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

1001 Comments

  1. Just made these lemon bars today and I have to say, they really exceeded all my expectations. I followed your recipe to a T (except I halved all the ingredients) and seriously they came out perfect, not overly sour or sweet but a perfect balance-just what I was looking for. Thank you for the wonderful recipe!

  2. Everything about this was wonderful EXCEPT your secret ingrediant of Vanilla in the crust. It detracts from the butteryness of the crust I also added zest to crust. Keeping recipe with no vanilla & add zest to crust.

  3. I accidentally added 2 tsp. baking powder to the flour. Do I need to toss this and start over or can I still use it in this recipe?

    1. Julie Hershberger says:

      I’ve been making lemon bars for years. Friends always ask me to make them. I have my little twerks I do here and there but I’ve never done vanilla in the crust. Definitely gunna try it tonight. One thing I’ve always is put in a bit of baking powder. Comes out awesome and a little extra zest and juice. Yummy

  4. Can you freeze these bars?

  5. Can I freeze these (for my Christmas cookie extravaganza?)

    1. Sure can. See freezing instructions.

  6. This recipe is hands down the best I’ve made!! It’s absolutely yummy!!

  7. These look amazing! Do you think I could substitute coconut flour for the regular flour for a gluten free option? Thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Amy, I haven’t tested these with gluten free flour but if you would like to try it your best bet is to try an all purpose gluten free flour. To make these with coconut flour would require additional recipe testing.

  8. Bonnie Mitchell says:

    DELICIOUS!! I brought these to a Thanksgiving potluck and they were the favorite dessert!

  9. I followed the recipe to a T and I ended up with a new FAVORITE dessert that I would happily bring anywhere! The directions were very clear and the tips very helpful. I’m glad I did the half recipe options b/c I keep going back for more. BTW – these are fabulous write out of the freezer too!

  10. Perfect! First time making lemon bars and I had 3 friends ask for the recipe♥️ Thanks so much!

  11. I’d like to cut the sugar in these. I’ve read in your recipe that the filling doesn’t set well or is “too wet.” Do you think adding a thickener like cornstarch might alleviate that? Or maybe gelatin? Thanks!

    1. Hi Brian, it’s certainly worth a try if you’re looking to change the recipe. Unfortunately I can’t say for sure without additional testing. Let me know if you try anything!

      1. I cut all sugar by half, substituted 2 tbsp of starch for the flour in the filling. Since I didn’t use your recipe I can’t compare the two. The starch might firm it up a bit more in the end…or not. It turned out well.

        I want to up the pucker factor so I think I am going to play around with adding citric acid next.

    2. Not sure if it helps you any, but I used 1 cup of lakanto monk fruit sweetener and they came out so yummy. I mean, I’m used to not eating sugar so if you’re used to sugar it’ll probably be less sweet than normal but I thought they were perfect sweetness. Not overpowering.

  12. CORINA L HAMPTON says:

    Can these be shipped, 2 day shipping?

    1. Hi Corina! These lemon bars are too fragile and should stay cold. I don’t recommend it.

  13. Donna Framstad says:

    Could the sugar be substituted with Splenda??

    1. No, I don’t recommend it.

  14. Nancy Courtney says:

    Do I grease the glass pan before I put the parchment paper down ? Thanks Nancy

    1. No need to grease it before lining with parchment.

  15. I’ve been making lemon bars for years. This is the first recipe where I’ve managed to get a crisp, tasty crust – the vanilla and melted butter made all the difference and the filling was thick and delicious. This is definitely the only recipe I will use from now on.

  16. Out of this world GREAT.

  17. These are so delicious! They have become the Gold Standard for Lemon Bars with my friend and her BF. Nothing else quite compares! They are uh-mazing!!

