Sweet and tart, this Lemon Bars recipe is a classic not to be missed! Fresh lemon juice provides bright citrus zing over top of a buttery shortbread crust. With our no-fail lemon topping, they are the perfect refreshing summertime (or anytime) treat that is always crisp and flavorful.
A cheerful burst of citrus flavor is like biting into summer. The accent of bright flavors is always a wonderful tonic to hot and humid weather. I definitely find myself keeping Key Lime Pie and Lemon Blueberry Muffins on repeat as well, but today’s recipe is the tart zing that feels so refreshing with its balance of sweet and tart.
These Lemon Bars confectionary delights are refreshingly simple. There is a bit more work to them, but it is absolutely worth it! A buttery shortbread crust serves as homebase to a sunshine-infused lemon curd topping. Your taste buds won’t know what hit ’em!
Lemon bars are an excellent no-fuss option for bake sales, brunches, and summer picnics. This classic dessert is lighter than a cheesecake but still just as crave-worthy.
Why This Is the Best Lemon Bars Recipe
- The filling is smooth and soft but solid. Because we cook and strain the topping before baking, it sets perfectly without being gooey or creating a strange, dimpled top.
- Never soggy crust that is crisp, yet soft and buttery to pair divinely with the tart lemons.
- Perfectly balanced amount of crust and bright lemon flavor!
- Thoroughly tested and we include tips and photos for each step.
- Lasts up to a week in the fridge and can be frozen to enjoy anytime you like.
Ingredients and Notes
Below is an overview of what you will need to make these with simple, basic ingredients that you probably already have on hand:
- Butter. Unsalted is best. This is used in both the shortbread crust and to make our lemon topping silky smooth and rich.
- Flour. All-purpose is best for the crust. If there are any large clumps, I do recommend sifting but it isn’t absolutely necessary.
- Sugars. Both light brown and white granulated sugar are used.
- Eggs. I admit, this recipe has a lot of eggs – 11 of them to be exact! But the taste is worth it! One goes into the crust to tenderize and enrich it, while the rest are for the curd.
- Salt. A pinch for flavor in both the crust and the curd.
- Vanilla Extract. I like a touch of vanilla in both my crust and lemon topping that adds a bit of creaminess and takes the edge off the brightness.
- Lemon Juice. While I have successfully made these with bottled juice, the best flavor definitely comes from using fresh, ripe lemons freshly squeezed.
- Powdered Sugar. Just a dusting to create a pleasing top. The tops are nice and firm, so you could skip it if desired.
How to Make a Shortbread Crust
The full recipe instructions are in the recipe card at the bottom of this post, but I provide this area as a visual reference and to show how the recipe comes together.
The first step to making perfect lemon crumb bars is to make the perfect, buttery shortbread crust.
- In an electric or stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Add sugars and beat until creamed and fluffy. The butter should be room temperature for smoothest texture. You can cut it into squares and soften in the microwave, but do not melt. (photo 1)
- In a small bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Add flour 1 cup at a time, pausing each time the flour is just starting to combine and scrape sides. Mix until well combined, but don’t overmix. Once ready, the mixture will likely still be crumbly, but you can press it together into a ball. (photo 2)
- I find it easiest to press into a parchment paper lined dish evenly with a sheet of wax paper over top. I like to use the back of a spoon smooth the crust. (photo 3)
- With a fork, gently prick the crust many times all over the bottom. This is to keep the crust from bubbling up and expanding during baking. Bake the crust until the edges are slightly browned. (photo 4)
How to Make Lemon Bar Topping
While the crust is important and does contribute to its crisp texture, what makes this recipe so great is the method I use to make the lemon bar topping. It’s a little more work, but the results are definitely worth it! Because we let it thicken in a saucepan, it won’t sink into the crust, and it sets better overall without becoming gooey or soggy.
- Whisk together all the remaining ingredients. Whisk well, make sure the egg yolks are well broken up before heating. Stir constantly to keep the eggs from cooking on the bottom. The curd is ready when you can draw a line in the coating on the back of a spoon and the line stays. (photo 1)
- Remove from heat and pour through a mesh strainer to remove any lemon or egg bits.
