The BEST Lemon Bars

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This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.

The ultimate lemon bars with tons of tangy lemon flavor and a simple shortbread crust. 

When life gives you lemons, you can make a whole lot more than lemonade! In addition to this recipe, you’ll love this lemon pie, this lemon curd, or these lemon cookies!

Up close shot of three lemon bars stacked on top of each other

Lemon Bars

These are the BEST lemon bars – ultra tangy, full of flavor, and the perfect proportion of crust to lemon topping, because everyone loves a good traditional lemon bar! I mean, if you like lemon that is. πŸ™‚

In my search for the perfect lemon bar, I read through hundreds of the reviews and then looked at some of the highest rated, best lemon squares recipes. I found the biggest complaint for the highest rated lemon bars recipes was that there is not enough lemon flavoring, too much crust to not enough lemon flavor, and that the crust needs more flavor. So I went about fixing these things to bring you what I believe to be the best homemade lemon bar!

Up close shot of lemons being pressed through a juicer for lemon bars

Lemon bars aren’t inherently difficult to make, but they do require some time. Here’s a quick overview.

How do you make lemon bars?

  • Use a glass pan – a metal pan often transfers a metallic taste to the lemon bars
  • Line the pan with parchment paper – this will make it much easier to get the lemon bars out
  • Use REAL lemons – the bottled lemon juice won’t cut it on these. Since this lemon bar recipe calls for actual lemon zest, you’ll need real lemons anyways.
  • Chill overnight – the flavors meld together really well in the fridge, making the bars that much more flavorful and tangy. Chilling overnight is not a must for this recipe, but if you have the time and plan ahead, I highly recommend it!

Process shots of creating easy lemon bars, showing the zest and sugar being mixed in a food processor

How many lemons make a cup of lemon juice?

A medium lemon will typically give you 2Β½-3 tablespoons of lemon juice, meaning you’d need 5-6 medium lemons for a cup of lemon juice. For this recipe, you need 2/3 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice or 3-4 medium lemons (4-5 small lemons).

How do you get more juice from a lemon?

  • Place the lemons in the microwave for 15-20 seconds
  • Knead the lemons with your hand against the counter for 20-3o seconds
  • Cut the lemon in half horizontally and juice the lemon using a juicer

How do you cut lemon bars?

  • Once they have cooled completely, place them in the fridge.
  • Leave in the fridge until cold (at least one hour, but I recommend overnight)
  • Cut them while they are cold out of the fridge, using a hot knife (run the knife under hot water, dry, make one cut, and repeat).

Step by step process shots of creating the custard for the lemon bars filling

FAQS:

How long do lemon bars last?

These bars can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days or in the freezer for up to one month.

Should these bars be refrigerated?

Yes, because of the eggs that give the lemon bars that delicious custard texture, they do need to be refrigerated if you don’t plan on eating them the same day. I recommend putting them in the fridge overnight anyways as it enhances the flavor, texture, makes them easier to cut, and I prefer them cold! Be sure to let the bars cool completely before putting them in the fridge!

Can I freeze lemon bars?

Yes! However, because the shortbread crust and the lemon custard freeze at different speeds, they need plenty of space to freeze. Place the cut bars on baking paper, leaving room around all four edges, and leave in freezer until frozen through (2-3 hours). Once frozen through, wrap each lemon bar individually with plastic wrap and store them in freezer for up to one month.

Step by step process shots of creating the lemon bars; the shortbread crust baked and then topped with the lemon custard filling

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The BEST Lemon Bars

4.88 from 25 votes
The ultimate lemon bar with tons of tangy lemon flavor and a simple shortbread crust. 
Print Recipe

The BEST Lemon Bars

4.88 from 25 votes
The ultimate lemon bar with tons of tangy lemon flavor and a simple shortbread crust. 
Course Dessert
Cuisine American
Keyword lemon bars
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 40 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Servings 1 (9 x 13 inch) pan
Calories 221kcal
Author Chelsea

