Lemon Bars: a beloved classic treat! Buttery shortbread crust, tangy lemon filling, and a dusting of powdered sugar on top. So bright, citrusy, & happy!
Original publish date: January 31, 2019.
When it comes to desserts that are easy to tote, bars win hands-down. Just stack ’em and pack ’em, and you’re good to go!
But the list wouldn’t be complete without that beloved classic: lemon bars! These are synonymous with bake sales and springtime get-togethers, but I especially enjoy them during the cold winter months because the lemon flavor brings a warm ray of sunshine with every bite.
These lemon bars consist of a buttery, crumbly shortbread base, topped with a sticky layer of gooey lemon goodness (similar to thick lemon curd) and a generous dusting of powdered sugar on top to balance all the flavors.
You get a buttery, almost savory crust, bright, tangy citrus, and sweet sugar. It’s an incredible combination!
Table of Contents
- Why this is the best lemon bar recipe
- Variations and substitutions
- Special Equipment
- How to make this lemon bars recipe
- Baking tips
- How to serve
- How to store and keep
- A few more of my favorite dessert bar recipes:
Why this is the best lemon bar recipe
Simple: This recipe is quick and easy to make, with just a few simple ingredients you probably already have on hand.
Refreshing: Lemon bars are so bright and cheery!
Contrast: The crumbly shortbread crust against the creamy lemon filling provides the most incredible contrast of textures!
Timeless: Lemon bars are a total classic, and this recipe honors that traditional, nostalgic flavor.
All-purpose flour is my go-to, but you can swap it out for any kind of whole-grain option if you like. You may need slightly less if you go that route.
A gluten-free flour blend that can sub 1:1 for regular flour should also work just fine, if you’d like to make gluten-free lemon bars.
You can sub in another type of sweetener if you like. As long as it swaps 1:1 for granulated sugar it should work.
Salt carries the flavors and intensifies them. The end result won’t taste salty, but it will make everything so much more flavorful!
I like kosher salt best because it doesn’t have any additives so the flavor is pure. Table salt usually contains iodine which can leave a bitter taste. It’s also inexpensive and easy to find in a regular grocery store.
I like to use unsalted butter because it lets me control the amount of salt in the dish. Different brands of butter can contain different amounts of salt, so this way you get a more consistent result.
For a vegan or dairy-free lemon bar recipe, use a plant-based product that can substitute for dairy butter 1:1.
Eggs build the cake’s structure and add richness. It’s best if they’re at room temperature, although I don’t find this to be critical.
Use large chicken eggs or a plant-based product that subs 1:1.
I highly recommend using fresh lemon juice for this recipe- the flavor is amazing!
If they are in season and you can find them, Meyer lemons provide an amazing, less tart flavor.
Variations and substitutions
Gluten-free: Swap the all-purpose flour with your favorite gluten-free 1:1 baking flour.
Dairy-free: Replace the butter with a plant-based alternative (like vegan margarine).
Ginger lemon bars: Infuse a touch of warmth by adding finely grated fresh ginger to the lemon filling. You could use a pinch or two of ground ginger too if you like.
- 8×8 Pan: For baking the bars.
- Non-stick spray: Prevents the lemon bars from sticking to the pan. So your bars can be easily lifted from the pan.
- Parchment paper: Used to line the baking pan so that it’s easy to lift the bars out onto the cutting board for slicing.
- Mixing bowl: In which to mix up the ingredients.
- Whisk: For combining the ingredients smoothly.
- Pastry blender: To cut the cold butter into the flour to create a flaky crust.
- Microplane grater: To remove the zest from the lemon.
- Silicone spatula: For folding the ingredients together and to help get every last bit out of the bowl!
How to make this lemon bars recipe
Step 1: Make the crust
Place the flour, powdered sugar, and salt in a large bowl and give it all a quick whisk to combine.
Next, add the cold, cubed butter.
Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Press this mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan in an even layer.
And bake until set.
Step 2: Make the filling
While the shortbread crust is baking, whisk the sugar, flour, eggs, lemon zest, and lemon juice together in a medium bowl.
