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 18-20 minutes or until the edges are very lightly browned. Remove from the oven and 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

762 Comments

  1. Hi Sally,

    I made this recipe from your book Sally’s Baking Addiction for the first time. The oven temperature in the book says 300* , when I took the crust out it wasn’t even close to being done. I thought it seemed low and should have increased to 325* but didn’t and followed the recipe.
    I increased the temp to 325* , left the crust in longer and they did turn out. Very yummy!
    I saved this same recipe on my Pinterest account and it says 325* for the oven temp. I’m guessing there is a typo in the book.
    I thought you might want to know!
    Judy.

  2. Extremely grateful to have found this recipe. I had my final meal yesterday and they put me in charge of the dessert. I’ve gotten nothing but good feedback because of this recipe.
    I just had to triple all the ingredients, I added the powder sugar afterwards and then on top of that as a garnish I used strawberries.

  3. You, my dear, are a genius! I am so thrilled to have come across your page and this divine recipe! I took one normal bite and decided the rest needed to be savored in slow motion and not just eaten. So so good! Thank you!

    1. I haven’t personally tried it but I’m sure you can! I recommend that you use cupcake liners so that they are easier to remove from the pan. Enjoy!

  4. These are always a hit with coworkers/friends/family! I add the zest of 2 lemons to the filling for even more deliciousness. And the crust always takes closer to 30 minutes to bake. This is my go-to summer dessert, very easy and yummy

  5. Hi,
    I live in Perth, Western Australia and my citrus trees are currently laden. I was looking for recipes for lemons when I chanced upon your site. This lemon slice recipe is marvellously easy and your measurements are easily understood by an Aussie like me – without once needing to resort to my metric conversion guide. I’ll be baking more of your lovely recipes for sure !! Thank you so much !

  6. Made this recipe for an event. Rave reviews: fabulous balance of flavor, texture, and loved that the recipe was for a 9 x 13 volume. I did “add” to the recipe by using the zest of two of the lemons which I added into the filling. This recipe is now my go-to for lemon bars.

      1. Hi Sally.
        Thanks for getting back to me so quickly.
        I was wondering whether the ginger nut biscuit base could be an alternative to the shortbread base???

  7. Hi Sally,

    I got this recipe from my sis after I couldn’t stop inhaling these at a family get together. They are DELICIOUS, and she told me how easy they are! I’ve made them twice now, and for some reason the top has cracked both times. The first time, the top cracked pretty much right after I brought them out of the oven and let them sit to cool. I thought maybe I had overbaked them. This time I was sure to take them out JUST as they were setting. They didn’t crack after the initial cool, but then I traveled with them and about an hour later there were a couple cracks. Nothing like the first time, though, which were cracked all over. I wondered if you had any insight as to why they may be cracking? My sis says she’s never had this trouble. I was trying to figure out different reasons they may be cracking, and when I asked, she said that she doesn’t usually cut them right away either. I love the flavor, but obviously want to be able to get the perfect look, too! Thanks!

    1. Hi Amy! I’m so glad that you love these lemon bars, thank you so much for reporting back! Lemon bars are an egg-heavy dessert, like cheesecake, so they’re prone to cracking. They’re either cracking because the eggs are over-mixed (more air is whipped into the filling, then deflates causing the cracking) or they’re over-baked. One easy way to help guarantee no cracks, though, is to cool the lemon bars inside the oven. Turn the oven off 1-2 minutes before the lemon bars have finished cooking. Crack open the oven door and let the lemon bars cool inside the cooling oven for 1 hour. Then remove from the oven and cool at room temperature. The slow cooling will help prevent cracks. Hope this helps!

  8. Wow wow wow. These lemon bars are amazing. I’ve made them twice in the last 2 weeks and I’m now looking for my next excuse to make them. All your hints were great – they came out great both times. Thank you!!

    1. Yes, these can be refrigerated overnight. I recommend dusting them with the sugar before serving for the best presentation 🙂

  9. If it were up to me (and not our Creator), we would get our nutrition solely from sugar. Hence, I prefer to bake and not cook. These lemon bars would be my daily sustenance, they’re THAT GOOD! The only change I made was using bottled lemon juice rather than fresh lemon juice and the outcome was phenomenal! I took some to a Labor Day party and following instructions, froze half of the yield. Awesome, awesome! Loved this easy recipe and I’m so glad I stumbled upon Sally’s website because, being the sugar-free that I am, will undoubtedly find other confectionery offerings with the holidays approaching. These will not disappoint!

  10. I’m excited to report that the U.S. Marines LOVED these. My son is home on work duty for two weeks and asked me specifically to make Lemon bars for the Marine Recruiting station. They ate the entire tray and just loved them.
    I will be making them again for them, and hopefully trying to send them to the troops. If you have something that travels well by mail (3 days) that would be awesome.

  11. Sally this is one of the best recipes of yours I’ve ever made (and all of yours are fantastic!) despite being such a simple one! Absolutely delicious, easy, and gorgeous texture of the crust and lemon top. Could not believe how beautifully they cut too wiht clean straight sides!! A real winner and will be making them again and again! 🙂

  12. As my mother used to say, these are good enough to curl your hair! Do use the parchment paper. It helps a lot. And it’s so worth it to use fresh lemon juice. Delicious!

  13. Honestly I’ve only ever made the box version of lemon bars and these are SO much better and also so easy! I am so proud of how they turned out, Sally always sets you up to win! I saw Sally cut 40 but that seemed small to me so I cut 24 which now seems too big since they are quite rich…definitely recommend smaller. Next time!

    1. Love how simple this recipe is, but next time I would double the lemon juice to 2 cups to make it more tart and lemony!

      1. Allison, for more lemon flavor I suggest adding lemon zest. Doubling the lemon juice will completely mess up all your ratios

    1. Sally-thanks for a great recipe!!

      I used some lemon zest in the crust (hated to waste it) and it added the flavor but retained the smooth filling.

  14. I have made these multiple times now and they are OUTSTANDING !
    I have one question…do you think I can make the filling a day or two in advance?
    I feel like I could but wanted your opinion..
    Thanks
    Allison

  15. I made these once and loved them! Can I turn them into a lemon meringue pie? I made one recently for a coworker and it was too bitter for her and not enough sugar in the crust so I want to try again with this recipe.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed them! I would suggest using my actual lemon meringue pie recipe for the correct ratio of ingredients and LOTS of tips: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/lemon-meringue-pie/

  16. I have made this recipe twice because my coworkers are obsessed with it. So much fun and makes the house smell great. Thank you!

  17. Hi Sally, I only want half a batch. I am having a small family dinner & a 9 x 13 pan is just to much. Thank you for a quick reply!

  18. I was wondering if you get all the pulp out of the juice or if you leave it in. I don’t know if the pulp would give it a weird texture or what but I feel like it’s a waste to throw the pulp out. I haven’t had lemon bars in years and I’ve only ever had them from a box or using lemon juice you can buy in a bottle. I am so excited to try this recipe!

    1. Yes, when squeezing the lemons for the lemon juice, leave in the pulp. The pulp cooks out. 🙂 You don’t really taste the texture of it in the lemon bars.

  19. How long could these be left on display out of the fridge? I have a family event coming up and would love to make them again as they are simply devine!

  20. The filling on these lemon bars is incredible! I tend to prefer the crust to be a bit more crisp, while this is a more tender base. Still lovely, just not necessarily my preference. I may try softening the butter rather than melting next time.

  21. This is my third time making this recipe and I love it. My boyfriend’s favorite dessert is lemon bars and your version is the one he asks me to make Everytime now!

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