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This old-fashioned lemon squares recipe is easy to make from scratch with just 7 ingredients and 10 minutes of prep! The sweet and tart lemon curd filling sits on top of a flaky, buttery shortbread crust for a simple and delicious treat. Serve the classic lemon bars at picnics, bridal showers, afternoon tea parties, or holiday dessert buffets.

Hands picking up a bar from a stack of old fashioned lemon squares.
Table of Contents
  1. Origin
  2. Why You’ll Love this Recipe
  3. Ingredients
  4. How to Make Lemon Squares
  5. Preparation and Storage Tips
  6. Frequently Asked Questions
  7. Recipe Variations
  8. Expert Tips
  9. Old Fashioned Lemon Squares Recipe

If you’re looking for even more delicious lemon recipes, try this lemon poppy seed bread (which starts with cake mix!), the best lemon poppy seed muffins from scratch, and a pan of Fannie’s easy frosted lemon bars (from cake mix), too!

Origin

These old fashioned lemon squares (or “lemon bars”) are a classic dessert that has been loved for generations. The recipe is a slight variation of the lemon bars recipe that I originally found in the VeryVera cookbook, but it’s also almost identical to a number of other classic lemon bars that I’ve come across in some of my vintage community cookbooks.

The first widely publicized lemon bar recipe was printed in the “Chicago Daily Tribune” on August 27, 1962. If you’re looking for a dessert that’s just like Grandma used to make, then this is it. The old-fashioned recipe yields the best lemon squares, and there’s no need to mess with a good thing!

Side shot of an easy lemon squares recipe served on a blue and white plate.

Why You’ll Love this Recipe

  • Easy. With layers of a delicate and buttery shortbread crust, creamy and tart lemon filling, and a dusting of powdered sugar, the old fashioned lemon bars look and taste fancy — but they’re so simple to make! With 10 minutes of hands-on prep, you can have a big tray of lemon squares made from scratch with only a handful of pantry staples.
  • Perfect Ratio of Crusting to Filling. Some other lemon square recipes call for a thicker shortbread cookie crust or a thicker lemon filling. These delicate bars strike the ideal balance — equal amounts of crust and filling — but not too much of either one. You don’t want to end up with super-thick bars that are overly rich or sickeningly sweet.
  • Versatile. Serve them for just about any special occasion, including Easter brunch, a bridal shower, baby shower, or just a casual summer picnic or Sunday supper.
  • Make Ahead. The lemon squares keep really well in the fridge, so they’re a convenient treat that you can prep the day before and eliminate any last-minute hosting stress.

I’ve tried other recipes this is my favorite!!

– Michael
Shortbread crust for homemade lemon bars.

Ingredients

This is a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need to make this old fashioned lemon squares recipe. As always, the exact measurements and the specific instructions are included in the recipe box at the bottom of this post.

  • Butter: I like salted butter to balance the sweetness in this dessert. The melted butter forms the base of the shortbread crust.
  • All-purpose flour: included in both the shortbread crust and in the filling. A small amount in the lemon curd filling gives it structure.
  • Confectioners sugar: sweetens the shortbread crust and adds a pretty dusting on top of the bars.
  • Granulated sugar: sweetens the lemon filling and helps the eggs set.
  • Baking powder: a leavener that gives the filling a little bit of lift.
  • Eggs: the base of the filling; provides structure and helps the lemon curd set.
  • Lemons: both the juice and the zest from fresh lemons give these bars that fresh burst of citrus flavor!
Process shot showing how to make old fashioned lemon squares recipe.

How to Make Lemon Squares

One of the easiest dessert recipes that you’ll ever make from scratch, these classic lemon bars only require about 10 minutes of actual hands-on time. Bake them well in advance, though — they need to cool completely before you can slice them. You’ll find detailed directions in the recipe card below, but here’s the quick version:

  1. Make the shortbread crust.
  2. Press the crust into a greased and floured 9 x 13-inch baking dish.
  3. Bake crust.
  4. Whisk together the filling.
  5. Pour the filling over the warm crust.
  6. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until the filling is set.
  7. Cool completely before dusting with confectioners sugar and slicing into squares.
Pan of old fashioned lemon squares dusted with powdered sugar in a glass baking dish.