Ingredients

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups white sugar, separated
  • 2 cups + 3 tablespoons white flour, separated*
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon salt, separated
  • 2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice ~4-5 small lemons
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract, optional
  • 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar

Instructions

  • Line a GLASS or CERAMIC 9 x 13 pan (metal pans tend to make the bars taste metallic) with parchment and lightly spray just the bottom with nonstick spray. Set aside.
  • In a bowl, beat together the softened butter, 1/2 cup white sugar, 2 cups of flour, almond extract, vanilla extract, and 3/4 teaspoon salt until well combined.
  • Press down evenly on the bottom of the pan and up the sides 1/2 inch and then place in the fridge for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove and bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly golden brown at the edges.
  • Meanwhile, place your lemons in the microwave for 15 seconds. Remove, and knead against the counter with your hand. (These two steps help to get your lemons super juicy.)
  • Very finely zest a lemon to get 2 teaspoons lemon zest. Be careful to avoid the white pith of the lemons as that will make your bars bitter. Juice the lemons until you have 2/3rds cup of lemon juice. Pulse the remaining 1 and 1/2 cups white sugar with the 2 teaspoons lemon zest in a food processor or blender -- just a few times to break down the zest and get it incorporated with the sugar.
  • Juice the lemons. Remove 3 tablespoons lemon juice and whisk it in a small separate bowl with the flour until smooth (this will make sure you don't have flour lumps in the mixture!). In another large bowl, lightly beat the 4 large eggs together. Add in the lemon juice along with the lemon juice + flour slurry. Add the sugar and zest mixture, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, lemon extract, and heavy whipping cream. Whisk until well combined. 
  • Pour evenly over the HOT crust through a fine mesh sieve (right out of the oven) and bake for another 18-22 minutes. Allow to cool and then chill in the fridge until the lemon layer is firm.
  • In my opinion these are best made the night before, stored in the fridge overnight, and enjoyed the next day!
  • Before enjoying, sprinkle the top of the bars with powdered sugar (through a fine mesh sieve). Slice and enjoy!

Video

Recipe Notes

*Make sure to spoon the flour into your measuring cup instead of pushing a measuring cup into a bag of flour. By spooning the flour in and then leveling your measurement you're getting the correct amount of flour. Pushing a measuring cup into flour is going to pack in way too much flour.

Nutrition Facts

Calories: 221kcal

DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE?

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Nutrition Facts for Lemon Bars

The ultimate BEST EVER Lemon Bars! These bars have tons of tangy lemon flavor and a simple shortbread crust via chelseasmessyapron.com #lemon #bars #squares #dessert #easy #quick #kidfriendly #delicious
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Recipe Rating




100 Comments

    1. 5 stars
      Wow!!! These are delicious! They were THE Favorite dessert for our Easter Sunday family gathering. So perfect! I doubled the recipe and added just a little more zest. We all love that extra tartness. Thank you for sharing! Happy Easter ?? ✝️?

      1. Ahh I am sooo happy to hear this! I’m so glad you guys enjoyed and I hope you had to best Easter! πŸ™‚

        1. This part always confuses me

          ” Juice the lemons until you have 2/3rds cup of lemon juice. Pulse the remaining 1 and 1/2 cups white sugar with the 2 teaspoons lemon zest in a food processor or blender — just a few times to break down the zest and get it incorporated with the sugar.”

          1. actually, even though ive succesfully made these lemon bars i will say that the directions need a rewrite. step 5 and 6 seem to be out of order…Why mention juicing the lemons after having already told us to make 2/3rd cup of lemon juice?? It highly confusing.

  1. I haven’t made lemon bars since recently becoming a lemon-dessert lover. I’ll be use to use all of your tips when I get around to it! Thanks =)

  2. These bars look perfect, Chelsea! Lemon desserts are my favorite! I know I would love to have a few of these for Mother’s Day or any other day!

