The Best Lemon Bars

These really are the best lemon bars on the planet with the perfect ratio of crust to delicious, creamy, ultra-lemony filling and a healthy sprinkle of powdered sugar. YUM!

Lemon bars on cutting board sprinkled with powdered sugar.

For as much as I’m a chocolate lover through and through, there are just certain times when lemon bars, and only lemon bars, will do. 

It took me a while to get lemon bars perfected just the way I like them (meaning, a substantial crust to filling ratio to cut the sometimes overbearing sweet tanginess of the lemon filling). 

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.

Three lemon bars stacked on top of each other.

Brian sums up lemon bars like this: “it’s rare that I actually crave lemon bars, but when they are sitting there right in front of me, I can’t stop eating them!”

Yep, lemon bars are like that. Totally irresistible.

Also, lemon bars are so, so easy to make. 

The shortbread-like, buttery crust of the bars is quickly mixed together, pressed into a pan, and pre-baked for a few minutes. While the crust bakes, the quick and easy lemon curd filling is whisked together and poured right on top of the hot crust and baked again. 

The best lemon bars stacked on each other and bite taken out of top lemon bar.

Don’t forget the sprinkle of powdered sugar! Not only does it help pretty up the bars a little bit, but the light sweetness helps cut the delicious, but strong, tanginess of fresh lemon. 

Fresh lemon juice vs bottled lemon juice

In the case of people vs lemon bars, it has been proven time and time again that using fresh lemon juice is the only way to go. The flavor of bottled lemon juice will make the bars taste artificial and flat. It will take about 3-4 lemons for this recipe (you’ll want to zest them before you juice them, because you’re using both the zest and juice!).

How this recipe has changed over the years

As with any recipe that I make dozens and dozens of times, I find that over the years I’ll make a few changes just simply based on my own preferences. In this case, it’s all about How Mel Enjoys Her Lemon Bars in Different Phases of Life.

This recipe has been on my site for over five years and in that time, I’ve found that sometimes I’ll increase the butter from 1 1/2 sticks to 2 sticks (1 cup) so the crust is more buttery and less crumbly (I left the original recipe written below for people that love that version – I still love it, too!).

Also, if I’m lazy (ahem, often), instead of cutting in the butter with a food processor or two knives, I soften or slightly melt the butter and mix all the crust ingredients together with an electric mixer and then press into the pan. 

If you’ve been on the search for the best lemon bars, I think you’re going to love this recipe!

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Perfect Lemon Bars

Yield: 9X13-inch pan
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Lemon bars on cutting board sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Ingredients

For the Crust (see note for adaptations):

  • 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 (see note for thicker 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)

Instructions

  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 (optional: it helps with removing the bars after baking, but you can instead grease the pan with nonstick cooking spray).
  2. Whisk 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.
  3. Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared pan and press into an even layer on the bottom. Refrigerate for 15-30 minutes. Bake until very lightly golden brown on the edges, about 15-20 minutes.
  4. 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.
  5. Pour the filling onto the warm crust; reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees and 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.

Notes

Recipe Tweaks: as with any recipe, over the years, I'll find I've tweaked it a bit. This recipe has been on my site for over five years and in that time, I've found that I like the crust with a bit more butter (makes it less crumbly), so I use a full cup (increased from 1 1/2 sticks). The crust mixing method also works great if you just want to soften the butter and mix everything together with an electric hand or stand mixer and then press into the pan.

Filling: for thicker filling, use 1/2 cup milk, pinch salt, 5-6 tablespoons flour, 1 tablespoon lemon zest, 1 cup fresh lemon juice, 6 eggs and 2 cups sugar.

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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

Recipe originally published July 2013; updated with new photos, commentary, and recipe notes.

Perfect Lemon Bars