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This easy lemon bars recipe (aka lemon squares) has all of Grandma’s secrets! A zingy custard tops a thick shortbread layer.

Lemon Bars

Here’s a classic recipe that’s one of the top ways to enjoy zingy citrus: this easy lemon bars recipe! This one is my Grandma’s recipe, done up with a few small tweaks to coax out even more flavor. A zingy lemon custard topping layers over a thick shortbread layer, making the best textural contrast of gooey versus crunchy. It’s got just the right burst of lemon and hint of vanilla in the shortbread. As a self-professed chocoholic, I actually might pick one of these bars over chocolate (gasp!).

Ingredients in lemon bars

Lemon bars or lemon squares are an American dessert that features a lemon curd topping layered over a shortbread crust. The first reference to a recipe was in a Chicago newspaper in 1962, so it’s a retro recipe that went on to become a classic. One nice thing about lemon bars is that the lemon curd is baked right on top of the crust, making it much simpler than whisking it on the stove like the classic method. There are many different spins on lemon bars, but most recipes include the following:

  • All purpose flour
  • Butter
  • Powdered sugar
  • Salt
  • Vanilla extract
  • Eggs
  • Granulated sugar
  • Baking powder
  • Lemon juice and zest
Lemon Bars

The source of this lemon bars recipe

This lemon bars recipe really is Grandma’s: she was my mom’s mom who I called Gram. Gram’s lemon bars recipe is typed onto on a recipe card that’s attributed to someone named Lynn Drier. As a modern day recipe developer, I love reading recipes of the past and how simple they were.

Of course, a lot of the instructions were “common knowledge” and assumed the reader would know exactly what to do. For example, the recipe lists the crust ingredients (flour, butter and powdered sugar) then states, “Mix and bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees.” There’s a lot to infer here: Melted butter or cold? What size pan? Mix with a whisk or spoon? Bake until golden brown, and does the timing depend on the oven?

Here we’ve taken Gram’s lemon bars recipe and added a bit more detail for the modern cook. We also added just a few ingredients to make the flavor pop: slightly more lemon juice and lemon zest for zingier topping, and salt and vanilla in the crust for complexity in the shortbread. But otherwise, the recipe is essentially the same! Thanks to Gram for this recipe and my mom for sending a photograph of that old typed recipe card.

Lemon bar recipe

Tips for lemon bars

This lemon bars recipe is very easy to whip up: but there are a few things to note when you go to make the recipe. Here’s what to know:

  • They’re best chilled, so make them in advance (day before is best). You don’t want a lemon bar warm from the oven: they’re typically served chilled or room temperature after chilling. So make them well before you want to serve them! They work well if you throw them in the refrigerator the night before.
  • Don’t worry if the top is unevenly browned or has bubbles. This was something that surprised us: the top can brown very quickly when baking! Watch the oven so it doesn’t get too browned. However, it’s not a problem if it does: the powdered sugar topping covers everything.
  • Add the powdered sugar topping right before serving. If the lemon curd is warm, the topping soaks right in. (This is one other place we diverged from the original recipe!) Cool the lemon bars completely before topping.
  • For clean slices, clean the knife after each cut. When cutting into bars, clean off the nice for the best edges to the bars.
Lemon Squares

Storage info

Lemon bars store very well in the refrigerator! Here are a few tips for storage:

  • Store the bars refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. They likely last even longer if you still have leftovers.
  • Or, freeze them for up to 3 months. Make sure to freeze without the powdered sugar topping for best results.
  • The powdered sugar topping can dissolve if the bars sit a while at room temperature. This happened we had them sitting out on a dessert table. You can simply add more powdered sugar and then refrigerate the leftovers.

More lemon recipes

We’re pretty obsessed with this lemon bars recipe. In fact, even though I’m a huge chocolate lover I really can’t resist one of Grandma’s lemon squares. Here are a few more lemon recipes starring this tart citrus:

This lemon bars recipe is…

Vegetarian.

Print
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Lemon Bars

Classic Lemon Bars


  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 24 1x

Description

This easy lemon bars recipe (aka lemon squares) has all of Grandma’s secrets! A zingy custard tops a thick shortbread layer.


Ingredients

Scale

For the crust

  • 2 cups [280 g] all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup [60 g] powdered sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the lemon layer

  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups [400 g] granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice (3 large or 4 medium lemons)
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

Instructions

  1. Preheat and prepare the pan: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 x 13-inch baking dish, then line it with parchment paper. Allow two edges to extend outside the pan to allow for easy removal. 
  2. Make the crust: Mix the flour, melted butter, powdered sugar, salt and vanilla extract in a bowl. Pour crumbles into the pan, spreading them out evenly with your fingers. Press them into the pan in an even layer, using the back of a measuring cup to pack it flat. 
  3. Bake the crust: Place the pan in the oven and bake 20 to 23 minutes until lightly golden brown. (You can bake the crust first and let it sit while making the filling, or mix up the filling while the crust bakes. In the second case, keep the eggs, dry ingredients, and lemon in separate bowls and whisk together once the crust is out of the oven).
  4. Make the filling: Whisk the eggs, then whisk in the granulated sugar, flour, baking powder, lemon juice, and lemon zest until light and fluffy. Prick the baked crust gently with the tines of a fork and allow the crust to cool at least 5 minutes. Then pour the filling over the warm crust.
  5. Bake the bars: Place the pan in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the pan and rotate it, then then bake 8 to 10 minutes more until lightly golden on top. It’s ok if it gets unevenly browned or if the top has small bubbles because it will be covered by the powdered sugar topping.
  6. Chill: Allow the bars to cool to room temperature (about 1 hour), then transfer to the refrigerator for at least 2 to 3 hours to firm up (overnight is even better).
  7. Top, slice and store: Sift powdered sugar over the top of the bars. Cut them into 24 squares, wiping off the knife after each cut to get a clean cut. Store bars refrigerated with parchment paper between the layers for up to 2 weeks. (Note that when sitting at room temperature, the powdered sugar topping can melt into the lemon filling, so you may need to refresh with new powdered sugar before serving leftovers.) You can also freeze lemon bars for up to 3 months without the powdered sugar topping, with parchment paper between the layers.
  • Category: Dessert
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: American
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Keywords: Lemon bars, lemon bars recipe, lemon bar recipe, lemon bars, lemon bar recipes, lemon squares, lemon squares recipe

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes for memorable kitchen moments! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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3 Comments

  1. Thank you so much! At last a lemon square recipe that doesn’t need to have a separate stovetop lemon topping. ( homemade lemon curd is difficult for me)

  2. Delicious! The perfect real lemon flavor. We chose not to sprinkle the top with powdered sugar as they were already great. Decorated the serving dish with lemon slices and a few specs of parsley for color.

  3. I can’t wait to try these!
    I love a good antique recipe and I’ve been on the search for a trusty lemon bars recipe for a while.