Perfect Lemon Bars

For a very, very long time, I’ve been on the search for The Perfect Lemon Bar. There are just certain times when lemon bars, and only lemon bars, will do. In Brian’s words regarding lemon bars, “I never, ever crave lemon bars but when they are in front of me, I can’t stop eating them.” I, on the other hand, do crave lemon bars. I remember with fondness growing up and making lemon bars nearly every Sunday, or so it seemed, and then stuffing my face with half the pan while watching Anne of Green Gables and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers week after week after week. But as I’ve grown up and matured just oh, so much, the lemon bars of my youth needed a slight upgrade to more lemon flavor and a more delicate crust (although I am still happy watching AofGG and Seven Brides over and over and over; my poor boys).

After tweaking my mom’s recipe, I realized it was surprisingly close to the Cook’s Illustrated recipe at which point I called off the search. I’d found The One.

Perfect Lemon Bars

These lemon bars have a wonderfully substantial ratio of crust to filling. I just can’t get enough of that buttery, tasty shortbread (made even more tender with the surprising addition of a bit of cornstarch). And while the lemon filling is perfectly and very robustly lemon, it doesn’t overpower in a way that makes you think “wow, I’m not going to be able to eat anything lemon for a week!” after tasting one. The play of lemon and sugar and eggs really works resulting in a delightfully creamy, fresh, lemony filling. Yum.

As a sidenote, in my search for The Lemon Bar, I tried a highly recommended recipe by Ina Garten. While I have nothing against her and don’t like throwing anyone under the recipe bus, so to speak (I kind of want to be her when I grow up, in fact), her lemon bar recipe, for me, was sickly sweet (3 cups of sugar!) and too tart. This version, right under my nose thanks to my mom and CI, is perfectly perfect.

Perfect Lemon Bars

One Year Ago: Make-Ahead Sausage and Egg Breakfast Bake
Two Years Ago: Blueberry Fool
Three Years Ago: Perfect Corn on the Cob

Perfect Lemon Bars

Yield: Makes 9X13-inch pan of bars

Perfect Lemon Bars


    For the Crust:
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup powdered sugar, plus extra to sprinkle on bars
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 tablespoons butter (1 1/2 sticks), at cool room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • For the Filling:
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, from 2 large lemons
  • 2/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, from 3 to 4 large lemons
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • Pinch of salt (about 1/8 teaspoon)


  1. Place an oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9X13-inch baking pan with foil or parchment paper and lightly grease the foil/parchment.
  2. Stir together the flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch, and salt (this can be done in a food processor or in a large bowl by hand). Add the pieces of butter and cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender, two knives or your fingers (taking care not to melt the butter too much - you might try freezing the butter and grating it into the dry ingredients on the large holes of a box grater) or process in the food processor for 8 to 10 seconds and then as needed until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared pan and press into an even layer on the bottom and about 1/2-inch up the sides of the pan. Refrigerate for 15-30 minutes. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
  3. For the filling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, salt, and flour in a medium bowl and then stir in the lemon zest, juice and milk to combine.
  4. Pour the filling onto the warm crust (it's important that the crust is still warm!) and reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees. Bake for about 18-20 minutes until the filling feels slightly firm to the touch. Cool the bars to room temperature, sprinkle with additional powdered sugar and cut into bars.

Recipe Source: adapted slightly from Cook’s Illustrated (used salted butter instead of unsalted, lowfat milk instead of whole milk, and a few other very minor changes) in combination with my mom’s 40-year old recipe

151 Responses to Lemon Bars {Perfected}

  1. Laura says:

    I have just discovered your blog and I am only sad it took me so long! I had a day at home today and had a “Mel’s Kitchen Cafe Baking Day”. I’m not kidding, I went nuts. Made these, Double Chocolate M&M Cookies & French Bread Roll burger buns. Perfect, perfect, perfect – all were completely amazing! Thanks so much for all the wonderful recipes…I can’t wait to try more! =)

  2. David says:

    I needed a dessert for after a spaghetti dinner. My wife and I both thought “Lemon something”. I searched for lemon bar recipes. They were all so different; anywhere from 1 cup of lemon juice to 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. They, likewise, varied so much in the sugar content.

    Yours were a perfect balance. What sold me on them was the wonderful description you included that explained how you settled on this recipe. I look forward to exploring your other recipes.

    Thanks so much.

