Lemon dessert lovers, today’s recipe is for you! Not only are these the Best Lemon Bars you are ever going to bake, they are the absolute easiest. This recipe comes from my sister Elaine, whom (at the age of 12) my grammy put in charge of making every pan of lemon squares our family ever ate. According to Grammy, Elaine’s were the best lemon bars she’d ever eaten, including her own.
This is no small statement.
My grammy’s dessert skills are on par with Martha Stewart, the Barefoot Contessa, and Paula Deen combined. A lifetime baker who can make a perfect Lemon Cream Pie in her sleep, if Grammy calls something the best, then you know it is THE BEST.
Every spring, my family makes a lemon dessert for our Easter celebration, and I love sharing that tradition here too. A few seasons ago, I posted the recipe for these Lemon Cream Cheese Bars. These Lemon Thumbprint Cookies are another favorite.
This year, I was feeling more traditional.
I also was feeling lazy efficient. As much as I adore this Lemon Layer Cake (it’s perfection), I wanted something I could stir together quickly.
I settled on classic lemon bars, and, after tinkering with a few lemon bar recipe ideas—lemon bars with graham cracker crust; a healthy version of Pioneer Woman lemon bars (that one didn’t go particularly well); a no bake lemon bar that never quite set—I realized that, if I wanted to bake the best lemon bars, I needed to go directly to the source: my sister Elaine.
I called Elaine for the lemon bar recipe deets, and she revealed her secret.
Her perfect, best-ever, Grammy-sanctioned bars? They are the Betty Crocker Lemon Bars with two critical recipe changes.
Secrets to the Best Lemon Bars
While these Lemon Bars have the original Betty Crocker Cookbook recipe as their base, Elaine makes two important recipe changes that not only give these lemon bars a superior flavor, but it also makes them EASY, easier even than Betty’s.
Best Lemon Bars Secret One: Double the lemon juice. If you like your bars extra bright and citrusy, you are going to be head-over-heels for these luscious lemon squares.
Best Lemon Bars Secret Two: Melt the butter. The original Betty Crocker lemon squares with shortbread base call for softened butter that is painstakingly cut into the dry ingredients. Elaine’s easy lemon bars call for melting it, then stirring all the shortbread ingredients together at once. It’s a total time saver!
I’m not sure what inspired Elaine to experiment with melted butter all those years ago, but I sure am happy she did. Not only does melting the butter make these the easiest bars you’ll ever bake, it gives the shortbread crust an extra indulgent, melt-in-your mouth texture.
While I love many things about these bars—their ultra-refreshing, no-apologies lemon flavor, the buttery crust, the fact that they can be in your oven fewer than 15 minutes from now—my favorite part of all is their lightly crispy, crackly top.
Sinking my fork (or, let’s be real, my teeth—lemon bars are usually a direct-pick-up, eat-with-your-fingers situation) through that crackly, sugary lid is one of life’s great small joys.
Whether you’re looking for a last-minute, crowd-pleasing Easter dessert, want a fun, easy recipe to bake with your kids or grandkids, or simply have a love for lemon dessert recipes, these bars will not disappoint.
Thanks, Elaine, for sharing your Best Lemon Bars with us!
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Best Lemon Bars
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick)
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour or additional all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar plus additional for serving
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt plus 1/8 teaspoon, divided
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest about three-quarters of 1 large lemon
- 2 large eggs at room temperature
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice from about 1 large lemon
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8x8-inch pan with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a small microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter. In a medium mixing bowl, stir together the all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt. Pour the butter over the top and stir to combine. The batter will be very wet. Press into an even layer in the prepared pan, building the crust 1/2 inch up the sides all around. Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes, until barely light brown. Leave the oven at 350 degrees F.
- While the crust bakes, in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, rub the granulated sugar and lemon zest together with your fingers until moist and fragrant. Add the eggs, lemon juice, baking powder, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. With an electric mixer, beat on high speed until light and well blended, about 3 minutes. Pour into the hot crust (no need for it to cool).
- Return to the pan to the oven and bake 25 to 30 minutes, until the bars are set, no indentation remains when you touch the center with your finger, and your kitchen smells incredible. Let cool completely, then dust with powdered sugar. Cut into squares and serve.
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