The BEST Lemon Bars

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These Lemon Bars start with a simple shortbread crust and are topped with a tangy, sweet, and creamy lemon topping. Sprinkle on some powdered sugar for the perfect finishing touch!

Love lemony desserts? You’ll love this creamy Lemon Pie, this homemade Lemon Curd, our favorite Lemon Tart, or these Lemon Cookies!

Up-close shot of three Lemon Bars stacked on top of each other

What Do Lemon Bars Taste Like?

In my mind, the perfect Lemon Bar recipe starts with a light, tender, and sweet crust that holds up texturally to the lemony topping. The shortbread should be the right amount of sweet to perfectly balance the tart, bright lemon custard. The custard needs to be balanced — tart, yet sweet with a smooth creamy mouthfeel.

And finally, there needs to be a clear distinction between crust and custard (as opposed to a bar that runs together).

But with all these requirements for flavor and texture, I also don’t want the bars to be crazy involved or intense to make. This Lemon Bars recipe doesn’t require a long list of strange or fancy ingredients. No complicated methods either — in fact, we use a blender to make the filling as quick, simple, and easy as possible.

Up-close shot of lemons being pressed through a juicer for Lemon Bars

How To Make Lemon Bars

The full recipe is below, but here are my top tips for tasty Lemon Bars:

  • Use a glass pan. A metal pan can transfer a metallic taste to the bars.
  • Line the pan with parchment paper. This will make it much easier to get the bars out and slice them into clean bars.
  • Use real lemons. The bottled lemon juice won’t cut it on these, flavor-wise. Since this lemon bar recipe calls for actual lemon zest, you’ll need real lemons anyways.
  • Don’t rush chilling. The flavors meld together really well in the fridge, making the bars that much more flavorful and tangy. The time in the fridge also allows time for the custard to firm and fully set up, so leave ample time for enough chilling.
  • Do not over-blend. To keep the filling as easy as possible to make, we blend all the ingredients together. However, you do not want to blend for an extended time. This will cause too many air bubbles to form.

Process shots of Lemon Bars-- images of the butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, and flour being creamed together

What Are Lemon Bars Made Of?

A few ingredients worth going into detail about: 

  • Lemon zest. When zesting the lemon, avoid the white pith of the lemon — this is very bitter. Using a microplane (like this one), zest only the very outside yellow part of the lemon for this recipe. 
  • Lemon extract. Not to be confused with lemon juice, lemon extract is a flavor enhancer (just like vanilla extract) that gives these bars a more intense citrusy lemon flavor. Lemon extract can usually be found near other baking extracts and spices in the grocery store; I recommend using a pure lemon extract.
  • Butter: The better the butter, the richer the flavor of the shortbread. We love Challenge® Butter. Choose unsalted to have perfect control over the amount of salt in the dough.
  • Vanilla: We love adding vanilla bean paste to add even more flavor and nuance to the crust. That said, a pure vanilla extract also works well.
  • Heavy cream: Perhaps a unique ingredient for Lemon Bars, but I swear by this addition! It helps balance the tartness and adds a nice creaminess to the custard.

Process shots-- images of the sugar, lemon zest, flour, eggs, salt, lemon juice, lemon extract, and cream being added to a blender

How To Get More Juice From Lemons

  • Microwave the lemons 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.

QUICK TIP

This citrus juicer makes juicing the lemons a breeze! You’ll have 2/3 cup in no time at all!

Process shots of Lemon Bars-- images of the dough being pressed into a pan; baking the crust; then adding the lemon filling and baking

STORAGE

Can I Freeze Homemade Lemon Bars?

Yes! However, because the shortbread crust and the lemon custard freeze at different speeds, they need plenty of space to freeze.

  • Cut the bars out and set them on a lined sheet pan, leaving room around all four edges.
  • Place in the freezer until frozen through (2-3 hours).
  • Once frozen through, wrap each lemon bar individually with plastic wrap and store them in a large bag or container and freeze for up to 3 months.

Overhead image of the dessert fresh out of the oven

Lemon Bars FAQs

1How long do Lemon Bars last?

These bars can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4-6 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

2Do you keep Lemon Bars in the fridge?

Yes, it’s best to store Lemon Bars in the fridge because of the egg-based lemon custard.

Additionally, refrigerating the bars enhances the flavor and texture, makes them easier to cut, and they taste better cold!

Be sure to let the bars cool completely before putting them in the fridge. Cover leftover bars with plastic wrap and pop them in the fridge.

