In the mood for a fresh, sunshiney treat? Then bake creamy lemon squares! These lemon bars with sweetened condensed milk have a luxuriously velvety texture. They are full of bright citrus flavor for the perfectly tangy delicacy. The recipe comes together with 6 easy ingredients and requires only 20 minutes prep time.
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Creamy lemon bars with sweetened condensed milk
Raise your hand if lemon bars are your favorite dessert. I mean, what’s not to love about a buttery shortbread layer topped with a tart lemon filling under a light sugar dusting.
Whenever I spot a sale on organic lemons, you best believe that lemon squares are on the menu. It’s one of my favorite desserts with all of the delicious lemon aroma, sunshine color, and rich, dreamy texture.
And I especially love these lemon bars with sweetened condensed milk because it’s super simple and SO delicious. The recipe comes together quickly with 6 stable ingredients and is brimming with tangy lemon flavor.
In this post, I’ve put together my favorite tips and tricks to make the best lemon bars. But if you just want the recipe, tap the jump-to-recipe button at the top of the page, or click here for the printable recipe card.
What are condensed milk lemon squares?
In case you may be wondering: Lemon bars with condensed milk have all constituents of an old-fashioned lemon squares recipe. They consist of a classic shortbread base and are baked with a custard-like lemon filling.
The lemon filling is traditionally made with lemons, eggs, butter, sugar, and sometimes flour or cornstarch. My recipe uses lemon juice + zest, egg yolks, and sweetened condensed milk in place of sugar and butter.
Why use sweetened condensed milk?
Condensed milk is not just delicious in coffee – it’s great for baking, too! We love to use condensed milk in our recipes because it adds a nice sweetness and guarantees an ultra-creamy texture. Since condensed milk contains sugar, we can omit any additional sweetener from the filling.
Lemon bars with sweetened condensed milk come together in less than 1 hour with just a handful of pantry staples you probably already have on hand. Here’s what you’ll need for this easy lemon bar recipe:
- Lemons: Lemon juice and zest deliver the best citrus aroma. Use fresh lemons and stay clear of artificial lemon aroma and bottled lemon juice.
- Sweetened condensed milk: Adding condensed milk to lemon bars creates sweetness and lends the texture a luxurious creaminess.
- Eggs yolks are needed to help the lemon filling set and provide a bright yellow color. Use the leftover egg whites for meringue cookies or pavlova.
- Flour: All-purpose flour creates a soft and tender crumb that is the perfect base for the bright citrus custard filling.
- Sugar: You need a little powdered sugar to sweeten the crust and dust the finished lemon bars.
- Butter: A shortbread crust made with butter is typically more tender and buttery than one made with shortening. And there’s no need to soften the butter because you can use it right out of the fridge.
How to make lemon bars with condensed milk
You’ll love how simple lemon bars with sweetened condensed milk truly are. First, prepare the shortbread crust and pre-bake it. Next, you’re going to make the lemon bar filling, pour it over the shortbread base and bake. Here’s a rundown of each step involved:
Step 1: Preheat the oven
- Position a baking rack in the center of the oven and preheat your oven to 350°F / 175°C / gas mark 4.
Step 2: Prep the baking pan
- Coat the bottom and sides of a square baking pan (tin) with butter.
- Place a piece of parchment paper (baking paper) on top, creating an overhang on two sides.
Step 3: Mix the crust
- Add the flour, powdered sugar, cold butter, and lemon zest into a large mixing bowl. Mix to create a crumbly texture. You can also do this with a food processor.
- Fill the crumbs into the prepared baking dish. Press firmly down until the entire bottom of the pan (tin) is evenly covered and no bare spots are showing.
Step 4: Bake the crust
- Bake the crust for 20 minutes or until lightly golden at the edges.
Step 5: Mix the lemon topping
- While the crust is baking, mix the lemon filling. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the sweetened condensed milk and egg yolks until perfectly combined.
- Add the lemon juice and zest and continue whisking until well blended. The mixture will thicken as you stir in the lemon juice.
Step 6: Bake the lemon bars
- Remove the crust from the oven and pour the lemon filling on top.
- Reduce the heat to 325°F / 160°C / gas mark 3.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the filling has set.
