Lemon Bars

Lemon Bars

Lemon bars are pretty easy to make, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get them just the way you want them. Whether from bakeries or home recipes, the crust is often quite soggy, and many versions are too sweet and lack true lemon flavor. The warm filling must be added to a warm crust. Start preparing the filling when the crust goes into the oven. Be sure to cool the bars completely before cutting them.–Editors of Cook’s Illustrated

Lemon Bars Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 1 H, 30 M
  • Makes 16 bars


  • For the crust
  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus more to decorate the finished bars
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • For the lemon filling
  • 7 large egg yolks, plus 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2/3 cup lemon juice (from 4 or 5 medium lemons), plus 1/4 cup finely grated zest
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • Confectioners’ sugar, optional


  • Make the crust
  • 1. Spray a 9-inch square baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Fold two 16-inch pieces of foil or parchment paper lengthwise to measure 9 inches wide. Fit 1 sheet in the bottom of the greased pan, pushing it into the corners and up the sides of the pan (overhang will help in removal of baked bars). Fit the second sheet in the pan in the same manner, perpendicular to the first sheet. Spray the sheets with nonstick cooking spray.
  • 2. Place the flour, confectioners’ sugar, and salt in a food processor and process briefly. Add the butter and process to blend, 8 to 10 seconds, then process until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal, about three 1-second pulses. Sprinkle the mixture into the prepared pan and press firmly with your fingers into an even layer over the entire pan bottom. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  • 3. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Bake the crust until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
  • Make the filling
  • 4. In a medium non-reactive bowl, whisk together the yolks and whole eggs until combined, about 5 seconds. Add the granulated sugar and whisk until just combined, about 5 seconds. Add the lemon juice, zest, and salt; whisk until combined, about 5 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a medium non-reactive saucepan, add the butter pieces, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the curd thickens to a thin sauce-like consistency and registers 170°F (76°C) on an instant-read thermometer, about 5 minutes. Immediately pour the curd through a single-mesh stainless steel strainer set over a clean non-reactive bowl. Stir in the heavy cream; pour the curd into the warm crust immediately.
  • 5. Bake until the filling is shiny and opaque and the center 3 inches jiggle slightly when shaken, 10 to 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about 45 minutes. Remove the bars from the pan using the foil or parchment handles and transfer to a cutting board. Cut into 2 1/2 inch squares, wiping the knife clean between cuts as necessary. Sieve confectioners’ sugar over the bars, if desired.
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  1. I find that even right out of the fridge, when I sprinkle them at the end with the powdered sugar it always melts and vanishes in less that 20 minutes. Is there a trick I am missing?

  2. Maybe you can help me out. I have both Baking Illustrated and Cook’s Illustrated archived magazines. The lemon bars recipe from Mar/Apr (or was it May/Jun?) ’98 has a radically different approach to the bars than the recipe above: there’s cornstarch in the crust, the filling is not cooked (and in the accompanying article cooked fillings are nixed because the results are “gummy), and so on. Here’s a link to just the recipe: Cooks Illustrated Lemon Bars
    Any idea which recipe came first?

    1. Hi CB, the recipe on our site came from Baking Illustrated which was published in March 2004. Hope this helps!

  3. Perfect dessert for any occasion. It’s decadent enough for the end of a light meal, and not as heavy as could be a frosted cake/brownie/fudge/chocolate in any sort (yeah, this is what it comes to my mind when I think about “dessert.” I am this sort of person).

    Don’t be scared about the steps (temperature, consistency of the curd, straining, etc.); it may look tricky but it is really simple if you just follow the directions. I was a little uncertain while heating the curd, as it says “until the curd thickens to a thin sauce-like consistency and registers 170°F” (I wasn’t sure about my own concept of thin sauce-like consistency), so even if I was registering the temperature, I definitely noticed the moment when the curd quickly thickened, when reaching the target temp. And it took me quite a lot more of 5 minutes for that, so just keep calm and continue stirring.

    Other than that, flavor was excellent (Meyer lemons are always better for this) with the perfect balance between tart and sweet, the consistency was great for both the curd (thick when cut, but smooth in mouth) and the crust (flaky-crunchy), and even if I just used 6 egg yolks (didn’t have 7) it turned out really nice. Keep refrigerated!
    I didn’t sprinkle them with sugar and I didn’t miss it. Just perfect!

    1. Marta, that’s a comment worthy of our Testers Choice! Thank you for your in-depth info. I’m sure it will make a lot of cooks who might be a wee bit nervous relax while facing the stove.

  4. Great recipe! This was my first time making lemon bars, and it was pretty simple. They are definitely on the tart side, but so delicious! And the crust/filling ratio is just right. My whole family liked them, so will be making them again.

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