This is one of my favorite cookies of all time, although technically they're closer to a pie than a cookie. Nothing prepares you for that intense, awesome sweet-tart lemon flavor and custard, perfectly contrasted against that crisp, sweet buttery shortbread cookie.

Recipe Summary

20 mins
50 mins
30 mins
1 hr 40 mins
1 8x8-inch pan


Original recipe yields 16 servings
The ingredient list now reflects the servings specified
For the shortbread crust:
For the lemon layer:


Instructions Checklist
  • Place an oven rack into middle position in oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly oil an 8x8-inch baking dish.

  • Place 1 cup flour and butter in a mixing bowl and mash with the back of a spatula or wooden spoon until thoroughly combined. Mix in 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar, vanilla extract, and salt; mash mixture together until mixture looks like a slightly crumbly cookie dough.

  • Moisten your fingers with a little water and press dough into bottom of prepared baking dish. Use a fork to prick holes all over the crust.

  • Bake crust on center rack in the preheated oven until crust edges are barely golden brown, 22 minutes.

  • Beat eggs and egg yolks together in a bowl; whisk in white sugar and 2 tablespoons flour until smooth. Add lemon juice and lemon zest; whisk for 2 minutes. Pour lemon custard over crust.

  • Bake on center rack until custard is set and top has a thin white sugary crust, 25 minutes. Let cool completely before cutting into bars. Dip knife into very hot water, run around the edge, and cut into 16 squares. Dust cookies with 1 teaspoon confectioners' sugar.

Cook's Note:

To add a meringue topping, whisk 1 egg white in a bowl until it forms a ribbon, add 1 tablespoon of white sugar, and whisk until mixture holds soft peaks. Spoon meringue into a resealable plastic bag, cut a corner off the bag, and squeeze meringue on top of cut bars in a decorative pattern. Brown meringue lightly with a kitchen torch.

Nutrition Facts

153 calories; protein 1.9g; carbohydrates 21.8g; fat 6.7g; cholesterol 51.3mg; sodium 46.6mg. Full Nutrition

Reviews (864)

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1166 Ratings
  • 5 star values: 996
  • 4 star values: 108
  • 3 star values: 38
  • 2 star values: 16
  • 1 star values: 8
Rating: 5 stars
This is definitely the best lemon bar (square) I have ever tasted! I like to add 1/4 teaspoon baking powder to both the crust and the filling. It will help to get those tall, chewy bars (squares). I love how Chef John gives us those excellent tips, such as beating the filling for 2 minutes, and wetting the knife before cutting the bars. Just follow the recipe exactly, and you will get your prize-winning lemon bars (I mean, lemon SQUARES!). Expect lots of complements! Read More
Rating: 5 stars
Thanks, Chef John! Oh boy, these are goooood. I've made some pretty good lemon bars in my life, but hubby and I both agree these are the best. The filling is very lemony, with a perfect balance of tartness and sweet. It set up wonderfully. I'm not 100% sold on the crust, as I tend to prefer one a bit more substantial and firm, but that is simply my preference. This crust is excellent, as long as you are aware it is more flaky than firm. Two comments, though, and both on the crust. I'd suggest mixing the salt with the flour first, then adding the butter. I also had a hard time with the finger-wetting bit. The crust kept sticking to my hands. I gave up and dusted my fingers with flour, instead. MUCH easier. EDIT 2/9/14: I made the bars yet again (I've lost count how many times now) and changed the crust a little. Same ingredients, but mixed the dry ingredients in a food processor. Pulsed in CHILLED butter cut into pieces (like pastry crust), then lightly pressed it all into the pan. It came out perfect! Read More
Rating: 5 stars
This recipe is almost like the one I've made for many years with three exceptions: no vanilla in the crust, only two eggs, and baking soda in the custard. I have to say that I really like how this version turned out and will replace my old recipe with this one. I did double it because I have to gift at least half of it to someone else, and I knew my family would be very sad if they didn't get any. I wish I had a kitchen torch so I could have tried the meringue option! (I do not need another kitchen tool!) Thanks, Chef John, for another winner! Read More
Rating: 5 stars
I craved lemon bars my entire pregnancy and the day i finally made this recipe...i went into labor! Im not saying these bars are magic, but im not saying these bars arent magic either. Either way they are the best lemon bars i have ever tasted and i was thrilled to have some left when i came home from the hospital. Read More
Rating: 5 stars
I've made this recipe as is many many times. That is what the 5 stars are for. However, now I add 2 teaspoons of freshly grated lemon zest to the crust before I finish blending it. I also increase the curd recipe by 1/2. Now the lemon curd sits about 3/4 of an inch above the crust. It's wonderful. Read More
Rating: 3 stars
The flavor of these bars is excellent, and I love that they filled my kitchen with the aroma of lemon pie as they were baking. However, the baking times listed were much too long for my oven. The crust was ready in just 10 minutes, and the custard layer in about 18. I never had the thin, white crust on top as the recipe describes; my custard got light brown and bubbly. The powdered sugar did a fine job of hiding the bubbly, ugly top. The crust stuck horribly to my non-stick pan (I did, indeed, oil it first), so be liberal with the oil or cooking spray. I'll definitely keep practicing with this recipe until I get it right for my oven and equipment. Read More
Rating: 5 stars
I have made many lemon bars in my time. For some reason this one is the best. The crust is flaky like my English grandma's tarts and pies. The custard filling delicious and slightly tart. I might add a bit more zest next time to make it even more spunky. This one is replacing all my other recipes. Read More
Rating: 5 stars
I made these great lemon bars thank you Chef John! I did make one small change that turned out wonderful. I swapped out the butter in the shortbread crust for cocoanut oil in it's solid form. The taste of cocoanut with lemon was to die for! I have a friend who said she was wondering "if I would ever find a lemon bar I could enjoy... this is a keeper!" Thanks again Chef John and All recipes Read More
Rating: 5 stars
I love anything lemon. These are great. I have also changed the recipe for raspberry bars. Instead of lemon juice use 1\4 cup chambord and about 1/2 cup of raspberries. Read More