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

1082 Comments

  1. I had some issues with the recipe.
    1) the shortbread crust was too soupy, not enough flour to make a dough. It was more like a batter. I added a bit more flour to adjust it.
    2) the quantity of the crust wasn’t enough to cover the pan adequately. There were gaps that weren’t obvious until I lifted them out of the pan. The filling had gotten under the crust and some bars were “upside down,” with crust on top and filling below.
    And I tweaked the filling. I cut the sugar by 20% and it was still too sweet for my taste. I LOVE lemon and if you don’t pucker a lot, you don’t have enough lemon. So I zested the lemons (organic lemons) before juicing them and added the zest to the filling, along with several drops of lemon oil. I tested the filling as I tweaked by cooking a spoonful in the microwave.
    The flavor of the crust was very good. I used Cook’s Cookie Vanilla. If you haven’t tried it, do so. It is the best vanilla I’ve found, so good that you want to dive into the bottle and not come up. And, aside from being too sweet, the flavor and consistency of the filling (after it sat overnight) were very good, too. I like the results from baking the crust first, although I would bake it longer, so it’s light golden all over. And I like cooking the filling in the oven. I will continue tweaking until it’s as good as I can get it. It’s already better than any other lemon bar recipe I’ve tried.
    Thank you for giving me such a great starting point!!

  2. Making these lemon bars made me realize that Spring has definitely arrived! They’re delicious with a wonderful balance of sweet/tartness

  3. This is my first time to participate in the #sallysbakingchallenge and it was so easy to follow all the directions. Not a big lemon fan but these are delicious! Can’t wait to take some to my parents. They both love lemon and have been getting over colds… so these are sure to brighten their day.

  4. Abby HoChing says:

    I think the recipe would have been better if I don’t try to rush it. First I spilled almost half the cup of fresh lemon juice and had no other lemons as back so I had to use the store bought lemon juice. Also I realized I used the wrong pan so they were very thick. The flavor was very strong —probably bc the store bought juice. But it was fun to try something new. Just not a good baking day for me

  5. Katherine Hestand says:

    I just made these today for #sallysbakingchallenge. BEST lemon bar recipe I have ever come by, and I was surprised how simple it was, and they are just so pretty! I used fresh squeezed lemon juice as the recipe encourages, and felt funny adding no zest, but glad I didn’t! They were tart, tangy, and sweet, just perfect. I even forgot to use the payment paper but they cut easily and came out just fine. I will be using parchment the next time though! I have been baking since I was 12, and make all of the baked goods for our church cafe/coffee shop, so I’m happy to finally have found a great recipe for lemon bars! These were a hit at the cafe, and I’ve been requested to make another batch.

  6. These were very simple to make! My husband helped since i recently had surgery and unable to stand, even he was able to follow the directions! They turned out so yummy. Lemon bars are my absolute favorite!

  7. These lemon bars were great! I had attempted to make lemon bars a few weeks back using two of your recipes combined (I don’t have Sally’s Baking Addiction cookbook) and they turned out ok but these were perfect. They cut beautifully and was a welcome surprise for my husband. Thanks for all the tried and true recipes!

  8. Great recipe!!!so easy and fun to make!!!thank you!!!

  9. Made these and they were all eaten right away. Easy to make and a great recipe.

  10. This recipe is fantastic! My husband loves citrus desserts while I prefer chocolate but this recipe turned me around to being a citrus dessert fan! Our anniversary is this weekend and it was the perfect way to celebrate.

  11. The shortbread crust was perfect!! Thanks for the great recipe!

  12. Made last night for a family lunch today. They were very easy to make and a hit! I did make the halved version and they came out great. So much better than the boxes.

  13. Melissa Costa says:

    I used Blood Orange for these bars and they turned out great. Love them!

  14. I made these for a baptism and everyone LOVED them! Anyone who tried them all said they had to go back for more! They were quick and simple to make.
    I did have a bit of trouble with the crust – the next time I make them I will probably add more flour since mine turned out more chewy and greasy than I would have liked. Otherwise, it was great! The flavor was strong and fresh, and the filling was custard-y and smooth. Thanks Sally for another winner!