    1. I’m thrilled you enjoy them so much, Virginia!

  18. I used coconut oil in the base to make these dairy free (and also used gluten free flour instead of regular. They were delicious!! I think I added a little extra flour, 1-2T, because the coconut oil made the base mixture seem very wet.
    (To make them gluten free I added: 2/3 cup brown rice, 2/3 cup + 2T white rice, 1/3 tapioca starch, 1/3 potato starch plus extra rice flour plus a teaspoon of xanthan gum.)

  19. Delicious Sally!! Love the texture (perfectly set) and lemon flavor. Clear instructions appreciated. Parchment paper made it so easy. Even though I baked the crust for 22 minutes, It didn’t get to the lightly browned stage. Think I should have left it in a little longer. But bars were still delicious!:)

  20. I made these for Christmas for my grandma. Everyone really enjoyed them, but I may play with the recipe a bit. The shortbread bottom had a strong butter flavor and was a bit too thick. I may halve it and cut some of the butter out. It also didn’t cook as expected. At 325F, my shortbread bottom was still very white after 20 minutes. I baked it for another 5 minutes which probably just dried it out too much. The lemon filling was a bit acidic in flavor. I lightly zested 2 of the lemons and added that, and I felt it gave it a bit more of a candied lemon flavor. The filling also didn’t want to set. After cooking for an extra 10 minutes, I brought the temp up to 350F and cooked it for an additional 10 minutes before I felt it was done. I have since checked my oven with a thermometer, and it is going up to the set temperature, so my oven wasn’t cooking low. Cook time: 70 minutes

  21. I usually modify recipes, I compare w/ others. This recipe was about as perfect as you could get and believe me, I tried to modify. I love a tart lemon filling and this was perfect, not too tart. I used firm Meyer lemons and needed about 7-8. I added about 1/2 teas zest in filling and 1/2 teas vanilla in crust plus 1/2 teas baking powder. None of these extras were likely needed. If reader is new to making lemon bars and follows Sally’s recipe, you will end up, like I did, with a perfect result. Tip: Wait for the bars to fully chill as Sally instructs. Sally – I will never buy bakery lemon bars again, these were far superior. Also, I can envision using this recipe to make a lemon tart. Sally, your attention to detail in this recipe was spot on – thank you very much!!

  22. These are yummy! Served them last night to guests & no one could eat just one!

    1. I’m so happy they were a hit! Thanks for trying this recipe, Areu!

  23. My absolute favorite of the many tried. Still, I think that little burst of flavor from the zest might be an addition worth trying. Speaking of trying, have you tried or considered another tart ‘fruit'(rhubarb) to use in this recipe?

    1. Hi Michael! I’ve only used this recipe with blood oranges, regular oranges, and grapefruit before. Let me know any other fruits you try!

  24. This receipe was perfect! Not too tart, not too sweet. The perfect crust to filling ratio.
    They were very easy to make . The receipe is a keeper.

    Thank you for sharing it with all of us.

  25. Very good! They were perfectly soft and tart, I juiced 5 lemons so I’m not sure the exact amount but other than some lemon zest, I followed the recipe exactly. Best lemon bars I’ve ever tried, let alone baked.
    I’m making them again tonight (4 days later), and trying with blood orange this time.

  26. I love allllll of your recipes! With these lemon bars they came great, but my crust was harder than expected. Do you have any ideas what I may have done wrong?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi Sierra, I’m so happy you enjoyed them! Be sure that you oven is at 325 (not 350) and only bake them until the edges are VERY lightly browned (even if it’s shorter than the suggested bake time)!

  27. I don’t have parchment paper. Should I just butter the pan?

  28. Love the recipe. I followed it to a tee and it is great. Very simple too.
    My only comment is the mention of using a glass pan because of the metallic taste left by a metal pan. This actually makes no sense when you are also saying line your pan with parchment paper. I did however use a glass pan as I like the way the cook better than my metal one but that’s me.
    Other than that it I cannot find fault with this delicious recipe.

  29. These live up to the hype – they are that good! I actually thought they were even better day 2!

  30. I made this recipe (my first attempt at making lemon bars) and my family LOVED it! Your video was so helpful!! Thank you!!

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