Preparation and Storage Tips

  • Store lemon bars in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
  • You can also freeze the lemon bars before dusting with powdered sugar. To do so, wrap the bars tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
  • Thaw frozen bars in the refrigerator overnight and dust with powdered sugar before serving.
Side shot of lemon squares on plate with cups of tea on a white surface.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I know when lemon squares are done? You can tell that the lemon bars are done when you jiggle the baking pan and the center of the filling doesn’t wiggle. The bars will continue to firm up and set as they cool.
  • What’s the best way to cut lemon squares? Wait for the lemon squares to cool completely before cutting. This can take up to 3 hours, so be patient. If you slice the bars at room temperature, they will be soft and slightly gooey — but they should not be runny. Wipe your sharp knife after each slice for a clean cut. It’s even easier to cut the bars when they’re chilled. If possible, let the bars cool at room temperature for about 1 hour, and then transfer to the refrigerator to chill and set for a couple of more hours.
  • Why are my lemon squares soggy? An underbaked crust will become soggy when you add the lemon custard filling. In order to avoid this problem, bake the shortbread crust until it’s a nice golden brown color.
  • Do lemon squares need to be refrigerated? The homemade lemon bars will be fine at room temperature for up to 24 hours, but should be refrigerated as soon as possible. Keeping them chilled prevents the growth of harmful bacteria, and it also keeps them nice and firm.
Side shot of a plate full of the best lemon squares recipe.

Recipe Variations

  • Graham Cracker Crust: instead of the traditional shortbread crust, you can make the bars with a graham cracker crust.
  • Lime Bars: swap out the lemon juice and zest and replace it with an equal amount of fresh lime juice and lime zest.
  • Lemon Basil Bars: add a couple of tablespoons of chopped fresh basil to the lemon filling.
  • Lemon Blueberry Squares: add about 1 cup of fresh blueberries to the lemon filling.
  • If you prefer to start with unsalted butter, you’ll need to add about ½ teaspoon of salt to the shortbread crust.
Close up side shot of a stack of lemon squares on a white table with fresh lemons in a bowl in the background.

Expert Tips

  • Use a glass baking dish if possible, or a ceramic dish as an alternative. Metal pans can sometimes give the bars a metallic aftertaste.
  • Use fresh lemon juice (not bottled juice) for the best flavor.
  • When zesting the lemon, be sure that you’re only scraping off the outer layer of the peel (this is where the essential oils and delicious lemon flavor can be found). Be careful not to grate any of the bitter white pith from the fruit.
  • Allow the bars to cool completely before dusting with sugar and slicing. I like to cool the bars at room temperature for about 1 hour, and then refrigerate the pan for at least 2 more hours before cutting.
  • If you notice little white bubbles on the top of your bars after baking, that’s totally normal. These little air bubbles rise to the top as the eggs cook. Just dust the cool bars with powdered sugar and the bubbles will be undetectable.
Child's hand holding old fashioned lemon squares.

More Lemon Dessert Recipes to Try

Side shot of a plate full of the best lemon squares recipe.

Old Fashioned Lemon Squares

5 from 2 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 45 minutes
Cooling Time 3 hours
Total: 3 hours 55 minutes
Servings 24 squares
Calories 196 kcal
These sweet and tangy old-fashioned lemon squares are easy to make from scratch with just 10 minutes of prep!

Ingredients
  

FOR THE CRUST:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, melted
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup confectioners sugar, plus extra for dusting at the end

FOR THE FILLING:

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease and flour a 9 x 13-inch glass baking dish or line the bottom and sides with parchment paper, leaving an overhang on the sides.

