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.

stack of 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 bar with a bite taken out of it

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.

2 images of lemon bars crust and lemon batter in glass bowls

Lemon bars before slicing 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 teal 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.

stack of 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 teal 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 (46g) 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. Whisk in the eggs, then the lemon juice 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

overhead image of lemon bars

1258 Comments

  1. I made this recipe once before and just finished my second batch (waiting for it to cool and set now), they were delicious the first time and have no reason to doubt they will be again this round.

    Both times I’ve made this recipe, however, it’s resulted in that bubbly film on top. The first time I thought maybe it was because I finished mixing the custard before the crust came out of the oven so I thought maybe letting it sit a bit was the cause, but this time I avoided that and still got the bubbly top layer. Is there a way to avoid this? I know it doesn’t effect the taste but it’s not as ‘presentable’ with the bubble layer.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Patty! The bubbles are most likely from air whisked into the egg and lemon mixture before baking. Be careful not to mix it too forcefully to avoid incorporating air in. Hope this helps!

  2. These are my absolute favorite lemon bars. I make them all the time and they please a crowd. They are perfect as is or if you like coconut, add coconut flakes to the crust—it’s a divine addition. Thank you Sally—I tell everyone all your recipes are golden.

  3. I made a graham cracker crush instead of the shortbread and freshly squeezed lemon juice and needless to say the bars were a hit. Everyone keeps begging me to make them their own pan of lemon bars. So looks as though I’ll be making them for a while.

  4. I was so excited to try this recipe but sadly they didn’t turn out so well. When I took the pan out of the oven, lemon juice was around the bars and when I cut them filling up the gaps. I was very confused and disappointed, however the taste was very good a little too lemony but that might be because we used lemons that were growing in our backyard so you might have more flavor than regular lemons. I also used Monk fruit sugar to substitute some of the sugar in this recipe could that have caused lemon juice to seep out of this.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Addison! Using sugar substitutes will change the outcome of these lemon bars, so sorry you had trouble. For best taste and texture (and so you don’t waste your time trying to adapt this recipe), it may be more useful to find a recipe that is specifically formulated for sugar substitutes next time.

  5. Followed this recipe and it was so good! Super easy to make! It’s one of my go-to desserts now. Thank you!

  6. Anna Caraballo says:

    These are fantastic! Easy, tart and scrummy! Quick question, since it doesn’t have condensed milk or heavy cream in the curd, can they sit at room temperature for 2-3 days and still be safe like a cookie?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Anna, for best results, we recommend storing the lemon bars in the fridge for up to a week. You can feel free to bring them back to room temperature right before serving or enjoying, if you wish. Glad you enjoy these!

      1. Love this recipe! Easy and tasty, these are always a big hit when I take them for a summer picnic or bbq.

  7. If I’m squeezing lemon by hand, should I strain out the pulp?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Megan, pulp is fine, just make sure to keep the seeds out!

  8. Judy Vowels says:

    If using store bought lemon curd, i just add that on top of the crust and bake?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Judy, lemon curd (store bought or homemade) is too thin and won’t bake up properly. Best to follow the recipe as written for best results. Hope you enjoy these bars!

  9. My daughter made these for Father’s Day. The taste was delicious. However, somehow the crust rose through the curd. It almost rose to the middle, leaving lemon curd on the bottom and some on the top. What did we do wrong?

    1. Ashley Bailes says:

      This happened to me also. They tasted great but not sure why the crust would rise? I didn’t poke holes as mentioned so maybe that was it …it’s been awhile since I made these but the taste was divine.

    2. This happened to me, as well. I’m wondering if the lemon mixture somehow seeped through in a nook around the the crust and soaked underneath? I’m working on my third batch, hoping to find the problem!

  10. Linda Feeley says:

    I usually freeze my sweets since there are only two of us in the house. Maybe a stupid question, but will these stand up to freezing?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Linda, they sure do! Lemon bars can be frozen for up to 3-4 months. See last step of the recipe instructions for more details.

  11. Sara Laferte says:

    Hubby says, “Yes! These lemon bars are delicious, honey! Not too sweet, great lemony flavor, good crust.” Thank you, Sally.

  12. how many calories?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Bella! We don’t usually include nutrition information as it can vary between different brands of the same ingredients. Plus, many recipes have ingredient substitutions or optional ingredients listed. However, there are many handy online calculators where you can plug in and customize your exact ingredients/brands. Readers have found this one especially helpful: https://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-calculator.asp

  13. LOVE! I halved the recipe since it’s for 2 people and it worked beautifully. I love all of Sally’s recipes. I can’t bake and she has made a baker out of me! Thank for sharing!

  14. Good morning! I have made these a handful of times and love them!!! I would like to make them for a gathering, however some guests have allergy issues. What can I substitute to make these gluten & dairy free? Do you have a good shortbread recipe for that? Thank you!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Kaye, so happy to hear you enjoy these lemon bars! We haven’t personally tried a gluten-free and dairy-free version of these bars, but if you try with any substitutions we’d love to know how it goes for you.

      1. Pat Shepard says:

        I used Namaste Gluten free flour and the shortbread was delicious. It measures just like regular flour.

    2. I use Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 GF baking flour and these tastes great. Hubby says he can’t taste the difference between the GF crust and regular crust.

      1. Did you use GF flour in the lemon filling as well? If so, did it thicken up alright? I have made these before with great results, but I am making some for an event and they need to be GF, but I’ve never worked with GF flour before.

      2. I also used Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 making this. I had to add a few extra tablespoons flour to get the crust to the same consistency as in the photos, and it came out really well. It also held up well in the filling, they taste amazing.

