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 just put mine in the oven. Unfortunately, only had salted butter to use for shortbread. Ill be sure to let you all know how they came out. I just love love love lemon bars

    1. I’ve seen some recipes using lemon zest also.

    2. What about lemon zest? Some recipes ask for it.

      1. I infuse 1.5 TB lemon zest with the sugar for the bars. Let it sit for 30 mins, before adding /sifting in flour.

  2. If we wanted to make these gluten-free would there be any changes other than the flour? Which flour do you think would work better, coconut or almond? Thanks.

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Amn, we haven’t tested gluten free flour in this recipe, so we can’t say for certain. You may have better luck with a 1:1 gluten free all purpose flour sub (like Bob’s Red Mill or Cup4Cup). We’d love to know what you try!

  3. Hi! I made two batches: one “control” batch straight off the recipe, and another test batch. In the tester, I cut back on half the sugar in the lemon curd and replaced that with Splenda, and they turned out perfectly fine! Pretty much identical to the recipe batch in flavor and texture. 🙂

  4. I just made this today & it turned out beautifully! Shared some pictures of it on my social media & my colleagues are looking forward to having it at work in the morning. Thank you!

  5. I made lemon bars for the first time in my life today. I tried two recipes. One on a popular recipe page and this one. This one is phenomenal! The consistency and texture are perfect. Just enough sweet and sour. Just perfect! They will be my go to from here on out!

    1. The texture of the cookie was dence, the lemon curd was flat, not as bright as l expect it to be. My step daughter made these for a cookout and I was disappointed. I feel lemon zest should have been used. The crust should be treated like pastry.

  6. Phoebe Gross says:

    Easy recipe with great results. I did add some grated lemon rind to make it extra tart.

  7. My 3rd time making them and I could smell them as they finished baking. Love these but will have to freeze them or I will eat a whole pan.

  8. Best recipe ever! Best thing I have ever baked! I watched the video which was so helpful especially as I would have thought the base was too thin otherwise, which it wasn’t. I’ve have forwarded it on the friends and family as I am obsessed with it.

    1. Lemony Snicket says:

      I just want to say… 1 cup of lemon juice is NOT 4 lemons. 4 grapefruit sized lemons perhaps. I decided against buying lemon juice and instead juiced my own organic lemons…. It took 8 lemons to get 1 cup.

      1. I used 4 large lemons and got almost exactly 1 cup. I’ve used lemon juice in other recipes before and 1 lemon = 3 tbsp juice = 1/4 cup. Maybe you used small lemons? A trick that my mother taught me is to microwave the lemon for 10-15 seconds, let it cool, then roll it before cutting and squeezing. It really brings out the juice!

  9. Please add 5 stars to my recent comment as I had tech difficulty doing it myself

  10. I have made these several times for parties. Everybody loved them. Thank you for a great recipe.

  11. I don’t have a 9 x 13, but rather a smaller rectangular dish that’s roughly 7.5 x 9.5 (2.75 qt). Do you think doing approximately 2/3 of the recipe (4 eggs and scaling to that) would be appropriate for that size dish?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Lilly! Yes, that should be just about right. Let us know if you give it a try!

  12. jessica Rubens says:

    hello, so I’ve made these bars and the lemon filling was a foamy at the top. why is that? and I peaked into the oven and they aren’t very yellow..

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Jessica, this is completely normal. While the bars could have been overbaked, the white foamy parts are simply the air from the eggs rising. See White Air Bubbles on Top of Baked Lemon Bars. A dusting of confectioners’ sugar covers this right up.

  13. Beth Voyles says:

    Oh….My….Goodness!! I made these this morning before the afternoon heat hit and put them in fridge to have later in the day. These are absolutely the best lemon bars I have ever had. I love Sally’s Baking Addiction desserts and always look for her recipes when wanting to bake something yummy and this recipe didn’t disappoint. Her recipes never disappoint. Thank you so much again Sally for a wonderful perfect dessert on a warm summer night. It’s absolutely yummy!!

