Lemon Pie Bars

Goodbye, cakey or chewy lemon squares. These easy lemon pie bars are made with a creamy custard, jam packed with lemon flavor, on a crisp lemon shortbread crust.  The perfect combination of sweet-tart and creamy-crispy.

a plate of lemon pie bars decorated with powdered sugar and raspberries

These aren’t your standard flat, thin lemon squares. 

With lemon squares, there’s a thin shortbread-ish crust, topped with a thin layer of flour-based lemon filling.  The flour (or sometimes cornstarch) helps to set the bars, but it also bakes into an often gummy-ish consistency.

Don’t get me wrong: I love a good lemon dessert.  Lemon is quite possibly my favorite dessert flavor, and I will never turn down a lemon square.

But after finding a jar of my homemade lemon curd in the back of the refrigerator and spreading it on pancakes and waffles and everything in sight for a week or two, I wanted something better.

Something richer and smoother and softer, with more lemon flavor and more creaminess.  I wanted lemon curd, except thick enough to slice in a bar farm.

Then I realized what I really wanted was the creamy lemon pie, which is one of my Top 5 Favorite Recipes Ever.

I wanted more of that lemon pie, and I wanted it in a hand-held bar form.  So that’s exactly what I made — lemon pie bars, instead of classic lemon squares.

squares of lemon bars made with lemon pie filling and topped with raspberries

The CREAMIEST Lemon Bar Filling

Instead of a flour-based filling like most lemon squares, this has a soft custardy filling made from lemon juice and zest, condensed milk, and egg yolk.  That’s it.  

Because we’re using lemon juice, we’re able to get a delicious soft custard, without adding starch or worrying about over-cooking the eggs.  How is this possible?  It’s time for my favorite subject… kitchen chemistry!

Kitchen Chemistry

Lemon juice is acidic, which lowers the pH of the egg and condensed milk mixture.  By lowering the pH, we also lower the temperature at which the egg yolks coagulate, or transition from a liquid to a solid state.  As a result, the proteins in the egg yolks break apart and reform into a solid structure at a lower temperature, before the eggs cook to the point of scrambling, resulting in a perfectly smooth filling.

The egg yolk helps to ‘set’ the condensed milk and lemon juice as it cooks, resulting in a firm enough texture that you can slice.  The lemon pie filling stays soft and silky smooth, but is just stiff enough to give you a nice clean cut when you slice into the bars – without the cakey or gummy texture that can result from adding flour.

a hand dusting powdered sugar from a mesh sieve on top of lemon pie bars

Lemony Shortbread Crust

 

Instead of the graham cracker crust from the lemon pie, I went with a shortbread crust with a little lemon zest.  As much as I loved the original graham cracker crust, it can be a little crumbly for a handheld food.  Plus, we want something that can last for a few days before getting too mushy.

One of the reasons I really like a shortbread crust is because it doesn’t puff up too much as a base layer.  By skipping the classic creaming-together-butter-and-sugar step, we’re not adding additional air and lift into the dough. 

Instead, everything gets quickly mixed together in the food processor (or cut the butter in by hand), making these super simple.

I also like shortbread crusts because they’re not too sweet — a nice contrast to the rich lemon pie filling.

before and after photos showing lemon pie bars with and without a dusting of powdered sugar

Serving Ideas

Unlike the actual lemon pie, lemon pie bars are best topped with a thorough dusting of confectioners sugar.  I mean, is it really a lemon bar without that beautiful coating?  Just wait until immediately before serving; the sugar will melt into the bars within a half hour or so!

I love the look of perfectly crisp lines outlined with a coating of powdered sugar, but if it’s not your thing, go with a dollop of whipped cream.  Or some berries and sprig of mint.  Or naked – just let the delicious sweet-tart lemony goodness shine.

rows of lemon bars on a white serving plate

Tips and Tricks for the Best Lemon Pie Bars

  1. Use freshly squeezed lemon juice and zest for the best lemon flavor and the best overall texture.
  2. Cool the bars at room temperature first, then transfer to the refrigerator.  Refrigerating the pie bars is crucial to the structure setting properly.
  3. Wipe off your knife after each cut for even, smooth edges.  Otherwise, crumbs from the crust and extra custard will stick to the knife and carry over to next bar.
  4. Dust the lemon pie bars with powdered sugar immediately before serving.  The powdered sugar will dissolve into the top of the bar within 30 minutes to an hour.

More Lemon Desserts:

Lemon Pie Bars: goodbye, cakey lemon squares -- these lemon pie bars are made with a creamy curd-like custard, jam packed with lemon flavor, and a crisp shortbread crust. {Bunsen Burner Bakery} #lemonsquares #lemonbars #lemonpie #lemon

Lemon Pie Bars

Yield: 20 bars
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

These lemon pie bars are made with a creamy custard, jam packed with lemon flavor, on a crisp lemon shortbread crust.

Ingredients

For the Crust:

  • 2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (57 grams) confectioners sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (226 grams) butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • zest of 1 lemon

For the Filling:

  • 2 (14 ounce) cans full-fat sweetened condensed milk
  • 3/4 cup (170 grams) freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 4 lemons)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • optional garnish: confectioners sugar, freshly whipped cream, additional lemon slices, raspberries

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 °F.  Line a 9×9-inch square pan with aluminum foil, then lightly grease.
  2. Make the shortbread crust. Add the flour, sugar, and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse several times to combine.  Add the butter and lemon zest and continue to pulse in short, one second bursts, until the mixture resembles coarse sand.  (Alternatively: whisk together ingredients and cut butter into the dough with two knives.)
  3. Spread the shortbread crust into the prepared pan, pressing the crumbly dough down with a heavy glass, until dough forms an even layer across the pan.  Bake for 12 minutes, then remove from the oven.
  4. Make the lemon pie filling. While the crust bakes, prepare the lemon pie filling.  In a large bowl, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, lemon zest, and egg yolks until well combined.  Pour into partially baked crust
  5. Bake the pie. Return the baking pan into the oven and bake until the filling is set, 20-25 minutes.  Cool completely at room temperature, then transfer to the refrigerator for 1-2 hours, or overnight, until bars are set.
  6. Cut bars into squares and top with additional confectioners sugar immediately before serving.

Notes

  1. Use freshly squeezed lemon juice and zest for the best lemon flavor and the best overall texture.
  2. Dust the lemon pie bars with powdered sugar immediately before serving.  The powdered sugar will dissolve into the top of the bar within 30 minutes to an hour.
  3. Wipe the knife with a towel between cuts for smooth, even edges.
  4. Check out these recipes as ways to use the leftover egg whites.


Lemon Pie Bars can be stored at room temperature for one day, refrigerated for up to one week or frozen for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before enjoying.

A Bunsen Burner Bakery Original Protocol

Recommended Products

As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 20 Serving Size: 1 bar
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 324Total Fat: 14.9gCarbohydrates: 42.5gProtein: 6.2g

Did you make this recipe?

Don't forget to leave a rating or a comment and share your recipe photos on Instagram - tag @bunsenburnerbakery and hashtag it #bunsenburnerbakery!

Lemon Pie Bars: goodbye, cakey lemon squares -- these easy lemon pie bars are made with a creamy dreamy curd-like custard, jam packed with lemon flavor, and a crisp shortbread crust. #bunsenburnerbakery #lemonsquares #lemonbars #lemonpie

This Lemon Pie Bar recipe was originally published on 07/30/2018 and was republished with updated text and tips on 07/30/2020.