Prepare Crust:

  • In a large bowl, stir together melted butter, flour and confectioners sugar until completely combined.
    Process shot showing how to make the crust for an old fashioned lemon squares recipe.
  • Press the mixture into the prepared baking dish. I like to use the flat bottom of a measuring cup to gently press the crust into an even layer. Bake until golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.
    Shortbread crust for homemade lemon bars.

Prepare Filling:

  • While the crust is in the oven, make the filling. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour and baking powder. Add the eggs, lemon juice and lemon zest; whisk until completely combined.
    Process shot showing how to make old fashioned lemon squares recipe.
  • Pour the filling over the hot crust. Return to the oven and bake for 25 minutes.
    Overhead shot of easy lemon squares recipe before baking.
  • Cool completely on a wire rack. Dust with additional powdered sugar.
    Pan of old fashioned lemon squares dusted with powdered sugar in a glass baking dish.
  • Slice into squares and serve.
    Hands picking up a bar from a stack of old fashioned lemon squares.

Notes

  • Use a glass baking dish if possible, or a ceramic dish as an alternative. Metal pans can sometimes give the bars a metallic aftertaste.
  • Use freshly-squeezed lemon juice (not bottled juice) for the best flavor.
  • When zesting the lemon, be sure that you’re only scraping off the outer layer of the peel (this is where the essential oils and delicious flavor can be found). Be careful not to grate any of the bitter white pith from the fruit.
  • Allow the bars to cool completely before dusting with sugar and slicing. I like to cool the bars at room temperature for about 1 hour, and then refrigerate the pan for at least 2 more hours before cutting.
  • If you notice little white bubbles on the top of your bars after baking, that’s totally normal. These little air bubbles rise to the top as the eggs cook. Just dust the cool bars with powdered sugar and the bubbles will be undetectable.

Nutrition

Serving: 1squareCalories: 196kcalCarbohydrates: 28gProtein: 2gFat: 8gSaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 48mgSodium: 79mgPotassium: 36mgFiber: 1gSugar: 19gVitamin A: 276IUVitamin C: 2mgCalcium: 12mgIron: 1mg
Keyword: classic lemon bars, lemon bars, lemon squares, lemon squares recipe, old fashioned lemon squares
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan

This recipe was originally published in January, 2021. It was updated in March, 2024.

blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

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Comments

  1. The Seasoned Mom says:

    We’re sorry they weren’t your favorite, Lea. You could always reduce the amount of sugar used if you make them again!

  2. Michael G Galvam says:

    5 stars
    I’ve tried other recipes this is my favorite!!

    1. The Seasoned Mom says:

      Thank you, Michael!

  3. Kathleen Labounty says:

    Hi Blair!

    Just wondering if I could cheat and use a Sherriff lemon pie filling? I usually add a little lemon juice to it to give more ‘zing’! lol

    1. The Seasoned Mom says:

      Hi Kathleen! We haven’t tested this recipe with pre-made lemon pie filling and can’t guarantee that it would work. It might not set correctly. We’d love to know how it turns out if you do give it a try!

  4. Becky says:

    5 stars
    Blair, I cannot wait to make these! Anything lemon is the thing for me. Question: Would I be able, in a time crunch, to sub a jar of lemon curd for the homemade version? Would I then bake it, too? Just a thought since I have a jar of lemon curd in the pantry!

    BTW: Yours is the ONLY site I follow. Your recipes are divine!!!

    1. Becky says:

      Blair, I just saw the above post about the filling. I’ll try it with the lemon curd and let you know how it goes.

      1. Blair Lonergan says:

        Please do! Thank you!

  5. Linda McKague says:

    I made your lemon squares recipe today and they are delicious. I used half the crust amount but the full lemon amount (except I used one cup of sugar not two which was still sweet enough) and made it in a 8×8 pan. It made a nice thick lemon part. Definitely will make this again.

    1. The Seasoned Mom says:

      Thank you, Linda! We’re so glad it turned out well for you.