The best Lemon bars (lemon squares) recipe! Mine have a crisp, buttery crust that’s guaranteed to not be soggy and a tart lemon curd topping. My recipe is a bit different from traditional recipes, but I think you’ll love the results! Recipe includes a how-to video!
I avoided lemon bars for the longest time because I just never really enjoyed them. Too often they have a not-so-pretty, dimpled top (which can at least be covered with a dusting of powdered sugar) and a much too-soft, almost soggy “crust”. If that’s what you’re looking for, I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed with the recipe that I have today.
My lemon bars have a firm, crisp, buttery crust and a gloriously smooth lemon curd topping . They’re beautiful with or without powdered sugar on top, just tart enough to make your mouth pucker before the first bite, and so addictive you can’t possibly eat just one.
They’re a little bit more work than your average recipe, which I’m not exactly bragging about because who really wants to do more work than they have to? But as I told you with my super easy Madeleines, I promise not to make you do any steps that aren’t really worth it, but I will make you do the work when it means better results. Here it does. The lemon curd is cooked separately, and I’ll talk more about why later on.
What You Need
Lemon bars use simple, basic ingredients that you probably already have on hand:
- Butter. Unsalted is best. This is used in both our shortbread crust and to make our lemon curd silky smooth with a rich mouthfeel.
- Flour. For the crust. Many lemon bar recipes thicken their topping with flour as well, but because of the technique I’m using of cooking ours separately, we’re able to thicken it without flour, keeping it extra tart.
- Eggs. Quite a few, as you can see! For the most part we will only be using the yolks. One goes into the crust to tenderize and enrich it, while the rest are for the curd. Save your egg whites to make meringues, zebra cake, or several batches of candied pecans or candied walnuts!
- Salt. A pinch for flavor.
- Vanilla Extract. A splash of vanilla is mixed with the egg yolk and blitzed into the crust to enhance the flavor and sweetness. It does not go in the lemon curd where it would bully and subdue our otherwise bright lemon flavor.
- Lemon Juice. Fresh-squeezed is always best, but I’ve successfully made these using bottled 🤫
As always, this is just an overview of the ingredients chosen and why. Please scroll to the recipe for amounts and full instructions.
A Crisp Shortbread Crust
To keep things simple, I make my crust in the food processor. If you don’t have one, you can use a pastry cutter instead and cut the butter into your flour (but really, get a food processor, I link to the one I use in the recipe card and use it in so many staple recipes, like my pie crust and scones!).
Your shortbread crust dough will be really crumbly (see photo above) but should hold together if a spoonful of it is pressed between your thumb and forefinger. If you process it too much it makes it harder to spread the crust into the pan (especially if you’re trying to spread over parchment).
While the method that I use to make the crust is important and does contribute to its crisp texture, what really keeps it from becoming soggy is the lemon bar topping that I use…
Lemon Curd: An Extra Step for Best Results
For a crisp, buttery, not-at-all-soggy shortbread crust, we have to do things a bit differently. With many recipes, the eggs are mixed up with the lemon juice and some sugar and flour and poured directly over the crust. It’s a very thin, wet mixture and the liquid is absorbed by the crust, making it very soft.
To remedy this, I cook my lemon curd before pouring it over the crust. I essentially used a sweeter version of my lemon curd recipe, cooking it until thickened on the stovetop. If you’re like me and want a crisp crust, then this extra step of cooking the curd separately is worth it for buttery, crisp-bottomed lemon bars. After thickening, pour it over the crust and bake again briefly. You only need a few more minutes in the oven, which will cause the egg yolks to re-bind and keeps the topping from being runny.
Note: If your curd was too loose when you poured it over your crust, you may need more time in the oven than indicated. When finished baking, the lemon layer should be set and just barely jiggly if the pan is jostled.
- Don’t bake in aluminum foil or directly in an aluminum pan. Aluminum will react with the acidic lemon juice and give the bars a metallic taste and can even affect the color.
- For a softer (but still not soggy!) crust, bake for only 15 minutes and edges are not golden brown.
- Always strain your lemon curd before using! This will catch any lumps or tiny bits of cooked egg.
- If you use a glass pan the lemon bars will need more time in the oven to bake completely.
Keep refrigerated in an airtight container and enjoy within one week. I actually prefer my lemon bars to be at room temperature rather than cold (the crust just tastes better that way!) so I like to set one or two out for about an hour before enjoying. They may be frozen for up to several months.
More Recipes You Might Enjoy:
Let’s bake together! Be sure to check out my video in the recipe where I’ll show you exactly how I make this recipe in my own kitchen!
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour (190g)
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar (70g)
- 1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 10 Tablespoons unsalted butter very cold and cut into small cubes (141g)
- 1 large egg yolk
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 large whole eggs
- 4 large egg yolks
- ½ cup fresh lemon juice (120ml)
- 1 cup granulated sugar (200g)
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter cut into 8 pieces (113g)
- Powdered sugar for dusting
- Preheat oven to 325F (160C) and line a 9x9” square baking pan with enough parchment paper (do not use aluminum foil) so that some is hanging over the sides (you want to be able to lift the bars out of the pan once they’ve cooled completely).
