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

198 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! =)

    • Mel says:

      Wow, Laura! I wish I was at your house this weekend! That’s an epic day of baking. I’m so happy you are enjoying the recipes!

      • Judi says:

        I tried this recipe it was deli she’s to taste. But when I poured the lemon in the warm crust the crust floated. And the lemon was under the crust and between the parchment paper.

  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. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

  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.

      • Patricia says:

        I’m so excited to bake these — they look amazing! I’ll be using a glass pan and will drop the crust baking temperature to 325 as suggested; do I need to make any changes to the oven temperature when baking the filling? Thank you so much for sharing. I’ve also been on the hunt for the perfect lemon bars…

        • Mel says:

          I’m not sure, Patricia, since I haven’t baked them in a glass pan. I’d suggest taking the temp down 25 degrees the entire time of baking and just keeping an eye on it so it doesn’t burn.

  21. Meghan says:

    Do you store these in the fridge?

  22. Ellen says:

    these just finished cooling. They are fantastic. Going to take to relative’s house for Easter dessert. These are definitely a keeper. Lemon taste is right on!!

  23. Jo says:

    Fantastic recipe, just the right amount of sugar. I added 1/3 of unsweetened coconut and more lemon zest to my crust. Everyone i shared a piece of lemon bar with said it was excellent and they were glad to be taste testers for this recipe. Good job and thank you for sharing your findings on your blog.

  24. Dee says:

    I have celiac and I’d like to replace the all purpose flour with a gluten free flour instead (rice flour, almond flour, chickpea flour, etc.). Do you think they will turn out the same if I switch up the flour I use?

  25. ANo Guerriero says:

    Is the milk necessary in The filling? If the milk were left out would the filling be firmer?

  26. i loved your recipe. i will use it with your permission

  27. Jenga says:

    Hi there, I have a question! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m in Australia and lemon bars/squares aren’t really a thing here so I’ve never had one before in my life, but in my head I expected a lemon curd/lemon meringue pie filling on a biscuity base. I tried your recipe and while they are absolutely delicious, I was surprised that the lemon filling was soft, eggy and spongey. Is this the way they are supposed to be or did I goof something up? I’m absolutely not complaining because they are very very delicious, I’m just wondering if I’ve earnt bragging rights or if I need to do better next time! XD Maybe I overcooked? Mine we’re a lot more brown on top than your’s.

    • Mel says:

      Hi Jenga – the filling, once baked, should be soft but still hold it’s shape – the way you described them, I think you probably made them the right way. It isn’t as creamy as a lemon curd. Try shaving a few minutes off the baking time if you make them again – that will help the filling stay a little softer.

  28. wow8kids says:

    How well do these freeze? If they don’t freeze, do you have a recommendation for one of your bar recipes that DOES freeze well and is super easy?

    I LOVE your blog. SO many great recipes! I love that when I try one, I know it’s going to be what you say it’s going to be.

  29. Jessica says:

    It’s so obvious all the “I’ll give it a try ” comments were paid for…

  30. Paige says:

    I’ve only cut into the corner and noticed the filling is soft (I baked them for 20 minutes). Can I put it back in the oven for 5 to 10 minutes to firm-up? Also the person who mentinoed her lemon bars came out eggy and spongy. Mine came out that way once, because I didn’t whisk the eggs thoroughly.

    • Mel says:

      You could try refrigerating to firm up the filling – not sure about putting it back in the oven but it’s worth a try if the filling is overly soft.

  31. Nancy Miller says:

    Can’t wait to try the lemon bars. I’m going to take them to a baby shower.

  32. Karen says:

    Has anyone tried to freeze these? How do they thaw?

  33. Becky says:

    Hi, I just found your lemon bar recipe and I can’t wait to try! May I ask does this lemon bar freeze well?

  34. Lori says:

    Just made these lemon bars this afternoon. I made one mistake but I had to share because they still taste AWESOME lol!! I measured 3/4 cup lemon juice instead of 2/3 cup. Luckily I noticed it before I added the milk, so I only used 1/4 cup milk to keep the total liquid at 1 cup. They are amazing, yes a little extra tart but they baked, set, look and taste superb. That’s when you know you have an amazing recipe to start with!! So glad I found you and your recipe. I’ll make these forever!!

