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Buttermilk Lemon Bars

Buttermilk Lemon Bars

It’s been quite some time since I made a batch of lemon bars. Lemon bars are a classic bake-sale item, like brownies and chocolate chip cookies, and because they seem like such a staple of homemade baked goods, I think I overlook them a little too often in favor of more unusual recipes. It’s too bad because good lemon bars are really delicious. A slightly crisp shortbread crust is the perfect contrast to a creamy sweet-tart filling.

This lemon bar recipe uses buttermilk, as well as lemon juice, in the filling. The buttermilk mellows the lemon filling a little bit, taking the edge off of the tartness usually associated with lemon alone. As a result, the bars have a wonderful lemon flavor, but seem to taste a bit sweeter and richer than some other lemon bars. The filling recipe is very simple and there is no flour or cornstarch included in it, so the filling is very tender, more like a lemon curd than the chewy lemon topping I’ve encountered in some variations.

For the crust, I used a simple shortbread recipe that I turn to again and again. The filling is poured onto the crust while it is still hot from the oven, so there is no down time waiting for the crust to cool before completing the recipe. The bars are good at room temperature, but also taste good chilled. Dusting the tops with powdered sugar is a nice finishing touch for the bars. Remember to do it right before serving so that the fine sugar doesn’t absorb too much moisture from the bars.

Buttermilk Lemon Bars
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp lemon zest
1/2 cup butter, room temperature


4 large eggs
1 1/3 cups sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tbsp lemon zest

Preheat oven to 350F. Get out a 9×9-inch baking pan, or a Baker’s Edge, if you have one, and set it aside.
Make the crust. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, salt and lemon zest. Cut butter into chunks and add to flour mixture. Blend in with an electric mixer at low speed until mixture forms coarse, sandy crumbs. Pour into pan and press mixture down (with your fingers or the back of a spoon) into an even layer.
Bake for 16-19 minutes, until just lightly browned around the edges.

While crust is baking, make filling. Whisk together all filling ingredients in a large bowl.
When the crust comes out of the oven and is still hot, pour in filling mixture.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until filling is set and does not jiggle when the pan is gently shaken.
Cool completely before slicing.
Top slices with confectioners’ sugar to serve.

Makes about 24 bars.

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  • kelly
    March 2, 2009

    I was just checking your blog for something with buttermilk b/c I just bought some to make another recipe and have leftovers. Excellent! Thanks. Can’t wait to make ’em. -kelly

  • Elyse
    March 2, 2009

    These lemon bars sound fantastic. I love a good lemon bar, but sometimes they are just too tart. Sooo, your addition of buttermilk is just genius!! I can’t wait to try these, and I just happen to have some buttermilk sitting in the fridge.

  • Rosa
    March 2, 2009

    That buttermilk version really intrigues me… Your bars look fantastic! I love that treat!



  • unconfidentialcook.com
    March 2, 2009

    I just made lemon bars with a bagful of Meyer lemons from our neighbors. Love the buttermilk crust in yours!

  • Em
    March 2, 2009

    Ah, buttermilk! It’s not something I usually use, so I wouldn’t have thought of it. I was wondering what I could use to mellow out the tart of the lemon and had been leaning towards a splash of whip/heavy cream, but I was afraid the lemon would curdle it.

  • Sugar Duchess
    March 2, 2009

    Buttermilk. What a great idea. I’m a fan of the softer side of lemon. These sound delicious!

  • Jess
    March 2, 2009

    Ah, sweet buttermilk. I’m beginning to think it makes anything better! Looking forward to trying these lemon squares.

  • kt
    March 2, 2009

    I’ve never tried those with buttermilk, but they look really good. I’ll give this a shot this weekend. Thanks!

  • Olivia
    March 2, 2009

    I’m glad to see that someone’s citrus bars turned out like they expected. They look great–good idea using the buttermilk. I bet the slightly vinegar-taste of the buttermilk counteracts well with the citric acid of the lemon.

  • snookydoodle
    March 3, 2009

    this looks delicious! I love lemon bars 🙂

  • Shauna
    March 5, 2009

    I made these on Tuesday night and brought the majority of them into the office on Wednesday (I bake when I’m stressed, which makes my coworkers fat – ha!). They were a big hit! I only had an 8″x8″ pan, so my bars were a bit thicker than expected, but everyone just loved them. As always, the shortbread crust was a home run, but my topping was a bit gooey (even though I baked them for 26min because the topping was still jiggly). Any suggestions or ideas about what I did wrong? Thanks!

  • Nicole
    March 5, 2009

    Shauna – This recipe does make a slightly “softer” topping than some other lemon bar recipes. The topping will never really get firm, although it should be plenty firm enough to hold its shape at both room temperature or when chilled. It probably just took a bit longer to bake because of the smaller pan. I’m glad to hear that they were a hit!

  • A Girl Has To Eat
    March 5, 2009

    I love any dessert with lemon in it! What a great recipe idea.

  • Mandy
    March 6, 2009

    I have read (and enjoyed!) your blog for quite some time, but this was the first recipe I actually tried (I was a bit scared of using my cup-measures for the first time). It turned out pretty well. It was also the first time I tried a recipe for Lemon bars and I guess I will stick to this one.

  • teama
    March 7, 2009

    I made these the other day….WONDERFUL!

  • Carrie
    March 10, 2009

    The hazards of cooking with technology? Chatting on gchat and talking on the phone while baking equals forgetting to add the buttermilk to your buttermilk lemon bars.


  • ES
    March 16, 2010

    I’ve made these before and loved them. Today, I wanted to make them but didn’t haven’t any buttermilk on hand, so I substituted plain yogurt. Worked like a dream!

  • Fast Food Recipes
    April 20, 2010

    I just fabricated auto confined with a bagful of Meyer lemons from our neighbors. I will made it..

  • Allie
    March 14, 2011

    These were really easy to make and delicious!! Everyone absolutely loved them. We almost skipped dinner just to have these lemon bars!

  • Jadie
    May 12, 2012

    Just made these for my husband and his friends last night and they all LOVED them. One of the guys even asked for the recipe 🙂 Thank you so much Nicole for another AMAZING recipe!

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