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. These were great! Buttery and lemony. A little richer than some other lemon squares I have had but delicious. This recipe is a keeper.

  2. These were so easy my 3 year old basically made them (I put them in the oven of course). And the results were incredible! I love the texture/flavor was perfect. Making these over and over for sure!

  3. Vanessa Gonzalez says:

    Hey, do you have the nutritional facts for this recipe?

    1. Hi Vanessa, I’m unsure of the nutritional info of this recipe, but there are many great online calculators like this one: https://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-calculator.asp

  4. Good lemon bars if I had not used 1 cup of lemon juice as mentioned. It came out too sour for my taste. Next time I make these, I’ll cut my lemon juice to maybe half a cup instead. Overall, good recipe!

    1. Kara, if you don’t mind coconut milk I find using half lemon juice and half coconut milk (full fat canned) helps cut the tartness and gives a delicious creaminess. I like this recipe both ways.

  5. Adrienne Bush says:

    What are your thoughts on using salted butter and omitting the additional salt? Thanks!

    1. You can use salted butter. Adjusting the added salt is not necessary. The bars are sweet enough that salted butter won’t make a difference.

  6. Made these this evening, and they turned out to be the best lemon bars ive ever had. That shortbread crust is a STAR! Thank you so much, will be making these again to share with my family in the future.

  7. I made these and they’re cooling right now, however they smell slightly like scrambled eggs. The only reason I can think of why this happened is because one of the eggs I used for the lemon filling had a double yolk but I still put in all six eggs. Is there anything I could have done better for next time?

    1. Hi Blake, The extra yolk could certainly be a problem. If that ever happens again simply remove the extra yolk so that you are only using 6. Also it’s possible that they were over-baked. The soft curd shouldn’t taste too eggy. If you try them again try shortening the bake time.

      1. Thank you! Also, my dad and everyone else who tried them thought it was ridiculously delicious. Thanks for the awesome recipe!

  8. Lemon bars are my all-time favorite dessert. Historically, I’ve gone with a popular AllRecipes recipe when making my own, but I decided to try these and I am SO GLAD I DID. They turned out better than any lemon squares I’ve ever made. I followed the recipe exactly, and at first was concerned that my shortbread was too wet from the butter, but it ended up cooking perfectly and will now be my go-to recipe in the future. Thank you so much, Sally!

  9. DELICIOUS and very easy to make, with only basic ingredients! It is on our favorite list to bake!

  10. I have been making lemon bars for YEARS and I’m always looking for a recipe where they come out delicious and easy to cut and remove from the pan. These were AMAZING! SO easy to make, delicious and easy to remove. Thank you for such a great recipe. My search is over!!!

  11. What a delicious recipe! The shortbread is perfect and I’ll be using it for other recipes in the future! You mentioned only using a glass baking dish, but I used two square 9x9x1 fluted anodized aluminum French tart pans with the removable bottom instead of the deeper baking dish and split the recipe in half and then to the second half of the lemon custard also added half a cup of strained (to remove the seeds) strawberry compôte! A little “strawberry lemonade” spin on the recipe. I baked both the crust and the bars for the shorter of your noted baking times, which was still perfect in both cases! These came out simply amazing! Can’t wait to share with my guests! (And while the cookies are thinner, the added plus is that I have twice as many bars to go around!)
    Everyone—make this recipe!

  12. Freya Woods says:

    This was an amazing recipe! Everyone in the family loved them! Even got raving reviews from the neighbors! 🙂

  13. Yum! I love lemon bars but find recipes are normally too light on lemon flavor. Yours is the best lemon curd I’ve made.

    I’m curious about why you recommend melted butter. My dough was a little greasy and the shortbread doesn’t have the “bite” that I normally look for. Would it be different with room temp butter? Still delicious!

    1. Thea, when I made these I had the same issue with the crust: chewy, doughy, and not at all like shortbread. It tasted fine, but the texture was NOT what I expect in a lemon bar! (Or, indeed, in plain shortbread.) I went back to my old recipe for the crust, using slightly-softened butter instead and cutting it into the flour mixture with a pastry cutter, and it was much more to my preference.
      This filling, however, is delicious.

  14. Karen Nelson says:

    I have tried a number of lemon bar recipes, and yours was the absolute BEST!!!! The thicker lemon custard was a hit, and my relatives loved it! This is my go-to lemon bar recipe from now on! Thank you SO MUCH!!! I’ve been looking for a very good lemon bar recipe for a long time. I will try your other recipes if they are this good.

  15. Hi! I’m going to a picnic with my friends tomorrow and I was wondering you recommend making these the day before or the day of. Let me know!

  16. Susan Homer says:

    Could I use this same recipe but substitute key lime juice instead of lemon juice to make key lime bars?

    1. Hi Susan, absolutely! I love making these with key lime juice or even a combination of lemon and lime juice.

  17. Sally Shenk says:

    Absolutely the best lemon bar recipe I have tried yet! I took them to work for my staff and received raves (and a marriage proposal!) This will certainly be a repeat recipe!