3How many lemons make a cup of lemon juice?

A medium lemon will typically give you 2½-3 tablespoons of lemon juice. That means 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).

4How do you cut Lemon Bars cleanly?

  • Once the Lemon Bars have cooled completely, place them in the fridge.
  • Leave in the fridge until cold and firmly set.
  • 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 this process until all the bars are cut out.

5How do you tell if your Lemon Bars are done?

The best way to check for doneness is by jiggling the pan. When you jiggle the pan, the top lemon custard should wiggle like firm Jell-O.

Looser wiggle? Not quite done. No wiggle? Bars may be overcooked.

6How do you remove the bars from pans?

Before making the bars, line the pan with parchment paper, leaving some as an overhang. You can then pull this overhang to remove the entire slab of bars from the pan to a cutting board or surface.

7Why are my Lemon Bars white on top?

If you find your bars have a white, slightly foamy layer on top — this is totally normal. This is just the layer of air bubbles from the eggs rising to the surface.

Plus, you’ll be topping your bars with powdered sugar so no one will be able to tell. 🙂

8Why are my Lemon Bars not yellow?

Perhaps surprisingly, most Lemon Bars are not actually a vibrant yellow — more often, they’re an off-white color. This is because of the air bubbles rising to the surface and because lemon juice does not have a dark intense yellow color.

9Why are my Lemon Bars runny?

This is most likely from an under-baked crust or under-baked bars as a whole.

More Citrus-Based Desserts:

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Lemon Bars

4.84 from 30 votes
These Lemon Bars start with a simple shortbread crust and are topped with a tangy, sweet, and creamy lemon topping. Sprinkle on some powdered sugar for the perfect finishing touch!
Print Recipe

Lemon Bars

4.84 from 30 votes
These Lemon Bars start with a simple shortbread crust and are topped with a tangy, sweet, and creamy lemon topping. Sprinkle on some powdered sugar for the perfect finishing touch!
Course Dessert, treat
Cuisine American, Vegetarian
Keyword lemon bars, lemon bars recipe
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Chilling Time 4 hours
Total Time 5 hours 15 minutes
Servings 24 bars (9x13-inch pan)
Calories 184kcal
Author Chelsea Lords
Cost $6.43

Equipment

  • Fine mesh strainer
  • 9x13-inch non-metal pan

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (16 tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature (Note 1)
  • 2 cups white granulated sugar, separated
  • 2 cups + 3 tablespoons white flour, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or 1-1/2 tsp vanilla extract)
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt, separated
  • 2/3 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (~4-5 lemons)
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest (Note 2)
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract, optional (Note 3)
  • 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
  • Powdered sugar, for topping bars

Instructions

  • PREP: Line a CERAMIC 9x13-inch pan (don't use a metal pan -- it will make the bars taste metallic) with parchment paper, leaving an overhang of paper for easy bar removal. Lightly spray the pan with nonstick spray and set aside.
  • SHORTBREAD CRUST: In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment (or use a bowl and hand mixer), beat together the room temperature butter and 1/2 cup white sugar. Beat until smooth and creamy, about 2-4 minutes. Scrape the edges of the bowl as needed. Then add in 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste, and 2 cups of flour. Beat until a thick dough forms, scraping the sides as needed. (Dough too soft? Add 1-3 additional tablespoons flour.)
  • CRUST CONT.: Transfer dough from bowl to prepared pan and press evenly on the bottom of the pan and a little up the sides (about 1/2-inch). Take your time, ensuring the dough is in an even layer and touching every bit of the edge of the pan so the lemon filling doesn't seep through. Then, place pan in the freezer for 15 minutes to allow crust to firm up a bit. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. After 15 minutes, remove crust from freezer and again press all the edges to the pan making sure the seal is 100% tight. Bake crust fully preheated oven for 22-25 minutes or until lightly golden brown at the edges.
  • LEMON PREP: Meanwhile, microwave lemons for 15 seconds. Remove, and knead against the counter with your hand. (These two steps help to get your lemons super juicy.)
  • LEMONS: Very finely zest a lemon to get 2 teaspoons lemon zest. (Be careful to avoid the white pith of the lemons-- that will make your bars bitter.) Juice the lemons until you have 2/3 cup of lemon juice.
  • BLENDER: To a high-powered blender, add remaining 1-1/2 cups white sugar and lemon zest. Pulse just to break down the zest, about 5-8 times. Do not overblend or you'll get powdered sugar! Then add remaining 3 tablespoons flour, 2/3 cup lemon juice, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 4 large eggs, 1/3 cup heavy cream, and 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract (if using). Blend for 20 seconds or until just incorporated-- again, being careful to not over-blend, but ensuring all ingredients are emulsified together. Use a spatula to stir the mixture around and let sit until needed.
  • BAKE AGAIN: Stir the blended mixture up again and pour slowly and evenly over the hot crust (right out of the oven). Bake for another 20-25 minutes or until bars very slightly jiggle in the center (like firm Jell-o). Allow bars to cool at room temperature for 2 hours and then chill in the fridge until the lemon layer is firm, about 2 more hours.
  • FINISHING: Before enjoying, sprinkle the top of the bars with powdered sugar (through a fine-mesh sieve). Slice and enjoy!
  • CUTTING TIPS: Pull the parchment paper overhang to remove the entire slab of bars from the pan and place on a cutting board or surface. Run a sharp knife under hot water, dry, make one cut, and repeat this process until all the bars are cut out.
  • STORAGE: Be sure to let the bars cool completely before putting them in the fridge. Cover leftover bars with plastic wrap and pop in the fridge for 4-6 days. Or freeze leftover bars. To freeze: Cut the bars out and set on a lined sheet pan, leaving room around all four edges. Place in freezer until frozen through (2-3 hours). Once frozen through, wrap each lemon bar individually with plastic wrap and store them in a large bag or container and freeze for up to 3 months.

