This easy recipe for classic lemon bars with a buttery shortbread crust and tangy lemon filling requires less than 30 minutes of hands-on time and produces the best homemade lemon bars.
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 a few details and tips in the recipe below to make sure yours come out just right!
How to Make Classic Lemon Bars from Scratch
Classic lemon bars start with a a simple shortbread crust. All-purpose flour, confectioners (powdered) sugar, and butter are all we'll need.
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.
The lemon filling is so simple to make. Gently beat the egg, then add sugar, flour, baking powder, and lemon juice and beat until combined and slightly thickened. The lemon filling gets poured over the parbaked shortbread crust, and the bars go back into the oven so that the filling can bake.
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.
These classic lemon bars are like little slices of lemony sunshine, and I dare you to eat just one!
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Classic Lemon Bars
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ⅝ cup confectioners' sugar
- 1 ¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature and cubed
- 4 large eggs
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 6 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- confectioners sugar
Make the shortbread 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.) Set aside.
- 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 prepared 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.
Make the lemon 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.
Bake the lemon bars.
- 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 confectioners sugar. (Tip: The easiest way to get an even sprinkling is to place the confectioners 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. (Note: You will likely need to re-slice the bars once they're fully cool before serving.)