  35. Jamie Warnick says:

    I was wondering if anyone had tried this recipe with oranges or limes?

  36. Nancy Miller says:

    I’ve been collecting recipes for lemon bars but not sarisfied with any — this one is just what I want with the shortbread-type crust. Try it this weekend for sure. I love your site and used many recipes. Yesterday I made the cornbread with zucchini, but made 12 wonderful muffins with it. They were delicious! Had them for dinner last night and breakfast this morning. Thanks for all the great recipes.

  37. lynna says:

    i love lemon bars. i did this recipe and i love the crust, but the filling was too wet for me. i would try adjusting the flour next time. but the richness of the feeling was lemony perfect.

  38. EILEEN BECK says:

    I bake “Xmas gifts” , so start Dec. 1st. I always freeze lemon bars and have not had any complaints. I have never tried this recipe, but will this year. I make a few different types of lemon bars as some of my family want very lemony and others not as tart.

  39. Carol Diamond says:

    Made these yesterday. Patted the crust with a heavy meat tenderizer, and the crust came out perfect. The filling, too,but I feel there is not enough lemon for the thickness of the crust. I am not a lemon bar aficionado, but, just eel there should have been more lemon. Can I make some more filling and pour it on top, cook for a while longer? Or top it off with dollops of lemon curd?
    I made the recipe exactly as written, BTW.

  40. Jenny says:

    Does this recipe double and fit in a cookie sheet? Or are the sides too shallow? I’m needing to make it for a large gathering.

  41. Ashley Bourne says:

    These lemon bars are so yummy! How do you get them to cut so cleanly?

  42. Amy says:

    I made these bars, but split them between an 8×8 ceramic and a 9×9 glass dish for reasons to long to explain here :)… I was worried the crust to filling ratio was too high (there was way less filling than what the pictures show and I was bringing this in for a co-workers birthday so I was a bit nervous), but it was actually a perfect balance of sweet & tart. I used a food processor to cut the butter into the crust and it worked amazing. I didn’t have a zester so I peeled the lemon and diced it really small which created delicious bits of caramelized lemon peel in the filling.

  43. Tammy says:

    Hi – I have a bunch of Pepperidge Farms chess cookies that I need to use. I was thinking of making crumbs out of them for the crust for lemon bars. If I do this, do I bake the cookie crust before adding the lemon filling on top? I guess I would since I would have to add butter to make the crust stick together right? What I found on line says to add butter & powdered sugar.

    • Mel says:

      I’m not really sure since I haven’t tried it with those cookies, Tammy – but I do think I’d suggest baking the crust.

      • Tammy says:

        Well, I don’t know if it was the cookie crust or what, but my bars didn’t work. They are a sticky mess. They tasre good, but I can’t cut them to make nice squares. Not sure what I did wrong. I’m normally a pretty good cook.

  44. Dee says:

    This is the Cooks Illustrated recipe, which usually is great. Unfortunately this one is a bomb. The base isn’t really shortbread…it falls apart. Maybe the cornstarch? The filling was thin and ran under the parchment and made them almost impossible to get out of the pan! They taste good but man, they are a mess. There is no way to serve them…and I have 20 women coming tomorrow AM. Ugh.

    • Mel says:

      Sorry to hear that, Dee! I know how frustrating it can be to make a recipe for company and not have it work out. I’ve made this dozens and dozens of times to great success – which I know doesn’t help you right now, but I wonder if something went wrong in the mixing or adding of ingredients? Again, sorry they didn’t work out for you.

  45. Joanne says:

    If I use 2 8in pans do I need to adjust time or temp? Thanks

  46. Sandi says:

    The Cook’s Illustrated Lemon Bars recipe has been my favorite for years! My only pet peeve (and this is true for most lemon bar recipes) is the powdered sugar on top. It’s necessary, but I always manage to inhale it and trigger a coughing fit, or get it on dark colored clothing. I finally found a solution – mix powdered sugar and milk, water or even lemonade or orange juice to make a thin glaze. You still get that hit of sweet contrasting with the tart, but it stays put.

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