    Note: You forgot to include the salt in step 3. :-)

    • Mel says:

      So glad you loved them, David – and thanks for the heads up on the salt!

      • Briana says:

        Hey Mel –

        These look great and I’m going to make them for a birthday party on Saturday. How far in advance can I make? And, how long can they safely be out of the fridge without going bad?


        • Mel says:

          I’ve made these up to a day in advance and kept them out of the refrigerator for a couple hours (probably longer if it’s not overly warm).

  3. Your recipes are the best, Mel! Today is my son’s birthday and he requested a lemon dessert so I’m headed to the kitchen now to make these. Thanks so much!

  4. yuklan says:

    if I want to make 1/2 a reciepe in a 9 inch square pan would I just divide all the ingrediants in the crust & filling in half or would I use the original amt for the filling
    as I ‘d like to keep the nice balance between the filling & crust, but just in 1/2 the amount?

    • Mel says:

      The surface area of a 9-inch square pan isn’t exactly half of a 9X13-inch pan but it should work pretty well to just divide everything in half.

  5. Chiara Jaffe says:

    H, Mel,

    Lemon bars are my mom’s favorite. I used your recipe for lemon bars for her birthday, and she loved them!! I am now going to check out your site for some recipes for dessert goodies for Christmas.

    Thank you so much!! You really do a great with your website. I truly don’t know how you have time with 5 kids. I am really impressed.

    Chiara Jaffe

  6. yuklan says:

    hi mel, I made the full recipe of lemon bars yes terday They came out delicious
    but my filling didn’t come out as firm as hoped. If want a firmer f illing how much
    more flour or cornstarch would I need to add. thank you

    • Mel says:

      I’m not really sure as the filling has always been firm enough for me. You’d have to experiment adding more flour or cornstarch. Sorry they didn’t turn out how you were expecting.

  7. Jill DC says:

    Hands down – the very best lemon bars I have ever made… or tasted. Wonderful, delicious crust that would be good on its own (think buttery shortbread cookie). And the lemon… wonderfully tart, not too sweet. Absolute perfection!!

  8. Nadine says:

    Is it salted butter or unsalted?

  9. Nancy says:

    Have been so excited to try this recipe and finally did today. Followed instructions but the crust burned after the 20 min baking time:(

  10. leanne says:

    Wow, these are amazing!

  11. Melissa says:

    Hi, there! These sound amazing! Did you use a metal 9×13 baking pan?

  12. Melissa says:

    Also, may I ask why you chose to use salted butter? Just curious.

  13. Sarah says:

    I just made these with Meyer lemons from my grandma’s tree in California. They are so good I think I could eat them for the rest of my life and nothing else!!

  14. Julie says:

    hello, can I use a 9 inch square pan to make this? And what kind of butter did you use? Salted or Unsalted?

  15. Julie says:

    Are lemon bars suppose to be soft on the inside? Sorry its my first time making :)

  16. Lisa says:

    Hi: I love these lemon bars – especially the crust! I’d like to use this crust for my lemon meringue pie. (I use the recipe from the New Best Recipe book). Do you think this crust would work in a pie plate? Also, any recommendation on how long to pre-bake it? Any guidance would be most appreciated!

    • Mel says:

      Hi Lisa – I haven’t tried this crust in a pie plate. It’s worth a try although I worry a little that because of the butter, it will slide down the sides of the plate while baking. You might want to line it with foil/pie weights and freeze it before baking. Good luck!

  17. Kristen B says:

    Every time I have made lemon bars, I have the same problem.
    When I’ve cooled the bars & sprinkle the powdered sugar on top, it absorbs into the bar and disappears. This is even the day after I’ve made them. Any idea what the problem might be?

    • Mel says:

      Sometimes if the bars have been covered, they get a little moisture on the top and that can make the powdered sugar dissolve instead of stay on top.

  18. Stacey says:

    These were delicious and turned out perfectly just as everyone said. I love them. They’re not too tart, and absolutely the perfect lemon bar recipe. Thank you. I’m glad I found you, and I now follow you on Pinterest. Yay!

  19. Donna says:

    Hey, I have a question. So I bought unsalted butter -___-… so for the pinch of salt how much can I put for the crust?

  20. Katie says:

    My sister “commandeered” my 9×13 pan, would a glass one throw off the baking time at all?

    • Mel says:

      Hey Katie – decrease the baking temp by 25 degrees if using a glass pan and watch the time carefully – you may need to pull it out a few minutes early.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.