I Made Ina Garten’s Lemon Bars and They’re Like Sunshine in a Square

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We tried Ina Garten's lemon bars, and they're the luscious, indulgent answer to your dessert cravings.

Ina Garten's Lemon Bars side by side with portrait of Ina GartenAnnamarie Higley for Taste of home, Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

When it comes to sweets, especially dessert bars, I’m partial to chocolate. I’ve been known to make the claim that brownies (yes, even boxed ones) are the most reliably delicious dessert around. But as with every rule, there is an exception. And my exception is lemon bars.

The delightfully puckery squares are a refreshing finale to many a meal, one that doesn’t make you feel bogged down but still manages to scratch the itch for a post-dinner indulgence. They’re buttery, they’re tart, they’re sweet, they’re pretty. They’re everything I want in a treat. Despite this, I’ve only made them once—and without much success.

I thought I’d give the classic another try, and what better recipe to start with than the lemon bars from Ina Garten herself? Ina Garten is an institution. (Psst! You must try her 19 favorite foods to cook and eat.) And though I’m privy to her affinity for giant cocktails and her legendary love story with husband Jeffrey, I’ve never actually made one of her recipes.

This truly was a day of baking firsts (and seconds) for me, and I’m so excited to share the results!

How to Make Ina Garten’s Lemon Bars

Ina Garten’s lemon bars, with their buttery shortbread-like crust and gooey lemon filling, are about as traditional as they come—and trust me when I say that’s a good thing. This recipe yields 20 rectangles or 40 triangles.

Ingredients

Crust:

  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Filling:

  • 6 extra-large eggs, room temperature
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 1 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • Confectioners’ sugar

Tools You’ll Need

Directions

Step 1: Combine crust ingredients

Creamed Mixture Lemon Bars Annamarie Higley For Taste Of Home JveditAnnamarie Higley for Taste of Home

After preheating the oven to 350°F, cream the butter and sugar until light. (I mixed the ingredients together for about 3 minutes.) Although Ina recommends a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, I used my trusty hand mixer, and it did the trick.

Next, combine the flour (I weighed mine) and salt, then add to the creamed butter, just until mixed. I opted to add the dry ingredients incrementally to ensure even mixing (and to prevent a floury explosion).

Step 2: Shape dough and press it into pan

ball of dough for lemon bars on flowered surfaceAnnamarie Higley for Taste of Home

Turn the mixture onto a lightly floured surface and shape it into a ball. (I was super pleased with how readily my dough held together!) With floured hands, press the dough into an ungreased 13×9-in. pan, creating a 1/2-in. edge on all sides. Chill dough. (I left the prepared pan in the fridge to chill for about 90 minutes before baking.)

Editor’s Note: It took a bit of coaxing to get the dough to fully cover the bottom of my 13×9 pan, and I don’t think my edges were quite a 1/2 in. high, but in the end, it didn’t matter much. So don’t stress if you can’t get your crust to look exactly as instructed.

(Prefer the crust to the custard? Try one of our shortbread recipes.)

Step 3: Bake the crust

Bake crust until lightly browned, 15-20 minutes. (I baked mine for 16 minutes and rotated the pan halfway through.) Let cool on a wire rack.

Check out our ultimate guide to baking bars and brownies.

Step 4: Make filling and bake bars

baked lemon bars on the pan and on a cooling rackAnnamarie Higley for Taste of Home

Whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest and juice (I needed six lemons to yield the required measurements), and flour. Pour over the baked crust; bake until the filling is set, 30-35 minutes. (I baked the bars for 33 minutes and rotated the pan halfway through once again.) Let cool to room temperature. (I also ran a knife around the edges of the pan after about 15 minutes.)

Editor’s Tip: I left the eggs out at room temperature for about four hours, which I figured would be sufficient, but my chilly apartment had other plans. In order to fully bring them to room temperature and fast, I soaked them in a bowl of warm water for three minutes. (Find out why baking with room-temperature eggs is so crucial.)

Step 5: Dust with sugar and enjoy

Sprinkle bars with confectioners’ sugar, if desired, then cut into triangles or rectangles. I chose to cut off the dark-brown edges, too, for a more uniform-looking final product.

Did you know you can make your own confectioners’ sugar from granulated sugar?

Here’s What We Thought

finished lemon bars on plateAnnamarie Higley for Taste of Home

On Ina’s site, Barefoot Contessa, this recipe is marked intermediate. But that shouldn’t intimidate anyone. If anything, it earned that rating due to the cumbersomeness of making and baking the crust and filling separately. That being said, the techniques, tools and ingredients required to make this recipe are all very straightforward.

In terms of appearance, the bars did come out of the oven looking a little pocked. To what this can be attributed, I’m not totally sure. But the holes and blemishes weren’t anything that a healthy sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar couldn’t mask. (See our best ideas for fixing cracked or unsightly desserts.)

Aside from this largely unimportant cosmetic issue, the bars smelled and tasted delicious. The ratio of custard to crust was just right, and the latter was flaky, buttery goodness. Everyone who sampled the sunny delicacy mentioned that although the sour lemon flavor of the filling was pronounced (in a good way!), it was perfectly offset by the kiss of confectioners’ sugar.

I followed this recipe to a T; my only misstep was not letting the bars set up enough before slicing into them. (Here’s how to cut them the right away.) But can I really be blamed? Next time, I’ll be sure to let them cool for several hours either at room temperature or even in the fridge.

Tips for Making Lemon Bars

  • We don’t recommend bottled lemon juice for this recipe. Instead zest a fresh lemon, then juice it! (Did you know you can juice a lemon without so much as slicing it open?)
  • Because lemon bars contain a filling similar to custard, they need to be refrigerated. If you prefer them at room temperature, pull them from the fridge 30 minutes before serving.
  • To cut nice and clean slices, line the pan with parchment paper or foil. Then, allow the baked bars to cool completely before slicing. You might even consider refrigerating them before cutting for the cleanest, neatest results.
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Annamarie Higley
Annamarie Higley is an Associate Print Editor for Taste of Home magazine, as well as the brand's special issue publications. A midwestern transplant originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she enjoys hiking, trivia-ing, and—you guessed it!—all things cooking and baking.