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Perfect Lemon Bars

Perfect Lemon Bars
This is a lemon bar recipe for lemon lovers – and it just might be the only one you’ll ever need. It has a filling that is nice and thick, a great lemon flavor and a beautiful silky texture. The lemon custard is sitting on top of a layer of tender shortbread crust that is thick enough to hold up to it without getting soggy, even if you are planning to take the bars to a picnic the next day. These really are the perfect lemon bars because they are bursting with lemon flavor and are incredibly easy to make.

Many lemon bar recipes use sour cream or milk to round out the flavor of the filling and give it more body. This makes for a tasty lemon bar, but it also mellows the natural zestiness of the lemon a little bit. My favorite lemon curd recipe isn’t cut with butter or any other fat (besides the egg that thickens it) and it has plenty of body – and the filling for these bars works the same way. With just lemon juice, sugar and eggs you get a fantastic result.

You need to use fresh lemon juice to get the best results for this recipe, as store-bought lemon juice just doesn’t have the same brightness as a freshly juiced lemon. You’ll also want a little bit of fresh lemon zest to add to the crust, to give the bars a little extra lemon. Serve these bars chilled or at room temperature, and dust them with a little bit of confectioners’ sugar just before serving to give them a beautiful finished look.

Perfect Lemon Bars

Perfect 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 cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed and strained

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 9×9-inch baking pan with aluminum foil.
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 just set (it will still jiggle when the pan is gently moved). Filling will continue to set as the crust cools.
When bars are completely cooled, refrigerate for at least 1 hour before slicing.
Top slices with confectioners’ sugar to serve.

Makes about 24 bars.

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  • Valerie
    June 10, 2011

    These look beautiful!! Some lemon bars are on the thin side, but these are perfect. 🙂

  • Blog is the New Black
    June 10, 2011

    I just made lemon bars and it took me a long time to perfect it! Yours look wonderful!

  • Ron
    June 10, 2011

    This is the Lemon Bar recipe I have been looking for! No nonsense, unabashedly lemony, made with simple ingredients.

    Thank you, Nicole!

  • DessertForTwo
    June 10, 2011

    Nicole, these are the most beautiful lemon bars I have ever seen! Such thick yellow filling and that thick shortbread crust is to die for!

  • Rachel Crain
    June 10, 2011

    Lemon bars are one of my all time favorites. Have you ever used lime in place of lemon?

  • Linnet
    June 10, 2011

    These look wonderful!!! I have a question though. I’ve always been taught that when making shortbread the butter should be cold. Is this not the case?

  • Katie
    June 10, 2011

    These look fabulous. I love the sound of adding a bit of sour cream. Never seen that done before but bet it works wonderfully with the lemon.

  • Krissy
    June 11, 2011

    Those look delicious! But approximately how many lemons did you use to make them? How much juice does one lemon usually yield?

  • Anita
    June 11, 2011

    Lemon bars are my favorite baked good!!
    The crust is in the oven as I type.

  • Claire
    June 11, 2011

    I’ve been meaning to make lemon bars for a while now, and these look absolutely delicious- I will have to give this recipe a go, thanks!

  • Tess
    June 11, 2011

    I’m eating these now and they are wonderful. Since I only had three lemons, yielding about half the lemon juice needed, I juiced oranges to make the cup and cut the sugar in the topping in half, also added an extra egg yolk. It worked for me, but I love really tart lemon bars.

    The crust, with the lemon zest, is amazing.

  • Anita
    June 11, 2011

    Oh wow, I can now personally attest to how wonderful these lemon bars are! I made them for this afternoon’s tea and they came out perfect, this is my new favorite recipe for lemon bars.

  • Inna
    June 12, 2011

    These look so delicious and refreshing! Yum!

  • Nicole
    June 12, 2011

    Rachel – I’ve made similar lime bars. Try these! http://bakingbites.com/2011/01/buttermilk-lime-shortbread-bars/

    Linnet – There are many different methods for making shortbread or a similarly tender cookie/crust. This is just one of them.

    Krissy – It varies widely depending on the size of the lemon. I have very large lemons and might only need three or four. If you have small lemons, or slightly drier lemons (older lemons are often a bit less juicy), you might need six or seven. There are many things to go with extra lemons, though, so just buy a few extra at the market when you’re shopping!

  • Carlyn
    June 12, 2011

    this looks amazing. I LOVE lemon haha. I will eat lemon slices straight up. I think it would be really interesting to do a twist on the lemon bar by adding something like a blueberry layer that sets up just like the lemon layer. I haven’t seen a recipe out there for something like that but I’m sure it has been done…blueberries and lemon is my FAVORITE combo (:

  • dani
    June 13, 2011

    this is one of my fave treats! great photo 🙂

  • d.liff @ yelleBELLYboo
    June 13, 2011

    These are so gorgeous! Great photos and sounds like a great recipe!

  • Stephanie W. (stephyw)
    June 13, 2011

    I’ve been looking for a lemon bar recipe that had a stronger lemon flavor. Will have to check this one out.

  • Erica
    June 15, 2011

    We tried this today and it was a total disaster. My daughter and I are both pretty experienced in the baking department so we have no idea what went wrong. The filling never set up.

  • Nicole
    June 16, 2011

    Erica – With the information you provided, it is difficult for me to troubleshoot the problem. If the filling did not set up at all, your oven temperature might not be quite high enough or the bars simply needed a few more minutes in the oven. Try to make the filling just before it needs to be poured into the hot crust, too.

    I hope that helps!

  • Amy
    June 16, 2011

    Tried these this evening. They turned out great, except the crust seemed to fall apart. Very delicious, will try these again soon!

