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Easy Lemon Bars with Shortbread Crust

Calling all lemon lovers!! These easy lemon bars have a buttery shortbread crust and a luscious lemon filling. One of my all time favorite desserts, these are the best lemon bars I’ve ever tasted. These sweet and tangy treats are simple to make and can be made a day or two in advance. Perfect for celebrating with family or friends, add them to the menu for your next brunch, party, or at home celebration.

A stack of three lemon bars on a silver plate in front of more lemon bars.

If you’ve been around here long you already know that I love lemon desserts. I love the way that the tangy tartness of the lemon balances with just the right amount of sweet. The way it makes my mouth water and satisfies my craving for something sweet without leaving me feel like I’m in sugar overload.

My perfect lemon bar has to do all of this plus have a perfect shortbread crust. Buttery and not too sweet, it needs to melt in your mouth while also having enough chew to make you appreciate it.

To be the best lemon bar, you should be able to serve it on a plate or on a napkin without making a mess. It shouldn’t crumble or fall apart when you bite into it, but it also shouldn’t break your teeth.

It took multiple tests, but my easy lemon bars with shortbread crust have finally been perfected. The luscious lemon filling strikes the perfect balance of tart and tangy with juicy and sweet. The shortbread is buttery, not too sweet, and has a dense chew that melts in your mouth.

Invite me over and ask me to bring dessert, nine times out of ten these are what I will bring. Ask anyone who has tried them and they will agree that these really are the BEST lemon bars.

An overhead view of lemon bars next to a line of lemon slices on a slate board next to servings of lemon bars, a gray napkin and serving spatula, and a spoon and sieve for powdered sugar.

Originally appearing on the blog in March 2016, this post was last updated in August 2020 to reflect recipe improvements and add weight measurements.

The Secrets to the Best Lemon Bars

I’ve eaten a lot of lemon bars in my days, so when I say these are the best, I mean it. It’s not just some marketing term to make them pop up higher in a Pinterest search. (Although, if that’s how you found them, you are in the right place!)

These bars were pretty damn good when they first debuted in 2016, but over the years I’ve kept tweaking the recipe, and I’ve learned a thing or two. I’ve made improvements in both the crust and filling, and I’ve learned how to make them easier to prepare. Now, I get to share those updates with you!

Ingredients for shortbread crust with labels: flour, sugar, salt, butter, and cornstarch.

The Shortbread Crust

The biggest improvement I’ve made in the shortbread crust was to switch from melted butter to cold butter. The next big change was to switch from powdered sugar to granulated sugar.

Combine the sugar and flour together then cut the cold butter into this mixture. As the crust bakes the butter melts into the flour mixture gently cooking it, while melting the sugar and creating tiny air pockets in the crust.

The result is a crust that is still dense, but also with the perfect amount of chew. It’s what makes this recipe stand out from others and is the basis for all my other pie bar recipes.

An image to show the texture of the shortbread crust combined and ready to press into the pan.

The Lemon Filling

Many lemon bars use a simple lemon curd as the filling. While I do have a delicious lemon curd recipe that could work, this filling has been designed as a pie bar filling.

To help ensure it sets up right, this recipe packs a triple thickening punch with eggs, cornstarch, and cream. In addition to the lemon juice, we add lemon zest to add flavor without amping up the tartness. I also add in a hint of vanilla to help round out the flavor.

Compared to the original, the only change made to the filling was to swap the flour for cornstarch. Occasionally the flour would cause tiny lumps in the filling, which means it could not do its job. Creating a slurry with the cornstarch and cream solves this problem and makes the whole process more effective.

An image showing the ingredients for the lemon bar filling with labels: cornstarch & cream slurry, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, vanilla, salt, and eggs.

Baking the Lemon Bars

Lemon bars, like most pie bars, need to be baked in two steps. First, you parbake the crust by itself, then you finish baking with the filling. It’s very similar to making pie, we are just using shortbread as the crust instead of a traditional pie crust.

When parbaking, be careful no to overbake the crust. Check it after 10 minutes. The middle will still look raw, but if the edges have started to turn golden at all, then it’s done.

If the whole thing is golden in color, congratulations! You have shortbread cookies! If you add the lemon filling at this point, your crust will be over baked or the filling won’t set.

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The lemon filling comes together in about the same amount of time it takes to parbake the crust. Pour the fill onto the crust and smooth out any bubbles with the spatula. Return the lemon bars to the oven and bake until it passes the jiggle test.

What’s the jiggle test? Grab the edge of the pan (you can do it while it’s in the oven) and give it a jiggle. The center two inches should jiggle slightly. If more than the 2″ or so in the middle moves, it needs more time.

An overhead image showing the baked shortbread crust next to the mixed lemon filling.

Cutting and Serving Lemon Bars

Once the bars are done, it’s vital that they cool before you cut into them. Even with the triple thickener punch, if the lemon bars don’t have time to cool they will be gooey and run all over the pan. Give them 20 – 30 minutes on a rack at room temperature. Then cover and place in the fridge for at least 1 hour to chill.

While the use of parchment paper is not a requirement, it certainly makes slicing and serving easier. You can lift the entire dessert out of the pan using the parchment, then use the back of a knife to release the parchment paper from the lemon filling. Dust them with powdered sugar, then slice into bars.

Without parchment, you will want to fully grease the pan with a solid-at-room-temperature fat like butter, coconut oil, or good old fashioned crisco. A solid-at-room-temperature fat will coat the pan much more evenly than a liquid oil, which can bead up against some surfaces.