  18. Would adding lemon zest to the filling affect it negatively?

    1. I put some zest in there and loved it.

  19. Carmel Gulliver says:

    Absolutely love this recipe, went down a treat to the recipents today, definitely be a favourite bake for me. Thanks for a great recipe

  20. Monica Makram says:

    Hi Sally

    So for some reason every time I bake these in my new oven, half of the batch (a quarter to a third from the left and the right of the tray), the crust floats to the top and the curd sink to the bottom, I have no idea how that’s possible! Do you have any idea what the problem might be? The fan is on.. Do you think that might be it? I never had this problem with this recipe in my old oven. Please help!

    1. Hi Monica, Usually when the bars end up inverted it’s because I either over-baked the crust or let it cool for too long. I have, however, found an easy trick to help prevent this. If you ever want to try this recipe again, use a fork to poke holes into the warm crust after you take it out of the oven. This helps the topping stick to it and holds the crust in place (below the filling). I hope this is helpful. Also, if you try this recipe again do not use the fan – I always bake with conventional settings (not convection/fan forced). I find things over-bake quickly using the fan.

  21. Any idea if you can ship these? I’ve never worked with lemon curd, so I don’t know how long they can stay at room temperature.

  22. Patricia Stewart says:

    I’m making these Lemon Bars for my very first Juneteenth celebration. It’s a Dessert Swap at 1PM tomorrow. I am just thrilled.

  23. am i dreaming? this is my second time making them and it’s my fav. ❤❤❤❤

  24. Thank you for the recipe! Loved the crust. I halved the recipe but only used 1/2 a cup of sugar and it was still pretty sweet. I had to add lemons according to taste as I presume indian lemons are much smaller.

  25. Hi!
    I live in England and therefore I don’t work in “cup” measurements. We use scales here, so I work in grams.
    Just on baking these and the base is a floppy mess after being in the oven for the allotted time.
    Just googled cup measurements and found your conversion to grams on your base to be incorrect!
    I feel like I’ve wasted my time and money and precious ingredients – we are still struggling to get backing ingredients here due to the lockdown!
    Could you please check your conversions and amend as I would really like to make these.
    Such a shame.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Stacey, thank you for your feedback. Which measurements do you find off? I’d love to brainstorm together. The gram measurements included in this recipe are based off of how I tested this recipe. 8 Tbsp of butter is roughly 113-115g and I measure 16 Tbsp (1 cup) to be about 230g. 1/2 cup of regular granulated sugar measures between 99-106g. The 100g measurement is standard. 2 cups of regular all-purpose flour (spooned and leveled) is about 250g, plus an extra 2 Tbsp.

      1. Many thanks for your reply.
        I made the base as instructed with the quantities given in grams. The base was more or less liquid when cooked and not thick in anyway. It was more or less pure melted butter.

        The base calls for 2 cups of flour plus two tablespoons and the gram conversion you have is 265g.
        But in the filling measurements, 2 cups of sugar is 400g.
        Also, you call for 6 tablespoons of flour for the filling, and have it as 48g. A table spoon is 15g. Therefore it is 90grams that is required, not 48.

        I tried to make it again with an extra 200g of flour for the base, but what resulted was an inch thick dense undercooked base, despite being cooked for 40 minutes.

        No matter which way I made it, it was inedible.

        Many thanks once again.

      2. Thanks Stacey. Different ingredients weigh different amounts. 1 cup of sugar is heavier than 1 cup of flour. I weigh 1 Tbsp of flour to be about 8g, so that’s where the flour measurement comes from. Anyway, thanks for trying the recipe and reporting back!

  26. Margaret Lyburn says:

    These are soo good. I am wondering if I can swap out coconut flour to make them gf?

  27. Made these yesterday for my husband for Father’s Day. WOW!!! To say he loved them would be an understatement. I had just bought fresh lemons and strawberries from my local farmers market and garnished the bars with the strawberries. These bars had the perfect balance of sweet and tart. Adding vanilla extract to the crust is a nice touch and keeps it from tasting too buttery. Thank you for this amazing recipe!

  28. Awesome bars! I made them yesterday and they’re thick, gooey, and perfect! Saving this recipe to make again and again.

  29. Instruction #3, “Make the filling:” says to “Sift the sugar and flour together in a large bowl,” except the recipe doesn’t call for confectioners’ sugar; it calls for granulated sugar. How can one sift flour and granulated sugar together? The sieve is too fine for granulated sugar.

    So I’m confused: Am I supposed to use confectioner’s sugar and sift with the flour or use granulated sugar and sift the flour by itself? Please help.

    1. Hi Kira, you can use a sifter or sieve for regular granulated sugar. Sift it with the flour in that step.

      1. Thanks for the reply. Just to be sure, I tried sifting granulated sugar and at least with the sifter I have, you cannot do it. The sieve is too fine.

        I would imagine that any sieve large enough to let granulated sugar through would not be appropriate for sifting flour. I’d imagine flour requires a finer sieve, or the sifting is not very effective.

        Thanks for clarifying that it is indeed granulated sugar.

  30. Hi Sally, I actually don’t have a 9×13 or a 9×9 pan available, but only an 8×8. What adjustments would you suggest in order to do this?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Heera, halving this entire recipe will work in an 8-inch baking pan. I’m unsure of the best baking times, though. The crust pre-bake time will need to be shortened. Let me know how it goes.

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