  15. Could you add some lemoncello to this recipe? Would you have to adjust the other ingredients?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Vivian, that would require additional testing so unfortunately we can’t give any confident advice here. Let us know if you try anything!

  16. Gloria Miller says:

    When I store my lemon bars they get wet like moisture in the top. What am I doing wrong?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Gloria, that happens to some of our batches as well– it’s just the moisture from the lemon topping. Try baking a couple extra minutes because that always seems to help. Thanks for giving this recipe a try!

  17. I love these lemon bars, they are easy to make and perfectly tart. Not only that, they are great straight out of the freezer, especially on a hot summer day. For extra flavour, I added lemon zest to the shortbread crust.

  18. Elaine Folkesson says:

    Divine!! These are my new summer favorite! As usual, they worked perfectly. Thanks for the video. It is so helpful to see the process and consistency. Thanks for being our favorite staple in our (my daughters’ and my) kitchens!

  19. The shortbread cookie rose to the top and the lemon filling went to the bottom, I’m not sure why this happened?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Jennifer, Usually when the bars end up inverted it’s because we either over-baked the crust or let it cool for too long. We 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). Hope this is helpful!

      1. StillAmJennifer says:

        This recipe was unbelievably easy. I made these in the middle of the night, when painfully tired, and they still turned out perfectly. They’ve ruined all other lemon bars for me.

        This is about the 5th recipe I’ve tried from this site, and a couple of the recipes I’ve used more than once, and my experience had been perfection every time.

    2. Connie Douglas says:

      How cool should the base be after baking before topping is poured on? Will it affect it if it’s only been out of the oven for just 5 to 10 mins?

  20. I’ve made these several times and they are such a crowd pleaser! The recipe is relatively simple and they always come out perfect. Love these Lemon Bars, thank you Sally!

  21. Maridee Bell says:

    I made the lemon bars gluten free and dairy free. I used country crock plant butter and Bobs Red Mill gluten free all purpose flour. I also added 1 teaspoon xanthum gum as I do when baking with gluten free flour. I did everything else the same. The bars turned out great. They were delicious

  22. I made this recipe and the top of the lemon part is full of air bubbles. It seems to taste good but looks all full of pock marks. Any idea why? I used a fork to “whisk” together the ingredients.

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Rachel, was it a white-ish layer with air bubbles? That’s completely normal. See “White Air Bubbles on Top of Baked Lemon Bars” above. Thank you for giving these a try!

      1. Thanks for the reply. I had just jumped to the recipe so didn’t see the note. They taste delicious, and I will definitely make them again, especially since I can make them dairy free.

  23. I love every recipe of yours that I’ve made. I made this lemon bar recipe and followed it to the T, but I found them way too sweet and even had a bitter aftertaste. Is that bad lemons?? I love the texture, and they looked pretty!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Suzanne! Thank you for trying this recipe! Usually the bitter part of the lemon is the white part of the rind. Next time try squeezing the lemons more gently to be sure that you don’t get any of the oils from the rind in your juice. You can also use Meyer lemons, which are naturally less tart than regular lemons. Or use a mix of fresh orange juice and lemon juice.

      1. That is interesting! I did squeeze the “bleep” out of my lemons, so that may be ten problem. Thank you for your reply.

  24. I’ve made these lemon bars before and they’re glorious, but I’ve recently been wondering if I could substitute the lemon for blackberry? I have a surplus of them at home. Thanks again!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Halyak, that sounds delicious. We haven’t tried it so can’t say for sure. We would maybe try a lemon and blackberry puree blend – let us know what you try!

  25. Ho,
    I just tried this today and oh … it really is so quick and easy … and the taste.. sooooo good. It smelled so good that my daughter made me cut a bit for her. She justified it as quality control. Also hubby joined in … and uhmmm now there’s only 3/4 left to chill. I think they like it warm – ahahaha ♥️ – your recipes are wonderful ,always a crowd pleaser and you explain how to do everything beautifully.

    Zan

  26. This is the one. I made a lot of bad lemon squares before this recipe.
    Also love how simple it is. Just make sure not to overbake!!

  27. Hi! I’m trying to learn how to bake for my chemistry class and I’m really unfamiliar with baking. I really like lemon bars, but the last batch I made was a disaster because I used a baking pan far too deep for the recipe I was following! For this recipe, can I use a different sized pan as a substitute for the 9×13? Would using an 8×11.5 baking pan yield different results?
    Thank you 🙂

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Hailey! An 8×11.5 inch pan would produce thicker bars that require an extended bake time. We strongly recommend using a 9×13 if at all possible! Otherwise keep in mind the longer baking time. Let us know if you give them a try!

      1. Hello Trina!
        I listened to your advice and I ended up needing to bake the lemon bars for about 36 minutes (excluding how long it took to bake the shortbread). I really appreciate your help and they turned out amazing! Thank you so much! 😀

  28. SO good. So so good. So tart and a little sweet and the shortbread crust is nice and thick and buttery which is the perfect contrast to tart lemon curd. I loved how easy this recipe was and I love the thickness of the shortbread crust, because let’s be honest, that’s the best part. Thank you for this delicious and easy recipe! These tasted like they were straight out of a bakery. Will make these again and again!

  29. Made as directed. Enjoyed the shortbread crust, so that’s a keeper. However, the lemon filling was extremely tart and unpleasant. If I tried to make these again, I’d have to up the sugar and lower the lemon juice content, but I’ll probably just look for an alternate recipe.

  30. Kaushiki Banerjee says:

    This I have made 4-5 times, except I put 4 eggs instead of 6 because I had done with 6 eggs and there’s a little eggy smell left behind. But it is a fool proof recipe and comes out perfectly… The top is like a lemon curd jelly and the base is a biscuit.

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