These easy homemade lemon bars are bursting with tart lemon flavor thanks to a triple whammy of lemon juice, lemon zest and lemon oil or extract. The filling is silky smooth and the shortbread crust is so buttery it literally melts in your mouth.
"I made these Lemon Bars today and I must say that they are the best I have ever made. They are soooo DELICIOUS. I have made lemon bars for many years and used many different recipes but have never used one that was as good as this one. A real winner. Thanks for sharing it." - Del
This recipe is exactly what I want a lemon bar to be. The filling is impossibly smooth and the shortbread crust literally melts on your tongue.
Here's what makes these lemon bars so freaking delicious:
- I wanted the shortbread crust to be as meltingly tender and buttery as possible. So, I opted for powdered sugar instead of granulated sugar AND replaced some of the all-purpose flour with cornstarch. Powdered sugar gives the shortbread a much softer texture and contributes to that delicious melt-in-your-mouth sensation. Replacing some of the flour with cornstarch lowers the protein content so that the shortbread is ultra tender.
- Triple the lemon flavor. I wanted these lemon bars to have a super intense lemon flavor. To maximize the lemon flavor while keeping a rich, silky texture I used a triple whammy of lemon juice, lemon zest, AND lemon extract. Instead of lemon extract, you can also use lemon oil. I included more information in the recipe notes about the pros and cons of each.
- Egg yolks and milk create a custardy texture. To achieve the silkiest, richest possible texture to the lemon filling, I added a couple of extra egg yolks and whole milk. The extra fat gives these bars a creamy custardy filling, that's just firm enough to hold its shape.
- Salt! If you've been around here for a while, you know how much I love to get on my salt soapbox. Most sweet recipes simply do not have enough salt. In this recipe, salt brings out the flavor in the other ingredients AND brings balance to the delicate dance between sweet and tart.
- Vanilla smooths everything out. There's something about vanilla that adds a smoothness to lemon, rounding out the corners and tamping down the bitterness without muting the flavor.
"I’ve made these bars several times, at least 8 or 9 times, and well on my way to a batch tonight. These bars always receive praise and are gone immediately, no sooner than they are placed out. You’ll love these bars, they’re tart with a subtle sweetness and buttery crust. Everyone loves them!" - Jason Todd
How to Make Lemon Bars
Lemon bars, also called lemon squares, is a simple lemon dessert consisting of a shortbread crust topped with a creamy lemon curd filling. They are easy to make and easy to transport. These lemon bars bars, this old fashioned ice box lemon pie, and these giant oatmeal raisin cookies are my three favorite crowd pleasing treats to bring to picnics and backyard BBQs, bake sales, or any kind of party or gathering.
The process for making homemade lemon bars is easy enough for bakers of all skill levels and this is one of my favorite things to make with kids.
Pro tip: Using a food processor is a super easy method for making the shortbread crust. But, if you don't have one, don't worry. Simply use your fingers to rub the butter and lemon zest into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles bread crumbs.
Add flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch, and salt to the bowl of a food processor and give it a pulse just to combine the ingredients.
Add the butter and lemon zest (make sure the butter is cold), and pulse a few times, just until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Sprinkle the mixture across the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish.
Use your fingers to press it into an even layer that covers the bottom of the pan and comes ½-inch up the sides. Cover the pan and pop it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, or up to 24 hours.
Remove the crust from the refrigerator and bake it uncovered at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
It's important to pour the lemon filling over the crust while it's still warm. So, make the filling while the shortbread crust is in the oven.
Add the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and flour to a medium-sized bowl and use a wire whisk to whip it until it's well combined.
Add the remaining filling ingredients (lemon juice, lemon zest, milk, salt, vanilla, and lemon oil or lemon extract) and whisk some more just to blend everything together.
When the shortbread crust is done baking, remove it from the oven, reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees and pour the filling right on to the freshly baked, warm crust.
Bake until the lemon filling feels set when touched, 23-30 minutes. Remove from the oven to a wire rack and allow the bars to cool completely in the pan.
That's it. Easy breezy.
How to Store and Freeze Lemon Bars
Lemon bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for about 24 hours, and in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. As the days go by, the dusting of powdered sugar has a tendency to disappear into the top of the bars, but the flavor and texture will remain delicious for several days.
You can also freeze lemon bars for up to 3 months. Let the bars cool completely then cut them into squares and place them on a flat plate or baking sheet. Freeze for about an hour, until they are mostly firm.
Then remove them from he freezer and wrap each bar individually in a small piece of plastic wrap. Put all the wrapped bars in a zip-top bag or other airtight container and pop them back into the freezer.
Thaw the bars in the refrigerator overnight and give them a dusting of powdered sugar right before serving.
FAQs and Tips for Making the Best Lemon Bars
A: You can use fresh or bottled lemon juice in this recipe, but freshly squeezed is best. Bottled juice doesn't always have the same bright flavor as freshly squeezed lemon juice does.
Having said that, if lemons aren't in season, and the ones at your supermarket feel like hard little golf balls, using bottled lemon juice is probably the better choice. My favorite brand is Santa Cruz Organic Lemon Juice.
A: Yes! Cutting the recipe in half is easy if you measure the ingredients by weight, or remember that there are 16 tablespoons in a cup. So, for example, 1 ¾ cup of flour is 28 tablespoons. To make half the recipe, use 14 tablespoons of flour.
