This easy-to-follow recipe makes the BEST lemon bars with a buttery shortbread crust and tangy lemon filling.
With BBQ season now in full swing, it’s the perfect time of year for light, fruity desserts. I’m a big believer that summer desserts can be both indulgent AND refreshing, and lemon bars are one of my all-time favorites! Pair a rich, buttery shortbread with tart and sweet lemon filling (topped with a dusting of confectioners’ sugar, of course!) and I’m in heaven!
My family has used this lemon bar recipe for generations, and I get asked for the recipe every time I bring lemon bars to a party. I’ve actually adapted the recipe slightly, increasing the amount of crust because I like a nice, substantial crust to hold up the zesty lemon filling in my lemon bars.
Lemon bars are not challenging to make, but I’ve included lots of step-by-step details and tips in the recipe below to make sure yours come out just right!
To get a nice, crisp crust, we’ll parbake the shortbread before adding the filling. The shortbread needs more time in the oven than the lemon filling, and baking the crust until it’s lightly golden before adding the filling ensures that the crust won’t absorb too much moisture from the filling and become soggy. A crisp shortbread and smooth lemon filling are the textures we’re aiming for.
After the lemon bars are baked, to cut them into beautiful squares perfect for serving, I pre-slice the bars while they’re still hot in the pan before the shortbread cools and becomes firm. This helps me get a nice, clean cut without risking any cracks in the shortbread crust. Once the bars have cooled completely, I remove them from the pan and re-trace my slices with a knife to fully separate the bars.
They’re like little slices of lemony sunshine, and I dare you to eat just one!
for the crust:
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup plus 2 T confectioner’s sugar
1-1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature and cubed
for the filling:
2 cups granulated sugar
4 T all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
6 T fresh lemon juice
for the topping:
to make the crust:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9×13-inch baking dish with parchment paper. Spray the parchment paper around the edges of the pan with nonstick spray. (The butter in the crust will keep the bottom of the lemon bars from sticking to the parchment paper, but the lemon custard will stick to the parchment paper if not sprayed.)
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and confectioners’ sugar. Add the cubes of softened butter and cut the butter into the flour mixture using a pastry cutter until a slightly crumbly dough forms.
Spread the dough into the pan and gently press the dough into the bottom of the pan to create a solid crust. Make sure the crust reaches all the way into the edges and corners of the pan and that there are no holes in the crust.
Bake the crust for about 25 minutes, just until golden. Remove the crust from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 300°F. Let the crust cool slightly while you prepare the lemon filling.
to make the filling:
In a large bowl, gently beat the eggs. Add the sugar, flour, baking powder, and lemon juice and beat well until smooth and slightly thickened. Pour the mixture over the still-warm crust.
Return the pan to the 300°F oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the top is lightly golden and the filling doesn’t jiggle when you wiggle the pan. Place the pan on a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.
After 5 minutes, gently slice the bars in the pan while they’re still warm. Sprinkle the bars generously and evenly with confectioner’s sugar. (Tip: The easiest way to get an even sprinkling is to place the confectioner’s sugar into a sifter and to hold the sifter 6 inches above the bars while moving it around the surface of the bars, gently tapping the sifter with your hand.)
Let the bars cool completely before removing from the pan and serving.
Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.