- Pour the lemon filling over the warm crust. (photo 3)
- Smooth out the topping by tapping the sides if necessary (photo 4). Bake at 325 (160C) and bake for 20 minutes or until topping is set.
- It’s ok if the center is just slightly jiggly as you take it out of the oven, but I mean it should only be slightly.
- After it’s out of the oven for about 10 minutes, run a knife along the edges if they don’t have parchment paper on them to keep from cracking. Don’t pull out the bars until they have completely cooled.
Tips for Amazing Lemon Squares
- Don’t bake in aluminum foil or an aluminum pan. Aluminum can react with the acidity of the lemon juice and give the bars a metallic taste.
- A glass pan will need a little more time to bake than a ceramic one.
- This recipe is designed for a 9×13 dish, but you can cut it in half for an 8×8. The bars will be a bit thinner but just as delicious.
- Always strain your lemon egg topping before pouring! This will catch any lumps or bits of egg and create a smoother texture.
Fridge: These should be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator and enjoy within one week. If you like them room temperature rather than cold, pull a few out for an hour or two on the countertop and enjoy.
Freezer: These may be frozen for up to several months. Let cool completely and cut before freezing. I don’t add powdered sugar when freezing because the condensation as they come to temp may dissolve the sugar.
More Irresistible Summertime Treats
The area of an 8×8 is a little over half of a 9×13. The baking time will need to be adjusted and the bars will be a bit thinner, but you can divide the ingredients in half to make an 8×8 pan size.
Yes. Let cool completely and cut before freezing. Freeze in a single layer and dont add powdered sugar when freezing because the condensation as they come to temp may dissolve the sugar.
Yes, there is no flour in the lemon topping, so you would only need a gluten free flour of choice for the shortbread crust or use your favorite gluten free crust recipe.
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- 1 cup Unsalted Butter Room temperature
- ⅓ cup Granulated Sugar
- ⅓ cup Light Brown Sugar
- 1 lg Egg Yolk
- 1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- 2 ¼ cups All-Purpose Flour
- ½ teaspoon Salt
- 6 large Eggs
- 4 large Egg Yolks
- 1 cup Fresh Lemon Juice 6-8 lemons
- 2 cups Granulated Sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon Salt
- 1 cup Unsalted Butter 2 sticks, cut into tablespoons
- ½ teaspoon Vanilla Extract
- Powdered Sugar For dusting the tops
Make the crust.
- Preheat oven to 350 F (177C) and line a 9×13 inch glass or ceramic baking pan with parchment paper on the bottom and sides.
- Using an electric or stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Add sugars and beat until creamed and fluffy.
- Add egg yolks and vanilla extract, beat until well combined.
- In a small bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Add flour 1 cup at a time, pausing each time the flour is just starting to combine and scrape sides. Mix until well combined, but don't overmix the dough. The dough will be slightly crumbly.
- Put the dough in the baking dish and evenly press into the bottom of the pan. With a fork, gently prick the crust many times all over the bottom.
- Bake the crust on 370F (177C) for 20-25 minutes or until the edges are slightly browned.
Make the lemon Curd.
- While the crust is baking, stir eggs, egg yolks, lemon juice, sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan. Add butter and heat on stovetop over medium heat. Stir constantly but do not let the lemon topping boil. Stir until thickened, about 10-12 minutes or until the curd you can draw a line in the coating on the back of a spoon and it stays. (See photo in post).
- Remove from heat and pour through a mesh strainer to remove any lemon or egg bits.
- Pour the curd evenly over the crust (the crust does not need to cool). Return to oven and bake at 325 (160C) and bake for 20 minutes or until topping is set. The center will be just slightly jiggly in the center.
- Allow to cool at room temperature to keep from cracking. Then transfer to the refrigerator for 1-2 hours to cool completely. Dust evenly with powdered sugar and cut into squares.