Bake a half batch in a 9-inch square baking dish at the same temperature as directed in the recipe. Bake the shortbread crust for 15 minutes and the lemon bars for 18 minutes, or until the center doesn't jiggle if you shake the pan gently.
A: Yes! Use any kind of citrus juice you like in place of the lemon juice in these bars. Grapefruit, blood orange, lime, or regular orange, and tangelo all work well. Use zest from the same fruit but I still recommend adding the lemon oil or lemon extract.
If the juice is quite sweet, like orange and tangelo tend to be, reduce the amount of sugar to 1 cup + 2 tablespoons.
A Funny Story About Living in a Family of Lemon Lovers
I live in a family of lemon lovers. Lemon Blueberry Muffins and Lemon Loaf Cake are two of my oldest old daughter's favorite foods. And, my youngest daughter loves lemons so much that she eats them straight - like an orange. I blame their father.
When our first born was a baby, my husband decided to put a drop of lemon juice on his finger and place it in our son's mouth just to see his reaction. (Oh, come on. We were young and poor, and in desperate need of cheap entertainment.)
My husband was all geared up to laugh at a scrunched up baby face. Instead, our infant son, opened his big eyes wide and licked at his lips like it was the best thing he'd ever tasted. And just like that, the evening's entertainment crashed and burned.
My husband tried this trick with both of our girls as well only to receive the same reaction. It was our first lesson in the fact that as parents, you have shockingly little control over your kids. They are born with their own little personalities, likes and dislikes largely hardwired in there, and you can't really do a damn thing about it.
Which is fine because... who needs that kind of pressure? 😊
More Popular Lemon Recipes:
- Lemon Loaf Cake
- Olive Oil Cake with Lemon Mascarpone Cream
- Berry Lemon Snack Cake
- Lemon Ricotta Pancakes with Blueberry Sauce
- Mixed Berry Lemon Custard Tart
If you give this recipe a try, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, or take a picture and tag it #ofbatteranddough on Instagram.
For the crust:
- 1 ¾ cup (210 grams) all-purpose flour
- ⅔ cup (76 grams) powdered sugar/ confectioners sugar
- ¼ cup (28 grams) cornstarch
- ¾ teaspoon (4.5 grams) table salt - OR 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 12 tablespoons (170 grams/ 6 ounces) cold salted butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
For the lemon bar filling:
- 4 large eggs + 2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
- 1 ⅓ cups (266 grams) of granulated sugar
- ¼ cup (30 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- ⅔ cup (162 grams) lemon juice (about 3 large lemons)
- ⅓ cup (76 grams) of whole milk
- ½ teaspoon (3 grams) table salt - OR ¾ teaspoon kosher salt)
- 1 teaspoon (5 grams) pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon lemon extract - Or, 2-3 drops lemon oil. (*See note)
- Additional powdered sugar for sprinkling over the tops of the bars
Prepare the Shortbread Crust:
- Prepare a 9×13-inch baking dish: Make a foil sling by laying 2 long sheets of aluminum foil perpendicular to each other over the baking dish. The foil should be long enough to cover the pan and fold over the sides of the pan a few inches. Press the foil into the pan to cover the inside completely. Spray the foil with non-stick baking spray or brush with melted butter. Fold the overhanging foil over the sides of the pan. The overhang will help you lift the lemon bars from the pan after baking.
- Add the flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until combined.
- Add the butter and lemon zest, and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
- Sprinkle the mixture over the bottom of a 9×13-inch baking dish and press into an even layer that covers the bottom of the pan and comes ½-inch up the sides. Cover and refrigerate the crust for 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350° F (176° C). Remove the crust from the refrigerator and bake uncovered for 20 minutes, until a light golden brown.
It's important to pour the filling into the crust while it's still warm, so prepare the filling while the crust is baking:
- Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and flour in a medium-sized bowl until well combined. Add the remaining filling ingredients and whisk to blend well.
- Reduce oven temperature to 325° F (162° C) and pour the filling into a freshly baked, warm crust.
- Bake until the lemon filling feels set when touched, 23-30 minutes. Remove from the oven to a wire rack and allow the bars to cool completely in the pan.
- When the bars are cool, lift them from the pan using the foil sling and cut them into bars with a sharp knife. Sprinkle the tops with powdered sugar and serve. The bars will keep at room temperature for up to 1 day or refrigerated for up to 5 days.
- Lemon extract is relatively inexpensive and generally pretty easy to find. However, it can have a sharp, slightly bitter taste.
- Lemon oil is a good alternative and even if your local market doesn't carry it, it can be purchased online. See the links below for the brands I recommend. Lemon oil is more concentrated than lemon extract, so use it sparingly.
- Lemon bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for about 24 hours, and in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- You can freeze lemon bars for up to 3 months. Let the bars cool completely then cut them into squares and place them on a flat plate or baking sheet. Freeze for about an hour, until they are mostly firm. Then remove them from the freezer and wrap each bar individually in a small piece of plastic wrap. Put all the wrapped bars in a zip-top bag or other airtight container and pop them back into the freezer.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 24 Serving Size: 1 bar
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 193Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 70mgSodium: 189mgCarbohydrates: 29gFiber: 0gSugar: 20gProtein: 3g