A stack of three lemon bars being dusted with powdered sugar from a small sieve.

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Easy Lemon Bars with Shortbread Crust Recipe

These easy lemon bars with a buttery shortbread crust and a luscious lemon filling and perfectly tangy and sweet. By far the best lemon bars I’ve ever tasted. Make them up to three days in advance and store in the fridge for best flavor and texture.

Looking for more luscious lemon recipes? Check out my lemon creme brulee, lemon dill salmon and asparagus, or these spiked lemonade popsicles. For more sweet treats check out my collection of desserts, treats, and snacks.

If you like this recipe, please give it a FIVE STAR rating and share with your friends!

A stack of three lemon bars on a silver plate in front of more lemon bars.

Lemon Bars

Yield: 16 bars
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Cool Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours

Easy lemon bars with a buttery shortbread crust and a luscious lemon filling. Perfectly tangy and sweet, they are the best lemon bars I've ever tasted.

Ingredients

Crust

  • 1 cup flour | 4.25 oz
  • 1/3 cup sugar | 2.35 oz
  • 1 TBSP cornstarch | 8 g
  • 1/4 tsp salt | 1.5g
  • 1/2 cup cold butter | 4 oz

Filling

  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup sugar | 7 oz
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice | approx 4 lemons
  • 2 tsp lemon zest | 5 g | approx 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp salt | 1.5 g
  • 2 TBSP heavy cream
  • 1 TBSP cornstarch | 8 g

To Serve

  • powdered sugar

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Start with the crust:

  1. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together 1 cup flour (4.25 oz), 1/3 cup sugar (2.35 oz), 1 TBSP cornstarch (8 g), and 1/4 tsp salt (1.5g).
  2. Grate 1/2 cup (4 oz) cold butter into the flour mixture, then crumble together until it forms into clumpy crumbles.
  3. Line an 8x8 or 9x9 pan with a piece of parchment paper.
  4. Pour the crumbly crust mixture into the parchment paper, and firmly press the crust into the bottom of the pan.
  5. Bake the crust for 12 - 15 minutes. The edges just should start to brown.

While the crust bakes make the filling:

  1. In a medium mixing bowl beat 2 large eggs. Then add 1 cup sugar (7 oz), 1/2 cup lemon juice (approx 4 lemons), 2 tsp lemon zest (5 g | approx 1 lemon), 1 tsp vanilla, and 1/4 tsp salt (1.5 g). Whisk to combine.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine together 2 TBSP heavy cream and 1 TBSP cornstarch (8 g) to make a thick slurry. Add the slurry to the lemon filling mixture and whisk thoroughly to combine.
  3. Pour the filling on top of the baked crust and lightly run a spatula over the top to remove any air bubbles. Return it to the oven for 20 - 25 minutes, until the center is almost set. If you jiggle the pan, the middle two inches or so should move slightly.
  4. Allow the bars to cool on a rack for 30 minutes, then cover and place in the fridge for at least 1 hour to chill.

To Serve:

  1. Dust the bars with powdered sugar.
  2. Use the parchment paper to gently lift the entire dessert from the cake pan. Gently loosen the sides of the bars from the paper using a spatula.
  3. Cut into 16 squares and serve. For best taste and texture, refrigerate any leftovers and eat within a week. For longer storage, these lemon bars can be frozen.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 167Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 41mgSodium: 130mgCarbohydrates: 25gFiber: 0gSugar: 17gProtein: 2g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated by Nutritionix and is for general information purposes only. For the most accurate information, calculate using your select brands and exact measurements.

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram and don't forget to #reneenicoleskitchen

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Diana

Wednesday 6th of January 2021

I’m wondering if half and half will work? Whipping cream would go to waste here but I always have half and half in the fridge as I use it for my coffee. Also I always double the recipe as the 8x8 doesn’t last and hour in our house. I make lemon squares at least once a month but would like to try this recipe.

Renee N Gardner

Friday 8th of January 2021

I think it's definitely worth a shot!

FYI: Half and half is mixture of equal parts cream and whole milk. You can mix the leftover cream with equal parts milk and use it in your coffee.

Lorraine

Sunday 20th of December 2020

I plan to make these lovely lemon bars today. I don't have corn starch so I'll be substituting arrow root powder.

Carol

Tuesday 28th of June 2016

Just made these lemon bars and it is delicious. I already ate three and gave two to my neighbor; I hope there is some left for when my husband comes home. It was super simple to make (watching the video was very helpful) and just the right amount of tart to sweet. I love the shortbread crust as well. I couldn't find heavy cream, so I used heavy whipping cream and it turned out great. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

Renee Sitavich

Tuesday 28th of June 2016

Hi Carol! So glad you (and your neighbor) enjoyed these! Your husband will be lucky if there are any left when he gets there! Haha! Heavy cream and heavy whipping cream should have the same percentage of fat and are interchangeable in a recipe. Regular cream or light cream would not provide the same richness, but since we aren't whipping it into peaks they should work as well. Enjoy!

Cristie | Little Big H

Saturday 19th of March 2016

I love lemon deserts so I know I would love this. Pinning so I remember to make it soon.

Renee Sitavich

Monday 21st of March 2016

Yay! Let me know how it turns out!

kate @veggie desserts

Saturday 19th of March 2016

These look great. I love zingy lemon at this time of year, particularly!

Renee Sitavich

Monday 21st of March 2016

Me too!! It makes me think of summertime, sunshine, and margaritas. All good lemon things in my book!

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