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. Hi Sally, I made this recipe last week and it was a huge hit! Thanks so much for sharing!

    I did have kind of a weird question – I was wondering if you knew if the base of these could be made in muffin tins? I’m trying to create something similar to a lemon bar in “cup” form but with a filling consisting of lemon curd, raspberry coulis, and creme pat! (It’s kind of a bizarre question and I get that it’s a reach of an ask!)

    1. I haven’t tried it but please do and report back! You can try to push the dough up the sides of the muffin tin to create the cups, if they don’t maintain their shape you can always press the middle down right after they come out of the oven. They sounds like they would be great!

  2. I am baking these for my friend’s wedding next week. I don’t want to freeze the entire bars as I want it to taste as fresh as possible. Can I freeze just the shortbread dough? I feel like it would be fine, but I wanted to double check!

    1. Hi Taylor! You can freeze the shortbread crust, thaw, then bake as directed.

  3. Lemon bars have always been my favorite but this was the first time I’ve ever made them myself and they were PERFECT! I brought them to a potluck dinner and everyone raved. I was afraid they’d turn out eggy (we used 6 eggs fresh out of our chicken coop) but they didn’t and the consistency was spot on. (and no bubbles!) The suggestion to use the parchment paper made is so much easier to take out and cut. This will be my new go-to dessert!

  4. Hi there – I am a huge fan of your site and always trying new things. I’m doing the lemon bars this morning (although with orange/lime juice -oops! Was out of lemon!)… easy recipe. But: it is taking much longer to bake than it indicates. I am at 26 minutes and the custard is still very liquid in the middle (using ceramic pan). Advice? Thanks!

    1. Hi Tamara, definitely go by look vs. your timer. If you are using a ceramic pan the bake time could be longer.

  5. I have made lemon bars in the past; however, my recipe calls for 1/2 c. powdered sugar for the crust. What do you think about using xx sugar instead of granulated?

    1. Hi Judy! The crust will be a little drier and more crumbly including both confectioners’ sugar and flour. If using confectioners’ sugar, try slightly reducing the amount of flour.

  6. Thanks for this recipe and the yellow cake recipe! I’ve made a couple hundred mini-cupcakes and now I’m baking 7 or 8 pans of these lemon bars for a party in June. I’ve frozen the cupcakes and now want to freeze the bars. I’ve read your freezing instructions, which seem a bit tedious for the volume I’m making. Could I freeze the bars as a whole 9×13″ sheet (like they come out of the pan) and then cut them before serving? It would be a huge time saver to do it this way.
    Thanks!!

    1. Hi Melanie! You can freeze the bars in the pan, then thaw and cut. (I don’t list that because not everyone has room for 9×13 pans in the freezer!) Have fun baking for the big party!

  7. These were absolutely hands down the best lemon square I’ve ever had. And so easy. The only thing I did differently was i added the zest of two lemons to my lemon filling. Wonderful recipe. Thank you so much!

  8. Amazing! Followed the recipe and instructions precisely, and MAN are these good! Not too sweet or too tart – just right. And beautiful to boot. I was worried about an “eggy” flavor, but can’t detect eggs at all. Definitely a keeper. Thank you for sharing.

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed them, Laura!

  9. Quick question… Can I pour the lemon filling over the cooked shortbread crust if it comes right out of the oven? In other words, do I have to wait for the shortbread crust to cool enough to “warm” temperature or can I just pour it straight onto the hot crust and pop it back in the oven?

    1. Hi Joy! Pour the lemon filling right on top of the hot crust when it comes out of the oven, then return to the oven.

  10. Delicious and a big hit at the cookout! One question, the lemon custard did not seem to bind well to the shortbread crust and separated easily after cutting. Any suggestions?

    1. Thanks Nettie! So make sure that you pour the lemon filling on the warm crust right after pre-baking. That will help it stick. Or try pre-baking the crust for a little less time so it’s not as “solid” before pouring on the filling. Does that make sense?

  11. These are incredible! So easy and absolutely delicious. I made them, for the first time, for my daughter’s college graduation party. And they were perfect!

  12. Can the crust be made ahead of time and wrapped in plastic in a ball and refrigerated for a couple days, similar to making cookie dough or pie crust ahead of time before pressing it into the pan?

    1. I can’t see why not!

    2. This recipe was great when I made it, the only problem I had was that a white-ish crust formed on top of the lemon filling as it baked. It still tasted perfect, but it looked a little funny. Any idea what I may have done wrong?

  13. What even is this recipe? This is the first time I’ve followed lemon bar recipe and the crust floated to the top while the custard swam to the bottom.

    What the heck happened?

    1. Did you pre-bake the crust or change the ingredients at all?!
      If the crust doesn’t extend to all sides of the pan before pre-baking, the lemon filling will make its way under it. Make sure it’s spread completely out.

      1. I wouldn’t allow myself to complain if I had changed anything in the recipe. It was actually the first time I even broke out a food scale to measure everything exact.

        I was pretty disappointed, but my friends didn’t care, they really enjoyed the custard-shortbread-pudding mix.

        However, I did try again, and this time I double-checked to make sure the crust was pressed evenly across the edges, AND, I carefully ladled the mixture onto the hot bread crust around the edges to seal it as it briefly cooked the thin layer.

        I continued this until I was confident it wouldn’t spill under and then poured the rest on top.

        Came out perfect the second time! Great recipe, thank you for following up.

    2. Corey, this happened to me, too! I’m SO sad! I’ve made many lemon bar recipes over the years and was excited to try this one. I followed the instructions to a T, and pressed the shortbread firmly into the corners before baking. As soon as I poured the filling over the top of the crust, the crust began to float. We’ll be having lemon bar mashup for father’s day, I guess. I’m sure the flavor will be great and hopefully the confectioner’s sugar dusting will help hide the imperfection. I’d love to know what law of physics was involved in this 🙁

  14. I took these to folks at a nursing home, and patients and staff raved about them! Will have to make them again! Thanks for the great recipe!