  • Rebecca
    June 23, 2011

    I tried them! I love them! Easy to make and oh so great! Thanks for sharing!

  • Jennifer
    June 27, 2011

    I was looking for a lemon bar recipe and I believe I found one here! I will try the recipe and let you know what I think. They look delicious.

  • Deenie
    July 13, 2011

    I’m eating this RIGHT NOW…..and it’s absolutely FABULOUS!! I love that it’s so lemony and tart — in my opinion, exactly how the filling should taste!! And the crust is perfect!! (And boy were these easy!!) Thanks for such a winning recipe!!

  • Julia
    July 17, 2011

    LOVE that these don’t use any sour cream or milk. Just bought lemons yesterday, cha ching!

  • Melissa
    July 29, 2011

    I made these today and the filling tasted more like raw egg than they did lemon. The crust was great though.

  • Nicole
    July 29, 2011

    Melissa – Glad you liked the crust, but the bars really shouldn’t have a raw egg flavor to them – especially with all the sugar, let alone with the lemon! I can’t think what might have gone wrong! Sorry I couldn’t be more help with that.

  • Alicia
    August 8, 2011

    when you say completely cool before serving… do u mean at room temp or in the fridge??mi want to make these for my father and want them to be perfect. are they better chilled?

  • Nicole
    August 8, 2011

    Alicia – They need to be room temperature before slicing to ensure that they are completely set. I like them both at room temperature and chilled. It’s just personal preference as to which you will like better.

  • Natali
    August 26, 2011

    These were so so so tart.

  • Lex
    September 2, 2011

    Just pulled these out of the oven, left them in for an additional 20 minutes trying to get them to set. They started to brown on top but are still jiggly. I used one cup of lemon juice and 4 xl eggs, is it the extra lg eggs that made them too liquidy?

    When I poured the filling in, it was literally like water, not custardy or thick at all, is that how they’re supposed to be?

  • Nicole
    September 3, 2011

    Lex – Extra large eggs would definitely make a big difference in a recipe with this many eggs. 4 extra large eggs is almost like adding an additional large egg to the original recipe! The filling should not be thick or custardy when it is poured in (because all of the cooking takes place in the oven), but if it was literally like water, I have to ask it you used the full amount of sugar, because that will definitely add some thickness to the mixture.

    The bars will also need to cool completely before slicing to fully set the filling (like a cheesecake), but I recommend using only large eggs in this recipe to get the best results.

  • Laura
    September 4, 2011

    I am baking these as we speak. They are taking much longer than 20 minutes to set up. They are getting very brown on top, but are still jiggly. The crust may have cooled for 10 minutes before I added the filling, so that may be my issue. I’m worried they have been in the oven so long that the crust may burn.

  • Nicole
    September 5, 2011

    Laura – The filling really needs to go into a hot crust – as in straight out of the oven – for this recipe. Allowing the crust to cool somewhat could definitely impact the result and how long it takes the filling to thicken.

  • Kelley
    October 6, 2011

    Thank you so much for this recipe! I was just making Lemon Curd the other day and wondered if I could use almost the same recipe to make some fabulous lemon bars! 🙂 Now I know I can!

  • Aki
    October 29, 2011

    Thanks for nice recipe!!!
    One of my friends told me this recipe because I was reluctantly eating not-good lemon bars sold in my neighborhood.

    I tried to make it twice.
    At 2nd time, I tried to reduce filling’s sugar a bit but there was no problem. It didn’t juddle at all. I think I was able to find a good amount of sugar in case of reduction( You know, we Japanese like less sweet).

    Now I’m about to go back to Japan.
    But I feel there’ll be no problem though I’ve never seen any lomon bar sold in Japan.

  • Laura
    November 9, 2011

    I made these last night and I was under one cup of lemon juice, so I had my boyfriend squeeze another lemon. I should have told him not to put the whole lemon in with the rest of the juice because it put me over one cup and I think that caused a slight problem. The filling was still jiggly every time I looked at it, so eventually I took them out and let them set on the counter as they cooled so I wouldn’t over cook them. This morning I had one and they are pretty good, a little too lemony for me but probably because of all the extra juice. I bet with powdered sugar on top- which I don’t normally do- they will be perfect! Thanks for the recipe :]

  • Deborah
    November 16, 2011

    Hi Nicole thanks for another great recipe I just made these and they taste delicious! – my DH keeps going back for more – but the texture of the custard is anything but silky. It is just like jam or jellied cranberry sauce, all lumpy and jelled. What could it be because I would like to make them again. I followed your directions to the letter including size of eggs, putting filling onto hot pastry etc. is there a specific way to whisk the filling ingredients? Like eggs first or something?

  • Nicole
    December 8, 2011

    Hi Deborah – I’m glad that you and your DH liked them! I’m surprised that the custard wasn’t smooth, as the lumpy texture you describe would be the result of some parts of the custard getting overcooked – something that should be unlikely to happen in this type of recipe (much more likely on a stovetop, where the bottom of the pan is extra-hot).

    There is no specific way to whisk the filling ingredients, although you can do it in a food processor if you have one. Try straining the mixture into a large measuring cup and then pouring it into the pan to eliminate anything that could be causing lumpiness in the custard itself.

  • jodie
    December 20, 2011

    These babies are sooooo delish! Wow that lemon flavor is so up front and in your face! (Which i love!) My custard needed an extra 10 minutes to set up… but oven temps vary. i didnt have enough fresh lemons on hand to make a full cup so to finish out the cup i used bottled lemon juice and they were plenty tart. So for anyone wanting not such a strong lemon flavor I would suggest 1-2 lemons (1/4-1/2cup) fresh lemon juice and the rest of the cup bottled lemon juice. Thanks for this awesome recipe love it!

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