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The Best Lemon Bars

Easy to make and always a crowd-pleaser, these easy lemon bars are tart with a sweet finish and a buttery shortbread crust.

a closeup of a stack of three lemon bars

I’ve been around lemon bars far more often than the average person.

In my early 20’s, during my time living in Orange County, CA, a good friend and roommate of mine was the manager for a popular local restaurant. He made lemon bars for his staff; they loved them so much that they encouraged him to sell them to customers.

He spent weeks – probably more like months – perfecting the recipe until he began selling so many that he couldn’t keep up with demand. For him, it was just a fun (and profitable) side gig that made his daily grind more enjoyable.

During the time that he was testing his recipe, I ate more lemon bars than I have during all the other years of my life combined. It was fun (and delicious) tasting each new batch, providing feedback, and enjoying the fruits of his labor. We lost touch after that, and in recent years, I’ve developed and tweaked my own lemon bars recipe. It was just as fun and probably more so! And – dare I say it – I prefer my recipe, although both could hold their ground with a hungry crowd.

These lemon bars fall on the tart side but they’re balanced with the sweetness from the powdered sugar that’s sprinkled on after cooling. They have the perfect balance of crust to lemon filling with a fantastic texture contrast between the crumbly shortbread crust and luscious lemon curd.

a stack of three lemon bars next to a cup of tea

How do you make lemon bars from scratch?

Making lemon bars from scratch is done in two parts. First, you make a shortbread crust using just four ingredients: butter, flour, sugar, and salt. Bake the crust and allow it to cool.

Next, make the lemon filling with just five ingredients: more flour and sugar, plus some lemon juice, lemon zest, and eggs. After a lot of testing, I found that an extra egg yolk made for a slightly more rich and smooth lemon filling. Once that’s mixed together, pour it over the shortbread crust and bake it again. Cool it to room temperature, then refrigerate to allow the bars to set up perfectly.

Then simply dust them with powdered sugar, cut into bars, and serve! I like to add a few fresh raspberries to each plate if I have them on hand, too.

a stack of two lemon bars on a white plate with a silver fork

Can I substitute purchased lemon juice for the fresh lemon juice?

There’s simply no comparison for fresh lemon juice that’s been squeezed from fresh lemons. Please don’t make any substitutions or your lemon bars won’t turn out. At the very least they won’t be nearly as good.

How much lemon juice is in a lemon?

A medium-sized lemon will give you about 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice. This recipe calls for 2/3 cup of fresh lemon juice, so you’ll need at least 3 medium-sized lemons. I always err on the side of caution and will typically buy at least 4 large lemons. The last thing you want is not to have enough lemons when you’re in the middle of making a recipe.

If you do find that you’re a little short on lemon juice, not to worry. The bars will still be delicious, they’ll just be slightly sweeter. Use a bit less flour than called for if you do use less lemon juice (omit about a tablespoon).

a closeup of a stack of three lemon bars

How do I know when my lemon bars are done?

You’ll know your lemon bars are ready to come out of the oven when they’re starting to brown on the edges and the center is still slightly “jiggly”. You don’t want them to be completely firm but also not too “wet”. A slightly wobbly center is perfect as the bars will firm up as they cool.

How do you cut lemon bars cleanly?

To make perfect cuts, have a bowl of warm water nearby while you’re cutting the bars. Wet the knife in the warm water, wipe it clean with a dry dish towel, and make one cut. Repeat the process until the lemon bars are completely cut.

Do lemon bars need to be refrigerated?

You’ll need to keep your lemon bars refrigerated due to the eggs in the recipe. Keep them covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.

two lemon bars on a white plate next to a cup of tea

Can you freeze lemon bars?

Lemon bars freeze beautifully! I’ve kept ours frozen for as long as 3 months with no issues. To freeze them, place the bars individually on a sheet pan, just barely touching. Place them in the freezer for an hour, then remove them and tightly wrap each one individually with plastic wrap. Place them in a large freezer bag (try to stack them neatly if you can) and freeze up to three months.

To enjoy them from frozen, let them thaw at room temperature for about an hour.

If you’re looking for even more lemon desserts, I highly recommend trying these Lemon Cake Mix Cookies, and if you have an Instant Pot, this Instant Pot Lemon Cheesecake with a Gingersnap Crust.

Definitely don’t miss the most popular recipe on this website (for good reason as it’s SO simple and good!), these Crispy Baked Lemon Pepper Wings that uses just four ingredients. You can even make your own Lemon Pepper Seasoning if you’re so inclined!

a closeup of a stack of three lemon bars

The Best Lemon Bars

Yield: 20 bars
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes

These lemon bars have the perfect balance of crust to lemon filling with a fantastic texture contrast between the crumbly shortbread crust and luscious lemon curd.

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp coarse salt

For the lemon layer

  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs + 1 egg yolk, beaten
  • 2/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • zest from 2 lemons

Topping

  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar, more to taste (optional)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until it's light and fluffy, about 1-2 minutes. Add the flour and mix just until it's combined.
  3. Press the crust mixture into the bottom of an ungreased 11x7 baking dish. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the crust is firm and starting to brown. Remove from the oven and cool the crust to room temperature.
  4. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk the flour and sugar together to completely combine. Add the eggs, lemon juice and zest, and mix thoroughly.
  5. Pour the lemon filling over the crust and bake for another 20 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
  6. Dust the top of the bars with the powdered sugar. Cut into bars and serve.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 20 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 238Total Fat: 11gSaturated Fat: 6gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 71mgSodium: 117mgCarbohydrates: 34gFiber: 1gSugar: 22gProtein: 3g

This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix.

Kristy Bernardo
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