  15. Tammy Blunck says:

    These lemons bars are outstanding and when I make them and share or take them to an event, everyone loves them. I can’t wait to try lime and I do always use fresh juice. Thank you for such a wonderful recipe.

  16. I was on a lemon bar kick and made these along with another lemon bar recipe from one of my other favorite food bloggers/cookbook authors. The recipes were markedly different from each other. I have to say there was no comparison. Sally’s lemon bars were hands down the favorite. Everyone who tried them said they were the best they have ever had….I agree! These lemon bars will forever be my go-to!

  17. Sally Muir says:

    Would give 10 stars if I could! These scream summer…. Easy to make & absolutely FANTASTIC to eat! Made them Saturday for a family gathering & absolutely everyone called Sunday asking for the recipe including my 94 year old mother (also a “Sally”)!! She has her own tried & true recipe for years but says she’s throwing it out & using this 1 now.
    I didn’t have any confectioners sugar to sprinkle on top so substituted Royal Icing Mix (mostly confectioner’s sugar)left over from holiday gingerbread houses with grandkids.

    1. I’m absolutely thrilled that these were such a hit with your family!

  18. Hi Katy! Yep, it’s totally normal. See my note in the blog post!

  19. This looks amazing! Can I sub flour with all purpose gluten free flour or almond flour?

    1. I haven’t tested this recipe with all purpose gluten free flour but I would recommend you trying that over almond flour. Let me know if you try it!

  20. AH-MAZING!!! Made these for Memorial Day weekend and they were just consumed! The thick, buttery shortbread crust is the perfect compliment to the tart lemon filling. The crust should look slightly under baked (though it won’t be) for the perfect texture experience. I did everything exactly as the recipe calls, but I used an emersion blender to combine the lemon filling ingredients for an assured smoothness. This will be my go-to lemon bar recipe, thank you!

    1. I’m so happy you enjoyed these, Rachel!

  21. I’m sure fresh lemon juice would be lovely but these were quite good with bottled lemon juice. My weird roommate moved out and left 4 quarts of bottled lemon juice in the cabinet so I’ve been making lemon recipes. If your weird roommate leaves you with a gallon of lemon juice or if you just don’t have fresh lemons lying about, bottled lemon juice will taste great too!

  22. I am a lemon FREAK! I have tried so many lemon bars and they just don’t meet my standard of a great lemon bar. Based on the reviews of your recipe, I am excited to try this recipe. I will let you know.

  23. I have been craving lemon bars lately and decided to make these for father’s day–great recipe! I did find that the crust seemed a little too buttery with the amount of flour listed (2 cups plus 2 tbsp, I think?), so I added a bit more (couple tablespoons…maybe up to a quarter of a cup) and the crust was perfect. Have others had that issue? I re-read the recipe a few times to make sure I wasn’t missing something there. I also used the whisk attachment with my stand mixer to mix the lemon curd ingredients. This brought a lot of “foam” to the surface, but I was able to slowly stir the bubbles out before pouring the curd mixture over the pre-baked crust. This gave me a totally perfect looking curd. I don’t know if that was just a coincidence or if I stumbled upon a trick to avoid those bubbles rising to the surface–but worth mentioning, I think.

  24. Hey Sally!

    Huge fan of you and your recipes!

    So I made these for the first time and they seemed pretty set to take out of the oven, and then 10 mins into it being on the counter, massive crack began to form all throughout the batch on top, why do u think that is?

    I baked for 26 mins but it was super liquidy, so I added another 15 mins approximately

    Is the crack a sigb of overbaking?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Monica! Yep, the bars cracked because the eggs inside were over-cooked. The center should still look a bit soft when they’re done. They will set up as they cool.

  25. Wow! I’m proud to say this is the first recipe I’ve ever made myself, and it turned out perfectly! It was a big hit with everyone in the family. I’ve got lots of lemons, so I’ll definitely make some more soon. Thanks!

  26. Your recipe calls for granulated sugar but I have Caster sugar. Will I need to change anything in the recipe?

    1. You can use caster sugar. No need to change anything in the recipe.

  27. Absolutely the best lemon bar recipe I’ve ever tried. I’ve made them twice, and they were wonderful both times. Thanks for sharing this. I’m wondering if you think gf flour would work. So far all the gf stuff I’ve done I can get it to look good, and the first bite is ok, but there is a weird aftertaste and finish. Hoping there is a fix for that some day . . . Anyway, thanks again for the great recipe! (Also, my 11 year old LOVES your Funfetti cookies, which she has made a few times:)

  28. This was my first time making lemon bars, and they came out absolutely perfect! I’m looking forward to trying out the orange version next time!

  29. I just finished making these and they’re cooling on my counter, but I already sliced out a corner and ate one because I couldn’t wait 🙂 They’re different from other lemon squares I’ve eaten, but so, so good! The crust is softer than usual, and the lemon is more creamy/custardy and less jelly-like than other recipes. I really like the lemon curd on these, I used fresh lemons and it’s super sharp and sour. In fact you might want to throw in a little extra sugar if you don’t want them too tart, but they’re perfect for me.
    I would recommend checking the second bake at like 20 minutes rather than waiting until 22, I checked mine at 22 and it was definitely done bordering on overdone, so I’m glad I didn’t just leave it in a few more minutes.

  30. their baking in the oven now I just didn’t have enough lemons so I added a little orange juice will that affect the dessert?

    1. They’ll be great! I often switch up the citrus juice in these.

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