These easy lemon bars start with a shortbread-style crust and have a silky smooth, slightly tart, sweet lemon custard on top. All they need is a dusting of powdered sugar! The perfect recipe for your next picnic, holiday tray or wedding cookie table.
I am admittedly not a huge lemon dessert type of person.
A wedge lemon in my water or iced tea? Sure! But lemon for dessert when I could choose something like chocolate or cheesecake? It’s a hard sell for me.
That being said, there are times, especially in the summer, when I’m just craving something super light and refreshing to top off a meal instead of something crazy sweet and heavy. Enter lemon bars.
I first tackled this recipe nearly 10 years ago when my sister would rave about the lemon bars that always appeared on her friend’s mom’s holiday cookie trays. Until then, a lemon bar had never passed my lips, so I set out on trying some different recipes and this one emerged as not only the best, but the easiest by far!
The shortbread crust is surprisingly soft (thank you, cornstarch!) and the lemon filling is the perfect hybrid of creamy yet firm and tart yet sweet.
Are Lemon Bars Supposed to be Refrigerated or Stored at Room Temperature?
Since lemon bars are essentially a custard, they should be refrigerated if they are not going to be served the same day, or if you need to store leftovers. However, they are fine to keep out at room temperature for a number of hours if they are on a serving platter at a party, for example.
You can serve them cold from the refrigerator or at room temperature.
Can Lemon Bars Be Made Ahead?
Yes, you can make lemon bars up to two days in advance. Simply allow them to cool to room temperature and then cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Once you are ready to serve, I suggest bringing them to room temperature and/or blotting the top with a paper towel to remove any condensation that developed in the refrigerator before dusting with powdered sugar. If you don’t, then the powdered sugar will dissolve into the condensation pretty quickly.
Can Lemon Bars Be Frozen?
Yes! You can do this one of two ways:
Bake the lemon bars as directed and allow them to cool. Before slicing, you can wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then foil and freeze for up to 1 month.
Bake and slice the lemon bars as directed. To freeze individual lemon bars, place them on a rimmed baking sheet with a couple inches of space around each and place in the freezer until the bars are frozen, about two hours. Then wrap each bar individually in plastic wrap and place in a resealable freezer bag. They will keep in the freezer for up to 2 months.
Whether you plan to make these for a picnic in the middle of summer, a cookie table for a wedding in the spring, or a Christmas cookie tray, you’ll be so pleased with how easily these come together and how delicious they are.
Shower them with a generous dusting of powdered sugar and they’ll be ready to go!
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter a 9x13-inch baking pan and line with parchment paper.
Make the Crust: Pulse flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a food processor. Add the butter and process for 8 to 10 seconds and then pulse until the mixture is pale yellow and resembles coarse meal, about three 1-second pulses. Sprinkle the mixture into the lined pan and press firmly into an even layer over the entire pan bottom and ½-inch up the sides. Refrigerate for 30 minutes, then bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Make the Filling: Meanwhile, whisk the eggs, sugar and flour in a medium bowl, then stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice, milk and salt to blend well.
Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Stir the filling mixture to reincorporate the ingredients, then pour into the warm crust. Bake until the filling feels firm when touched lightly, about 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack; cool to near room temperature, at least 30 minutes. Lift the bars from the pan using the parchment paper, then place on a cutting board to slice into squares. Sift powdered sugar over bars, if desired. Leftover bars can be covered in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 days.
You can prepare the crust by hand simply by whisking together the flour, powdered sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Then, cut in the butter with a pastry blender (or grate frozen butter into the mixture and rub together quickly with your fingers) until completely incorporated and resembles coarse meal.
The filling needs to be poured into a warm crust straight from the oven, so once the crust is in the refrigerator chilling, prepare the filling so it's ready when the crust comes out of the oven.