These Lemon Bars are bursting with bright, fresh lemon flavor! A sweet-tart lemon filling tops a melt-in-your-mouth shortbread crust in this easy dessert recipe.
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The Best Lemon Bars
Lemon bars are the quintessential spring dessert. From their sunny yellow hue to their fresh, tart flavor, this lemon dessert recipe is the perfect way to welcome warmer days.
I’ve tried a lot of lemon bars over the years, many of them cloyingly sweet to the point where you almost couldn’t taste the fresh lemon flavor. When I set out to create this lemon bars recipe, I knew that I wanted the fresh lemon flavor to shine through. These lemon squares have a thick lemon layer that’s the perfect balance of sweet and tart. Using both lemon zest and a full cup of lemon juice in the filling ensures that the bars are bursting with bright lemon flavor.
The luscious lemon layer is baked atop a buttery shortbread crust that’s so tender it almost melts in your mouth. This texture is achieved by using powdered sugar to sweeten the crust, creaming it together with the butter.
Not only is this the best-tasting lemon bars recipe, it’s also incredibly easy to make! Watch my step-by-step recipe video to see the whole process. These lemon bars are one of my all-time favorite lemon desserts. Give them a try and I think you’ll agree that they are truly the best!
Lemon Bars Recipe Ingredients
You are going to love the simple ingredient list for this recipe! Here’s what you’ll need, including ingredient notes.
The Shortbread Crust:
- Butter: Makes the crust rich and buttery.
- Powdered Sugar: Using powdered sugar (rather than granulated sugar) in the crust makes it melt-in-your-mouth tender.
- Vanilla: For a touch of warm sweetness.
- Flour: Use regular all-purpose flour.
- Salt: To make all of the flavors pop.
The Lemon Filling:
Using both lemon zest and lemon juice in the filling gives these lemon bars incredible lemon flavor. You’ll use your fingers to work the lemon zest into the sugar, infusing the sugar (and the lemon bars) with fresh lemon flavor.
- Granulated Sugar: For sweetness.
- Lemon Zest and Juice: Be sure to use fresh lemon juice; you’ll need about 8 medium lemons for this recipe. First zest 3-4 of the lemons to get the 2 tablespoons of lemon zest. A microplane zester works perfect for this job. Then halve and juice the lemons.
- Flour: Adding a little bit of flour to the filling helps it to set up as it bakes.
- Eggs: You’ll need 6 large eggs. This may sound like a lot but the eggs provide structure, richness, and a creamy texture.
How to Make Lemon Bars
Cream together the butter and powdered sugar using an electric mixer. Mix in the vanilla, followed by the flour and salt. The dough may be crumbly; this is ok.
Firmly press the dough into a parchment paper-lined 9×13-inch baking dish, using your hands or an offset spatula. Then bake the crust until barely golden brown.
Meanwhile, combine the granulated sugar and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl. Use your fingers to work the zest into the sugar until fragrant.
Whisk in the flour. Then add the eggs and lemon juice and whisk until well combined.
Pour the lemon filling over the baked crust. Bake the lemon bars until the center is set and jiggles only slightly when you gently shake the pan.
Let the bars cool at room temperature for about an hour. Then chill them in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before slicing and serving. Sprinkle lemon bars with powdered sugar right before serving, if desired.
Find the full recipe including ingredient amounts and bake times in the recipe card below.
- Allow time for the butter and eggs to come to room temperature before starting the recipe. Using room temperature ingredients allows them to incorporate better when mixing.
- We like our lemon bars tart without an overpowering sweet flavor. These are pretty tart (and we love them that way!). If you want sweeter bars you can add another 1/4 cup of granulated sugar to the lemon filling.
- Pressing the crust evenly into the pan takes some time, but with a bit of effort it will press out into an even layer.
- To cut clean slices: Spray a sharp chef’s knife with cooking spray before slicing, and wipe off the knife with a damp paper towel as needed between cuts.
- If there are small bubbles on top of your lemon bars after baking, know that this is completely normal. You can hide them with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. Wait and sprinkle the powdered sugar on the cut bars right before serving.
Lemon bars keep well in the refrigerator and freezer.
- Refrigerator: Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Place a paper towel in the bottom of the container to absorb any moisture and place a sheet of parchment paper between layers of lemon bars.
- Freezer: Freeze in an airtight container for up to 3 months. Place a sheet of parchment paper between layers of lemon bars to keep them from sticking together.
For the Shortbread Crust
- 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
For the Lemon Filling
- 2 ¼ cups granulated sugar*
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest, from 3-4 medium lemons
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 6 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 cup fresh lemon juice, from about 8 medium lemons
- powdered sugar, optional, for serving
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 9×13-inch glass baking dish with cooking spray and line with parchment paper, leaving a slight overhang on the two long ends (this can be used to easily remove the lemon bars from the pan).
- To make the crust, cream together the butter and powdered sugar with a stand mixer or hand mixer until well combined. Mix in the vanilla extract. Then mix in the flour and salt until combined. The dough may be crumbly.
- Firmly press the dough into the prepared baking dish. (This takes a bit of work but be patient and it will press out into an even layer.) Bake for 17-20 minutes, until barely golden brown. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.
- To make the lemon filling, add the sugar and lemon zest to a large bowl. Use your fingers to work the zest into the sugar until fragrant.
- Add the flour and whisk until well combined.
- Add the eggs and lemon juice and whisk until well combined.
- Pour the lemon filling over the warm crust. Use oven mitts to carefully return the pan to the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes, until center is set and jiggles only slightly when you gently shake the pan. Let the bars cool at room temperature for about an hour, then chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before slicing and serving. To cut clean slices, lightly spray a sharp knife with cooking spray and wipe with a damp paper towel between cuts as needed.
- Sprinkle lemon bars with powdered sugar right before serving, if desired.
- Using 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar in the filling makes lemon bars that have plenty of bright, tart lemon flavor. If you like your lemon bars on the sweeter side, add another 1/4 cup granulated sugar to the filling. Similarly, I’ve also made these bars with just 2 cups of sugar and we really enjoyed them this way – perfect for those of you who like tart lemon bars.
- Store lemon bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Place a sheet of parchment paper between layers of lemon bars to keep them from sticking together.