  15. These were too yummy. We already ate half of the pan ! So easy and fun. Thanks for sharing the recipe.

  16. This recipe was perfect use of 3 juicy Meyer lemon. I used 1 & 3/4 cup sugar and was not too sweet to go with the crust. After being in the fridge, the top of bars were wet and the powdered sugar just melted. But it was still delicious. I want to try with blood oranges next time.

  17. Hi Sally
    Lemon bars are my favourite dessert. After trying many, many recipes and failing terribly, I finally found my go-to recipe for lemon bars. Thank you so much for posting this recipe. They were delicious. My son, who thought he hated lemon bars, loved these.

    Lisa

  18. These were so easy that we thought maybe we were doing it wrong! So simple and what a refreshing bake this time of year! Thank you, Sally! Can’t wait to try alternate flavours on this one.

    Only thing I would note for other bakers is that we waited a few minutes before pouring the filling on top of the crust, it just seemed too hot!

  19. These were so wonderfully simple to make! This is definitely one I could and would do with my nephews (they love to help in the kitchen). I made these on a Friday evening afternoon work (another reason to love that they are not labor intensive) and took them to share with my gym. They loved them. They are the perfect lemon flavor without being too tart or two sweet. And the shortbread crust is perfect platform when you don’t have a plate.

  20. Stacie Blair says:

    Such a simple recipe!! Why I expected it to be complicated I don’t know! These bars are devine! So refreshing and the shortbread crust is amazing! Thanks for a all around great recipe!

  21. While it was fun making these for the challenge, challenge or no challenge, what we got out of this is a great lemon bar recipe! Thank you so much Sally! Followed the recipe exactly as written, weighing most ingredients with a scale. No tweaks are needed, perfect flavor balance, sweetness, consistency and structure. Everything came together and went well, it was quite easy. I do have to admit, and please don’t hold it against me, I used the bottled lemon juice (didn’t have any lemons on hand and made these in the middle of the night, didn’t want to run out to a 24 hour grocery store). Even with the bottled juice it still hit a home run so to speak, will try it in the future with fresh lemons. Im sure that’d be a grand slam! This is a keeper and will be my go to lemon bar recipe moving forward, might even experiment with other citrus fruits too. Thanks again Sally!

  22. What a wonderful simple and delicious lemon bar recipe! I have used quite a few recipes to make lemon bars in the past and they have never really turned out to my liking (not enough filling, too tart, too sweet, unnecessarily complicated, etc.). This recipe was easy to follow, had few ingredients, and turned out perfectly!!! I did have to bake a little longer than suggested, but I was using a ceramic pan that I know requires a longer cook time so I just kept baking until the bars passed the jiggle test described in the recipe. What a great tip! I brought the bars to a family gathering and they were a HUGE hit! Will definitely bake again!

  23. I halved the recipe and baked it in a 8×8 glass pan. Love this recipe! Thanks Sally, turned out great!

  24. Larissa Craven says:

    The flavor was great, and I liked the shortbread crust. My only critique would be that the filling could be just a tad more firm, but they still cut beautifully.

  25. This recipe is amazing! It is so easy to make, the bar itself has a nice lemon flavor and the crust is so delicious!! Will definitely make again!

  26. I made these for the challenge and they’re SO good! The crust is amazing. The curd is exactly how it should be! Thick, creamy, and tangy! I love them so much!

  27. Kristin Miles says:

    These lemon squares are delicious!! I especially love the shortbread base. Very easy to do too.

    1. So easy! For some reason I thought I would have to make lemon curd. Just mixing and putting on top of the crust almost feels like cheating!

  28. Delicious! Perfectly tart and sweet and the crust is so butter and delicious.

  29. Sallys lemon bars are by far my favorite! We love them in our house so much!

  30. These lemon bars are delicious! And the recipe is very simple. Thank you for the recipe!

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