Pucker-up Creamy Lemon Squares
The most delicious creamy lemon squares! These bars are zesty, filled with freshly-squeezed lemon juice and the perfect dessert to serve on a warm day!
Creamy lemon squares have been on repeat for the last two weeks at our house. They’re citrusy, tangy, sweet, and so addicting.
These lemon bars are a spin-off of the key lime pie bars I shared a few years ago, which happens to be the #1 dessert recipe on the blog. All this to say, that if you loved those, you’ll want to give these a try too. It’s the kind of dessert you crave on a warm summer day to cool you off and brighten your tastebuds all at the same time.
In my opinion, what makes these creamy lemon squares so irresistible is the crust. I use a few unusual ingredients that make the crust so much more delicious than just your basic graham, sugar, and butter crust.
Ingredients for Creamy Lemon Squares:
- Graham cracker: I like to use precrushed graham cracker crumbs for this recipe. In years past, I’ve bought sheets and run them through a food processor, but now it’s so easy to find crumbs, that I usually just buy those!
- Ground pecans: I keep a large bag of pecans frozen in the freezer so it’s easy to quickly make ground pecans! All you need to do is crush them while frozen with a mortar and pestle and they break down so easily!
- Sugar: just a little bit of sugar is used to sweeten the crust
- Spices: my secret to an addicting crust is just a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg. I use these ingredients in my lemon pound cake too and they pair beautifully with lemon.
- Butter: my choice is to use salted butter to help balance the sweetness from the sugar we’re adding.
- Egg yolks: yolks are used to help thicken the lemon bar filling
- Vanilla: a dash of vanilla helps round out the flavors in the lemon bars
- Sour cream: sour cream adds a nice unexpected creamy tang to the lemon filling
- Condensed milk: this recipe calls for sweetened condensed milk which helps provide the sweetness for the lemon bar filling
- Lemon juice + zest: fresh is always best when you’re making citrus bars. I use a zester to get the zest off the lemons before juicing them. You could also use meyer lemons if you want a sweeter flavor and less of a lemon zing.
How to make the crust for creamy lemon bars:
- Preheat the oven. Get the oven going right away so that it heats up before you’re done making the crust. It’s good to have an oven thermometer so you can make sure the oven reaches the proper temperature when it says it does. Spray an 8×8 baking dish with nonstick spray and place a piece of parchment paper inside so it’s easy to lift out the bars.
- Make the crumb mixture: Melt the butter in a medium bowl. Then, add the graham crumbs, ground pecans, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg to the bowl. Stir to combine until all the ingredients are all coated in the butter.
- Make the crust. Press crumb mixture into the prepared dish. My trick is to use the back of a measuring cup to help flatten out the crust. Bake the crust for 10 minutes then, remove from the oven and allow it to rest while you prepare the filling.
What if I have graham cracker sheets, can I use those?
Graham cracker sheets will also work for the crust. Just be sure to pulse them in a food processor until they breakdown into a coarse crumb. You will need 1 ¾ cups of broken graham cracker crumb for these bars.
How to make the filling for creamy lemon bars:
- Whip is good. Start by whipping the yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. When the yolks are beaten, add the condensed milk and continue whipping until the mixture lightens in color, about 2 minutes. Then, we’ll add the remaining ingredients: condensed milk, sour cream, vanilla extract, lemon zest, and lemon juice and continue running the mixture until the filling is thick and combined.
- Bake it. Once the crust is cooked, we’ll pour the prepared filling over the crust and bake until the mixture is almost set. It’s okay if it’s just a little jiggly when you remove it from the oven. The filling will set further as it cools. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. I find that the bars are much much easier to cut if you refrigerate them overnight. So these are ideal for making ahead!
How do you get nice clean cuts?
There are a few different things you can do to ensure you get nice clean cuts from these creamy lemon squares:
- Cool the bars completely. Allow the bars to cool completely on the counter before refrigerating. Then, allow to cool for at least two hours in the fridge before slicing. I prefer to let them cool overnight as the longer they have to set, the easier it is to cut them. Warm bars do not slice well at all!
- Use a sharp knife. A long sharp knife ensures that the bars are cut all the way through to the bottom.
- Wipe the knife. Wipe the knife in between cuts so that any filling or crumb that may have gotten stuck from the last cut doesn’t transfer to the next cut.
- Take your time! You worked so hard to make them, don’t rush through the cuts. Be patient and really take your time between cuts.
This is the best creamy lemon squares recipe because:
- they’re addicting and delicious
- Ideal to make ahead of time
- Sweet but balanced with a nice tang
- Cool and refreshing so it’s going to become a go-to dessert in the summertime!
If you like these bars, you might also like:
- Pecan pie cheesecake bars
- Cinnamon roll blondies
- Easiest Tiramisu
- Pan banging fudge brownies
- Old fashioned sour cream coffee cake
- Easy Texas blueberry cobbler
- Flourless chocolate cake
- Apple crumble bars
- Easiest Nutella pie
- New York-style Instant Pot Cheesecake
- 1 ¾ cups graham cracker crumbs
- 2 tablespoons ground pecans
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 pinch nutmeg, optional
- ½ cup (1 stick) salted butter, melted + cooled
- 4 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 can (14-ounce) sweetened condensed milk
- 2 tablespoons EACH: sour cream AND finely grated lemon zest (scant)
- ⅔ cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
- PREP: Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350ºF. Spray an 8x8 square baking pan with cooking spray and line with parchment paper, set aside.
- CRUMBS: Melt the butter in a medium bowl. Add the graham cracker crumbs, ground pecans, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and stir to combine. Make sure all the crumbs are moistened in the butter. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the baking pan and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, leave the oven on.
- FILLING: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the yolks for 2 minutes. Add the vanilla extract and condensed milk and continue to whisk for another 2 minutes. Stop the mixer, scrape down the sides, add the sour cream and lemon zest. With the mixer on low, drizzle in the lemon juice. Let the mixer run for 2 minutes once added. The mixture will visibly look slightly thicker when done.
- BAKE: Pour the filling into the crust and bake for 17 minutes. Cool completely on rack. Filling will set as it cools. When completely cooled, refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Slice and serve chilled.