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)
  • 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

986 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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!

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

  5. 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:)

  6. 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!

  7. Hi Sue! Perhaps over-beating? The eggs may have been over-beaten which would cause them to release air as the lemon bars cool. This is also caused by over-baking too. Try lowering the oven temperature and baking for a few extra minutes if you decide to try them again. Sorry you had trouble with the lemon bars!

  8. May I use granulated Splenda in place of sugar? I don’t do well with sugar. I’ve used Splenda as a replacement for sugar in several of my desserts and not had a problem.

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. The filling looks very familiar to me but not the crust with melted butter. I’m going to try making it by cutting in the butter to make a more flaky crust, which I will pre-bake as per the instructions.

  12. I made these for a 4th of July celebration and they are delish!! No one else has tried them but I know they will love them!

  13. I made these twice in the past week. One batch for my co-workers and another batch for a bake sale and they were a hit. Both times they were the perfect mix of sweet and tartness. Great flavor and consistency. I was pleased at how easy they were. I even made some in individual metal tartlet tins and just made sure to spray the tins with floured-cooking spray.

    I used metal binder clips on the ones I made in a glass baking dish to prevent the parchment paper from touching the sides of the oven while baking. This is now my go-to lemon bar recipe. Thank you for sharing!

  14. Made this on the fly for my pastry chef co-workers that were craving something “grandma nostalgic”. And I’ve never gotten to make a lemon curd that’s so easy! Thank you, they have no idea I’m not formally trained!

  15. 5 stars for taste, but a weird thing happened when I baked the filling on the crust. When they were finished, the crust was on the top and the filling was on the bottom. Inverting it on a tray to cool was easy, because I had lined the 9X13” Pyrex baking dish with parchment paper.

    1. Mine did this as well! I think it’s because my crust had some cracks and the curd seeped through and lifted the crust. I did the same as you, just inverted them before cutting. They were still really delish!

  16. Hi Sally,
    I made these lemon bars over the weekend and I am just wondering why mine would have a ‘skin’ on the top… It seems to have a thicker skin across the top of the slice, then this middle is gooey lemon.
    They still taste delicious but a bit odd getting through the thicker section.

    1. Hi Gabriella! 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!

  17. Made a key lime version of these bars today!! Delicious!! And now my fingers are green because of the food coloring I added to make it greener….xD

  18. I added just a touch of cinnamon to the crust and sliced strawberries to the filling.. fantastic!! Great recipe!!!!!

  19. Had to make a second batch because I knew the batch I was making for friends would never make it through the night. So yummy, and the shortbread tires the whole thing together so nicely.

    I would also try with orange or lime.

    1. Love reading this, Lizzie! Thrilled you enjoyed these bars- if you try other flavors I’d love to know what you think 🙂

  20. Hello! Does not melting the butter change the taste or texture of the shortbread? I unfortunately overlooked having to melt the butter and am just realizing this now as it’s cooling.

    1. I didn’t feel like melting the butter so I cubed up a cold stick. (I halved the recipe) I threw it all in a food processor for 30ish seconds and it came out great. How did yours do?

  21. Delicious.
    My family loved them.
    The only critique from 2 people was that they thought the short bread could have been less thick by about 1/4. Others loved them without any critique. Squeezed 4 1/2 lemons to make a cup of juice. Perfect!

  22. Fantastic lemon bars, 5 big stars!!! I think these are the best lemon bars I’ve had and/or made, and I’ve tried several recipes. This one is also the easiest, so bonus points for that. I used 4 of the big Sunkist lemons, and the flavor is perfect. I don’t do the parchment paper step, just grease the glass pan well. Let them cool and chill for a few hours, then set out for about 20 minutes before cutting them for beautiful, clean cuts. Both the shortbread and lemon layers have a perfect texture. So glad I tried this one, I’ll be making this for years to come.

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