur one to one gluten free flour blend for the shortbread. I also subbed Earth Balance for the butter and used only 1/4 tsp salt (Earth Balance butter substitute is salty as is). For the lemon filling, I used 2 TBS arrowroot powder in place of 6 TBS flour. They turned out perfect and I couldn’t tell the difference.

    Thank you for sharing this delightful recipe!

    1. I’m so glad that you enjoyed these and that you were able to make them with the substitutions!

  28. I made these bars over this past Easter weekend, and they were delicious. Easy to make, beautiful to present, and a perfect spring time dessert. I followed your instructions to a T- down to wiping the knife to make each cut- and they were perfect. Thanks for this recipe!

  29. If you got anything besides perfection with these lemon bars, it was probably baker error. Baking time was spot on and the flavor amazing. Not usually a lemon fan, but the lemon flavor wasn’t overpowering at all. Thank you thank you thank you. We’ll definitely make again!!

    1. Catherine says:

      Bars were delicious. However, the top was so moist that the powdered sugar dissolved. Should I blot them before putting sugar on? Thanks.

      1. That’s the nature of lemon bars because the curd is so moist. Blotting them a little bit first always helps though!

      2. Catherine says:

        Will try blotting this weekend and waiting until just serving. Thanks.

  30. These were a huge hit, especially the shortbread crust! They’re a great springtime, refreshing treat. The shortbread crust hits all the pleasure sensors in your brain after it delights your tongue.

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