  3. Your pictures look amazing as always! Your tips for making the best lemon bars are great… except for the fact that I don’t think I could last leaving them in the fridge overnight!! Seriously, just zero will power sadly

  4. Your lemon bars look so yummy and perfect. Amazing pictures. I made lemon bars few months ago, they were ok but nothing even near to your perfect ones. Will try this recipe and chope this time I will make good ones.

  5. Aside from the fact that these lemon bars are making my mouth water – you’re killing me with those colors! That blue makes these lemon bars pop that much more. Too bad they can’t just pop right onto my table πŸ˜‰

  6. 5 stars
    I made these for a big birthday bash last weekend, and they were well received! I had many people asking me how I got them to be so perfectly balanced. I loved this recipe and wouldn’t change a thing! Thank you for making me look good at this big event πŸ™‚

  7. 5 stars
    I’ve been trying it yesterday, and it’s delicious, but so incredibly sweet! Like – one bite and I have diabetes πŸ˜€ . It’s interesting, I’m a huge fan of you american foodporn bloggers (like you, cremedelacrumb, Pinch of Yum etc.) and I L-O-V-E your recipes, you make my life so much easier! You’re doing a wonderful job, BUT, each time I bake something according to american recipe, no one want to eat it, saying it’s too sweet. You must be used to completely different type of cakes.
    So yeah, hello from Europe πŸ˜€

    1. Hey Jane! So great to hear from you! Thank you so much for your kind compliments πŸ™‚ And yes! Desserts are definitely sweeter in the states πŸ™‚ My husband lived in England for 2 years and has told me how much sweeter our treats are!

    1. I would definitely line the metal pan with foil and the cook time will likely be a bit different πŸ™‚

  8. 5 stars
    Chelsea I made these today using a metal pan. They still came out perfect. Did not change to time but kept peeking in the oven window to make sure they were not overcooking. Delicious!

  9. 5 stars
    I made your lemon bars last night and too them to a event today. They are every bit as fabulous as you say.These will be my go-to lemon bar recipe from now on!! I have to say that refrigerating them overnight is a game-changer, and takes them on over-the-top!thanks

    1. I’m so thrilled to hear you had a great experience with these and they were a hit! πŸ™‚ Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment!

  10. 5 stars
    I made these for an extended family dinner, and they were very good. My only comment is that step 2 has adding the liquid vanilla to some pretty dry stuff, and I ended up with vanilla-soaked blobs at the end of step 2. It worked out okay, but I’d recommend mixing the vanilla with the butter then adding the sugar and flour. Thank you for the recipe!

  11. 5 stars
    I have made these bars twice, both times turned out fabulous!In reviewing my recipe, I noticed that I had made an error in copying it down correctly from the original..I had used 1 c sugar in the crust and 1 c in the filling.I am not changing a thing..they are the BEST. I get rave reviews every time I make them and they are VERY Lemony..I do use 1-2 tsp zest.Thanks for sharing this recipe!.

  12. 5 stars
    This was the first lemon bar I have ever made and it turned out great! Could you add other fruit to this? What changes would I make if I were to add raspberry puree?

  13. 5 stars
    My sister in law loves lemon bars, so I wanted to make her some really good ones for her birthday. These did not disappoint, and were the best lemon bars I have ever had. She agreed and demanded the recipe! Thank you!

  14. These look delicious! I am just wondering what the addition of the whipping cream does for the tartness/tangyness of these bars. This is the only recipe I’ve ever encountered for citrus bars that includes whipping cream… Could you explain? Thanks!!

  15. These baked and cut into squares nicely. But if I made these again I would change the almond extract to vanilla only in the crust. I only added 1 tsp of almond extract and it was still too strong and that flavor overtakes the lovely lemon flavor you want when making a lemon bar recipe. There also wasn’t enough lemon flavor in the custard for my taste.

    1. 5 stars
      Hi! I always find almond too strong so I added 1/2 tsp of almond and the crust didn’t have an overwhelming flavour!

  16. My daughter just made these and is disappointed because they haven’t firmed up yet. However, they’ve only been in the fridge for about an hour, maybe a little more. How long should it be before we see them firm up?
    Thanks in advance!