- To prepare your cookie crust, combine flour, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in the basin of a food processor¹ and pulse until well combined.1 ½ cups all-purpose flour, ⅓ cup granulated sugar, 1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch, ¼ teaspoon salt
- Scatter butter pieces evenly over the dry ingredients and pulse until the mixture just begins to clump together (about 10 1-second pulses). In a small dish, whisk together egg yolk and vanilla and pour over dry ingredients. Pulse again until mixture begins to cling together. It will still be crumbly, but if you press the dough together with your thumb and forefinger it should hold together (about 18 1-second pulses).10 Tablespoons unsalted butter, 1 large egg yolk, ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pour dough/crumbles into the bottom of your prepared pan and use your hands or the back of a spoon to press evenly into the bottom of the pan to form an even crust (I like to place a piece of wax paper over the dough and then smooth it with a spoon for an even layer, see my video for a visual of how I do this).
- Transfer to 325F (160C) oven and bake for 25 minutes or edges are beginning to turn light golden brown. While crust is baking, prepare your lemon topping.
- While the crust is baking, combine eggs, egg yolks, lemon juice, sugar, and salt in a medium-sized saucepan. Add butter and transfer to the stovetop over medium/low heat. Stir constantly (do not let the curd boil) until thickened and mixture coats the back of a spoon.2 large whole eggs, 4 large egg yolks, ½ cup fresh lemon juice, 1 cup granulated sugar, ⅛ teaspoon salt, ½ cup unsalted butter
- Remove from heat and immediately pour through a fine mesh strainer into a heatproof bowl.
- Once crust has finished baking, use a fork to poke holes over the crust, only piercing about halfway into the crust. Pour curd evenly over the surface of the crust and return to 325F (160C) oven and bake for another 10-15 minutes or until topping is set and only slightly jiggly in the center.
- Allow to cool to room temperature, then transfer to fridge to cool completely, about 2 hours. Use the overhanging parchment to lift the bars out of the pan and then dust evenly with powdered sugar and cut into squares before serving.Powdered sugar for dusting
Nutritional information is based on third-party calculations and should be considered an estimate only. Actual nutritional content will vary based upon brands used, measuring methods, cooking method, portion sizes, and more.
I want to make these but don’t have cornstarch. It’s too cold to go out, would they still come out, or is there a substitute for it?
Hi Abby! You could substitute some flour in for the cornstarch, your crust just won’t be quite as soft. 🙂
These were delicious!!! My first time trying to make lemon curd, so I was nervous, but everything came together nicely! Managed to take it off the heat just at the right time. Loved the crisp shortbread crust! I’ve really enjoyed your recipes so far. Thank you!
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
We’re so happy the bars turned out so nicely for you, Elizabeth! Let us know if you try anything else 😊
Hi Sam, I had already pre made the lemon curd for a different recipe so my lemon curd has set. How would I use it for this recipe? Can I reheat the lemon curd at very low heat and then proceed as per your recipe? Thanks in advance!
Hi Michelle! I’m not sure how it would work if it was reheated. I think it could work, but if you try it I would love to know how it goes. 🙂
These are the BOMB! 💣 I have two lemon lovers in this house. These actually get tarter 24 hours after! That is a hit too. You are now my go-to-site. There is not ONE thing that I made, from your site, that hasn’t be a HIT and well received. Thank you Sam.
Had friends over for dinner and immediently went to your site for another great recipe. I already had a killer lemon bar recipe but knew you would take it up another notch. You killed it!! Made the homemade bread and these bars to add to my meal. Lots of happy people. Thank you again!!
This is THE BEST lemon bar recipe! A real crowd pleaser and that’s unfortunate because there are very few lefts over. I doubled and made in a 9×13” for a dinner party and worked excellently, except still not many leftovers. Am going to try to sub grapefruit this go round bc that’s what the trees are producing. ❤️
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Thank you so much, Leigh! We’re so happy they are such a hit for you. Let us know how the grapefruit goes for you please 😊
Marilyn F. Pardinas
I have been making lemon bars for many, many years, trying a great variety of recipes. You recipe is absolutely the best. My niece introduced me to your website and I am so happy she did! Thank you so very much. Keep those recipes coming.
I am so thrilled to hear this, Marilyn! Thank you so much for trying my recipe, and for letting me know how it turned out for you, I really appreciate it! Thank your niece for me, too! 🙂 <3
I’m making these for the 2nd time in a month. The 1st they turned out great! So delish and cut so nice. They looked so pretty on the tray until I sprinkled on the powdered sugar. I had just taken the bars out of the frig. The sugar just soaked in. What should I have done differently? Thanks!
Emily @ Sugar Spun Run
Hi Jackie! We’re so glad you love this recipe–it’s one of our favorites! We’re so sorry this happened–it sounds like there may have been some condensation or moisture on top of the bars when you added the sugar. You may just need to add more sugar, or you could dab the top of the bars with a paper towel before sprinkling. Hope that helps!
Hi Sam – I happen to have several limes on hand but not enough lemons to get a 1/2 cup of juice. I’m thinking lemon-lime would work but want to double check with you first. Also can I make this in a 8″x8″ pan? I do not have a 9″x9″ pan. I would appreciate your feedback. Thank you, Lyn
Hi Lyn! I’m so sorry I missed this! Lemon lime will work. This will also work in an 8 x 8 it will probably just need a few minutes longer in the oven. 🙂
I love watching your videos. If I want to make your lemon bars in a 9 x 13 pan how would you recommend modifying it?
Hi Lisa! I haven’t tried it but I think if you increase the recipe by 25% you should have enough. 🙂
Thank you so much. I will try that. I love your recipes!