Pour this lemon mixture over the partially baked crust (it’s totally fine if it’s still warm!) and bake until the filling is set.
Step 3: Cut and garnish
Cool completely, cut into squares, and dust with powdered sugar for the prettiest garnish!
- Line the pan: With parchment paper, leaving some overhang on the sides. This makes lifting the lemon bars out of the pan really easy.
- Use cold, cubed butter when making the shortbread crust: This helps create a tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture.
- Don’t overmix: Be cautious not to overmix the shortbread crust. Overmixing can lead to a tough crust.
- Press evenly: An even layer of crust ensures consistent baking, so you won’t end up with some spots that are underdone and others that are burnt.
- Use fresh lemons for the zest and juice: It gives the most vibrant and authentic citrus flavor in this lemon dessert recipe!
- Don’t overbake: Keep a close eye on the bars as they bake. Overbaking can result in dry, gummy lemon bars. The center should be set with a slight jiggle. Keep in mind, they will continue to set up a lot as they cool.
- Cool completely: Allow the lemon bars to cool completely in the pan before lifting them and cutting them into squares. This helps them set properly and ensures clean, neat slices.
Lemon bar filling can sometimes be a little tricky! It’s meant to be sticky and a little gooey, so sometimes it can be hard to tell when it’s done.
If you look at your bars after the recommended bake time and the filling looks loose, runny, or too liquid, give them more time.
You’ll know your lemon bars are done when the edges start turning golden and the filling is mostly set with a slight wobble in the center.
Lemon bars can be tricky to get out of the pan if you don’t know what you’re doing!
That top layer tends to be pretty sticky, so it’s not as simple as just flipping them onto a cutting board.
I recommend misting your pan with non-stick spray and lining it with parchment before assembling the bars. If you’re unsure what that looks like, check out this post: How to Line Pans with Parchment. If you’ve done it right, you will have some overhang on two sides. This overhang works just like a handle.
Run a thin, sharp knife blade around the sides, then grasp the parchment “handles” firmly, and the bars should lift right out.
Place them on a cutting board and cut into bars.
I like to use a pastry scraper, pushing straight down through and rinsing it with hot water after each cut. It works so great!
I should also say that it’s best to cut your bars once they are completely cool. If they are still warm when cut, things could get messy!
If you really vigorously whip the filling it can incorporate air bubbles into the mixture. When mixing, try to combine the ingredients until just incorporated to avoid overmixing.
How to serve
Cut the cooled lemon bars into neat squares or rectangles using a sharp knife.
Arrange them on a serving platter for a clean and classic presentation.
Just before serving, dust the tops of the lemon bars with a layer of powdered sugar.
If you’d like, grate a little extra fresh lemon zest over the top.
How to store and keep
Room temperature: If you plan on eating your lemon bars within a day or so, there is no need to refrigerate them. Place the bars in an airtight container, stacking them with a parchment or wax paper sheet between each layer.
Refrigerate: If they are out for longer than a day, then it’s time to pop them into the refrigerator. Place them in an airtight container with a sheet of parchment paper between layers. They will last for up to a week when refrigerated.
Freezer: You can also freeze lemon bars! They should keep in the freezer for 2-3 months. Be sure to wrap them tightly in plastic wrap, then place them in a freezer-safe bag labeled with the date. Thaw them at room temperature for a few hours before serving.
I KNOW that these lemon bars will put a smile on everybody’s face! How could anyone not feel happy with one of these sunny, sweet treats in their hand?? Enjoy!
A few more of my favorite dessert bar recipes:
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For the shortbread crust
To make the shortbread crust
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, mist an 8×8 pan with non-stick spray, and line with parchment.
- Place the flour, powdered sugar, and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine.
- Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
- Press the mixture into the bottom of the prepared pan in an even layer, and bake until set (approximately 20 to 25 minutes).
To make the lemon filling
- Whisk the sugar, flour, eggs, lemon zest, and lemon juice together in a large bowl.
- Pour the filling over the partially-baked crust and bake until the filling is set (approximately 25 to 35 minutes).
- Cool completely, cut into squares, and dust with powdered sugar for garnish.