  14. Can you sub gluten free flour? Made these and my family loved them. My neighbor has celiac and mentioned they love lemon bars. I tried subbing with King Arthur gluten free but the shortbread did not turn out! Any tips?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Hillary, we haven’t tested these bars with gluten free flour, so unfortunately we can’t offer any troubleshooting tips here. It might be helpful to find a recipe specifically formulated for gluten-free shortbread crust to see what tips and tricks they provide. We’re glad your family enjoyed these lemon bars!

      1. Carol O'Neill says:

        Hilary, I only use Gluten Free FLour when I bake because 5 out of 6 of my grandchildren have celiac disease (intolerance for gluten). I made these with GF flour and they were perfect. I always use Cup 4 Cup GF flour , however I’ve used a number of other brands and you also would not notice any difference.BYW these Lemon Bars were outrageously delicious!

  15. Donna Walter says:

    I have been making only this recipe for over four years. They are just fantastic. Most frequently requested recipe. And I was a cake decorator/baker for 45 years!

  16. About how much lemon curd does it take? I made some yesterday from a different recipe and I don’t want to make more and waste the stuff I already made.

  17. My go-to lemon bars recipe from now on!

  18. Fav recipe for lemon bars!! Must try for novice bakers 🙂

  19. Jessica Lofthouse says:

    I have made thse several times and I ALWAYS get huge compliments.
    Thanks for the recipie.

  20. I’ve never made lemon bars before but was craving them yesterday so I found this recipe & made them. They turned out so well! The crust tastes amazing and the curd is not too sour or too sweet – juuuust right. I didn’t have confectioner’s sugar so I just sprinkled some granulated sugar on top at the end which worked out well (it honestly doesn’t even need any sugar on top at all anyways). 10/10 would make again!

  21. Julie Carpenter says:

    How long can these keep in the fridge without the crust getting soggy?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Julie, these lemon bars can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

  22. I would like to double the recipe—can I use a half sheet pan rather than 2 9×13 pans? Thanks!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Shouldn’t be a problem!

  23. Hi Sally! These look great, but I want to substitute the lemon for passionfruit. I’m planning on using the Goya Passionfruit Pulp since that’s a similar consistency to lemon juice, but I was wondering if I should leave the sugar level as is or change it. Any thoughts?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Brianna, we actually haven’t tried these bars with passionfruit, but you’ll likely want to reduce the sugar as mentioned in the recipe notes as passionfruit is pretty sweet. Let us know how it turns out for you!

  24. Made these today, and as a non baker I thought they were easy to make. Absolutely delicious, not to sweet and not to sour, the whole family loved them. They are defo a keeper!

  25. Amalia Regalado says:

    I love this my family are crazy for them I made every weekend but I have question some times water on top absorbe the sugar and it does not look perfect what can i do??

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Amalia, that is normal — feel free to add the powdered sugar after the bars are totally cool next time or right before serving. Glad your family enjoys these!

      1. Hi. I’m a fan of Sally. But i think filling is too sour.

  26. Can I add lemon zest to the filling without runing the texture?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Meaghan! We prefer super smooth lemon bars here, but you definitely can add zest. We recommend 1-2 Tablespoons of lemon zest.

  27. Jeannette Matting says:

    Can you freeze them?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      You bet! See step 6 for freezing instructions.

  28. I love these!! Have made several times and was asked to pass the recipe on to everyone who tried one. Do you think they would freeze well?

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Absolutely! See step 6 for freezing instructions.

  29. Melissa Call says:

    This recipe is my go to! Love it! How long should they thaw in fridge after being frozen? Thank you!

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Melissa, so glad you enjoy these lemon bars! You can thaw them overnight in the refrigerator or until thawed to your liking.

  30. Hii!! I made these for my mom and she loved them ♡♡ I was just wondering if you’d know why I had a white foam layer on the top of my filling? I also had to cook for a little longer than the original recipe called for? I would appreciate if you replied but just really wanted to say I love your recipes and plan on making more!!!

    1. Trina @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Kiera, thank you so much for making and trusting our recipes! 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!

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