  17. The addition of lemon extract took away from the fresh lemon flavor. I found the extra steps of making a sugar and lemon slurry totally unnecessary. I have a favorite recipe that I will continue to use, but this is not it.

  18. I made another recipe very similar to this but the other recipe had no cream in the lemon topping and 6T of flour. The batter tasted flour-y to me and the top lemon layer ended up with heavy crackling after baking – like the Mohave Desert – very ugly. Might the cream prevent the crackling I experienced? Other recipes indicated that bubbling might occur – but mine was just super heavy cracks all over the top. Thanks

  19. 5 stars
    I don’t review recipes unless they’re exceptional, and this one absolutely was. I had been searching for days and resigned myself to either combining 5 recipes as all were missing at least one factor on their own, or making a labor-intensive stovetop lemon curd version of lemon bars requiring close to a dozen yolks for a 9” square yield. Wow. I am never going back. This was the best of all worlds and the shortbread could stand alone. And most recipes that say the dish improves with time are being generous, but these truly did! For reference, I made the recipe exactly as written with no alterations, but doubled and used a 13” x 18” half sheet pan for a crowd. Everyone agreed, these were the best. Loved the addition of cream in the filling. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I can’t wait to peruse your other recipes now.

  20. Quick question:
    Do you usually add your optional almond & lemon extracts? I’m happy to, but I just wanted to see what you normally prefer.
    Thanks~ I’m excited to make it for a group of ladies this week!

    1. I do! πŸ™‚ (Why I write optional: a lot of readers don’t have the extracts and so I want this recipe to be accessible for them as well.) The bars work either way, I like them best with the extracts added. Enjoy!

  21. 5 stars
    This dessert was a big hit. The foodies in the group raved about the hint of almond in the shortbread crust. This recipe is a keeper!

  22. Love that you added almond extract along with vanilla into the crust! And the recommendation to cut them cold with a hot knife… game changer!

  23. 5 stars
    Great recipe but one thing that doesnt make sense it step #3 says to bake crust then remove and set aside then down to step #7 after making the lemon topping it says explicitly to pour mixture over HOT crust right out of oven but step 3 says to remove and set aside. please fix and or clarify i just poured over hot and ignored step 3

    1. Yes it’s supposed to be poured over the hot crust! While the crust is baking everything else should be prepared so it can be poured over. Hope that helps!

  24. When you say mix the lemon zest with flour, do you mean the flour mixture- or the remaining 3 tbsp of flour that was separated?
    Thanks in advance!

  25. Unfortunately passing mixture through mesh removed the zest from my filling☹️
    I didn’t have any flour clumps so now wish that I wouldn’t have poured filling through mesh into hot crust – unable to add zest back without it being in clumps

  26. I made these with Meyer lemons from my backyard and the bars were outstanding! So lemony! My only question is they are a little wet on top and the powdered sugar melts. Is there a way to prevent that?

    1. I think that happens with all lemon bars; I’d recommend just sprinkling a couple times with powdered sugar and doing it right before serving πŸ™‚

  27. I made these last night, the lemon filling turned out perfectly, unfortunately I completely failed at the crust. Gonna try them again tonight, any tips for the crust?

    All purpose flour right? Unsalted butter?
    Maybe I put too much in the pan when I baked, crust was huge.

    I want to perfect these!

  28. 5 stars
    These lemon tarts are perfect! I am always disappointed with other recipes because they aren’t lemony enough. I followed the recipe to the tee except that I added 1/2 tsp of almond to the crust (which was just a suggestion anyway). I added the lemon extract (another suggestion) which I don’t usually do and found it did not taste fake at all in this recipe. Thanks for sharing!

  29. 5 stars
    These are so so so good! Thank you for the easy to follow directions! Everybody was very impressed with this bake

  30. 5 stars
    I was searching for a lemon bar recipe for my husband’s birthday dessert and happened to come across yours. I was able to make the bars the night before his birthday, and they set up so well. The tart, lemon flavor is exactly how we like it. He said they were a hit. πŸ™‚ Thank you!

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