Lemon Bars - From Scratch Recipe

When life gives you lemons, make lemon bars! My original plan was to make these for a get together over the weekend with new students. However, Jeff convinced me students would prefer chocolate chip cookies and we should have the whole pan of lemon bars to ourselves. I didn't take much convincing.
Never having made the lemon curd filling before and I was a little nervous because it calls for the use of a candy thermometer. Although I have one I'd never used it. It's actually Jeff's grandma's I believe. And I think it has Mercury in it. I mentally created a "just in case it breaks" plan in my head and then started cooking. In hind site, I should probably just get rid of the old mercury thermometer and get a digital one. If you're not convinced read this Cleaning Up Houshold Spills of Elemental Mercury.

If you don't use an ancient candy thermometer this is a pretty easy recipe. A little extra work will ensure curd that sets and tender crust. Many lemon bar recipes call for baking the lemon curd on the crust in the oven, which resulted in under cooked lemon and rubbery crust. Cook's Illustrated found the crust didn't get soggy if the crust was pre-baked and the curd was cooked on the stove. Then the curd goes into the crust and a final baking in the oven brings it all together!

Lemon Bars

1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool, cut into 1-inch pieces
Lemon Curd Filling
7 large egg yolks, plus 2 large eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2/3 cup lemon juice (from 4-5 medium lemons), plus 1/4 cup finely grated zest
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
3 tablespoons heavy cream
  1. Fold two 16-inch pieces of 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. Butter the parchments to ensure a no stick situation. 

  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. Put the crust in the refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  3. Prebake the crust: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350°F. Bake the crust until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

  4. In a medium 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 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 on an instant-read thermometer or candy thermometer, about 5 minutes. Immediately pour the curd through a single-mesh stainless steel strainer set over 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 (Mine actually took longer more like 30 minutes).
  6. Cool on a wire rack to room temperature, about for at least 45 minutes. Cut into at least 16 pieces because these bars are rich!


  1. This looks delicious! I had a "too many lemons" post a while back and I made lemonade and a meringue pie. Next time I will have to try this instead! :)

  2. Love lemon bars and homemade are definitely the best! I agree with your hubby, make cookies for the students and more lemon bars for you!!!!

  3. MMM!! How I love Lemon Bars, however I've never really made a good one. These look positively delightful!!! Love it!

  4. Lemon bars are good any time of year-I love citrus desserts. These do look tasty and hard to resist! Great post.

  5. Looks really yummy with the soft top layer.

  6. Anonymous10/19/2011

    I usually can only have a small slice of a lemon bar because they are usually too sweet for me but I think I could eat a big slice of yours!

  7. These look wholesome AND delicious. I also have a fear of candy thermometers.... I love how rustic they look. Perfect after a day of playing outdoors or picking apples. Yummmm!

  8. Candy thermometers scare me a little bit too, but these look devine! I love the fresh taste of citrus any time of year! buzzed it

  9. The recipe looks a bit challenging (just a bit) but also, based on the photos, totally worth it. I too am a a little afraid of candy thermometers, but I'll brave almost anything to get a burst of citrus on my taste buds. Wonderful blog!


  10. I love Cook's Illustrated! They are genius! This looks wonderful, so bright and gorgeous. I've actually been meaning to make lemon bars, but I just haven't found the time...or energy. But I think I will now! :)

  11. This is gorgeous. The homemade curd makes all the difference.

  12. Lemon bars are one of my all time favorite cookie bars! SOoooooo need to make these. :-)

  13. I couldn't live without my candy thermometer. Next to my mixer and my whisk, it's one of the most used things in my kitchen!

  14. Anonymous10/19/2011

    This is a great recipe and your pictures are stunning! Thanks for sharing. I agree with Grubarazzi - homemade curd is amazing!

  15. Love the first pic!

  16. Delicious! I have never make a lemon dessert before. I need to change that soon!

  17. Looks absolutely smashing! I adore lemon curd... and these lemon bars are totally drool-worthy :) I have never used a candy thermometer either... and dont even own one. but will try and make this without it and pray it turns out well! :D

  18. Anonymous10/23/2011

    I cooked this and it failed hard.

    I am unsure whether this was the recipe or my incompetence.

  19. these are beautiful! i'm going to give them a go for my mom -- lemon desserts are her favorite! :-)

  20. Anonymous - if you let me know where the recipe went wrong, I might be able to figure out where things got off. For instance if your curd didn't set it was probably under cooked on the stove. Then I could also update the recipe to make it clearer for folks.

  21. Oh my, I want some right now! I would have to change up the crust to make it gluten free but with such a small amount of flour it shouldn't make much of a difference. Adding this to my Must-Make-List http://www.foxinthekitchenblog.com/must-make-this/
    Thanks for sharing.