Video

Recipe Notes

Note 1: Butter: The better the butter, the richer the flavor. We love Challenge® Butter. Choose unsalted to have perfect control over the amount of salt in the dough. Do not melt the butter so it can properly cream with the sugar. 
Note 2: Lemon zest and juice: When zesting the lemon, avoid the white pith of the lemon — this is very bitter. Using a microplane (like this one), zest only the very outside yellow part of the lemon for this recipe. This citrus juicer makes juicing the lemons a breeze!
Note 3: Lemon extract: Lemon extract is a flavor enhancer (just like vanilla extract) that gives these bars a more intense citrusy lemon flavor. Lemon extract can usually be found near other baking extracts and spices in the grocery store; I recommend using a pure lemon extract.

Nutrition Facts

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 184kcal | Carbohydrates: 25.2g | Protein: 2.2g | Fat: 8.6g | Cholesterol: 51.3mg | Sodium: 13.3mg | Fiber: 0.3g | Sugar: 16.9g

We do our best to provide accurate nutritional analysis for our recipes. Our nutritional data is calculated using a third-party algorithm and may vary, based on individual cooking styles, measurements, and ingredient sizes. Please use this information for comparison purposes and consult a health professional for nutrition guidance as needed.

DID YOU MAKE THIS RECIPE?

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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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104 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! 🙂

        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. Chelsea, your lemon bars look perfect! What a perfect addition to a Mother’s Day brunch—or any time of year!!!

  2. 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 =)

  3. 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!

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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 😉

  7. 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 🙂

  8. 5 stars
    I’ve been trying it yesterday, and it’s delicious, but so incredibly sweet! Like – one bite and I have diabetes 😀 . 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 😀

    1. Hey Jane! So great to hear from you! Thank you so much for your kind compliments 🙂 And yes! Desserts are definitely sweeter in the states 🙂 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 🙂

  9. 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!

  10. 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! 🙂 Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment!

  11. 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!

  12. 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!.

    1. Alice, i’m so glad to hear you enjoyed it! They are always a hit at my house too 🙂 Thanks!

  13. 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?

  14. 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!

  15. 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!!

    1. It makes them super creamy! 🙂 I don’t think it detracts from the tart or tangy much/if at all! Enjoy!

  16. 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!

  17. 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!

  18. 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.

  19. 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

  20. 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.

  21. 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! 🙂 (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!

  22. 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!

  23. 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!

  24. 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!

  25. 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!

  26. 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

  27. 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 🙂

  28. 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!

  29. 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!

    1. What a compliment! Thank you so much for your comment! I’m so glad you love these lemon bars! 🙂

  30. 5 stars
    These are so so so good! Thank you for the easy to follow directions! Everybody was very impressed with this bake

  31. 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. 🙂 Thank you!

  32. 5 stars
    Another successful recipe I’ve tried of yours. This is actually the second time I’ve made these lemon bars and they came out great again. The first time I made them I followed the recipe exactly. This time I added 1/4 tsp of almond extract to the dough and I loved the hint of almond mixed with the lemon of the bars. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

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