- Allow to cool in the pan on a wire rack.
Step 7: Cut and decorate the squares
- Transfer the lemon bars to a cutting board and cut into 1.5 in x 1.5 in / 4 cm x 4 cm squares.
- Dust the lemon squares with powdered sugar before serving if desired.
What baking dish do I need?
A glass or ceramic 8 in x 8 in / 20 cm x 20 cm or 9 in x 9 in / 23 cm x 23 cm baking dish is best. Double the ingredient amounts if you want to bake the lemon bars in a 9 in x 13 in / 23 cm x 33 cm pan. Otherwise, the lemon squares may end up a bit thin.
How do I know when lemon bars are done baking?
This can be a bit tricky, but here are some tips: Strat checking the lemon bars at the 18-minute mark. Use an oven mitt and give the baking dish a gentle wiggle. They should be jiggly in the center but not wet or liquid.
Tips for the best creamy lemon squares
I hope you feel inspired to try these lemon bars with sweetened condensed milk. It’s a recipe to turn to again and again. Before starting, check out my tips to ensure you get the best lemon bars every time:
- Use fresh lemon juice. Freshly squeezed lemon juice tastes so much better than bottled. It only takes a few extra minutes to squeeze lemons, and the flavor is far superior to store-bought bottles.
- Pre-baking the crust is essential to avoid a soggy, undercooked shortbread bottom. Blind baking before adding the lemon layer ensures that the crust turns out firm and tender.
- Bake the lemon filling at a low temperature to prevent overbaking and burning the filling. For a light and even color without browning, don’t forget to turn down the temperature after pouring the lemon mixture and bake the bars low and slow.
- Don’t worry about air bubbles – you didn’t do anything wrong. Air from the egg yolks rises to the surface naturally. Most of the bubbles dissolve during baking, but some get stuck. This doesn’t affect the taste at all, and you can easily cover the bubbles up with a dusting of powdered sugar.
- Bake the bars in a non-metallic baking dish. Ceramic or glass pans are best. Creamy lemon squares baked in a metal pan can take on a metallic taste.
- Slice the lemon bars with a very sharp knife to get those clean, sharp edges. Rinse the blade under running, warm water, and wipe with a paper towel between each cut.
- Lime squares: To prepare creamy lime squares, substitute the lemon juice and zest with the same amount of lime juice and lime zest. You can use key limes or regular limes. The recipe is also fantastic with other citrus fruit like blood oranges or grapefruits.
- Graham cracker crust: To make this creamy lemon bars recipe with a graham cracker crust, combine 1 cup graham cracker crumbs with 1 tablespoon sugar and 3 tablespoons melted butter. Then press the mixture into the pan and bake the creamy lemon bars as instructed.
- Chocolate chips: Fold 1/2 cup white chocolate chips into the lemon filling for lemon bars with chocolate chips. Then bake the bars following the recipe instructions.
- Other topping ideas: Condensed milk lemon bars are delicious all on their own, but they’re also perfect for all sorts of toppings. Dust them with powdered sugar, pipe on tuffs of whipped cream, and decorate fresh or candied lemon slices. You can spread meringue over your lemon square bars and caramelize it with a kitchen torch.
How to store condensed milk lemon bars
Since the lemon squares recipe is made with dairy and eggs, homemade lemon squares need to be refrigerated. Simply cover the baking dish tightly with foil and store for 5 to 6 days.
How long do lemon bars last?
Lemon bars with shortbread crust will last at room temperature for a couple of hours and should be kept in the refrigerator. They are good for about 7 days stored refrigerated and in an airtight container.
Can you freeze lemon bars with sweetened condensed milk?
Yes, lemon bars with sweetened condensed milk freeze beautifully! To freeze, let the lemon bars cool completely first. Next, cut the cooled bar (without the powdered sugar on top) into squares and arrange on a lined baking sheet.
Flash-freeze for 1 to 2 hours. Then wrap each lemon square individually in plastic wrap and place in a freezer-safe container or zip-top bag to freeze. Lemon bars with egg yolks can be frozen for 1 to 2 months.
To defrost, just let them thaw in the refrigerator overnight, dust with powdered sugar, and enjoy. Since the lemon custard doesn’t entirely solidify in the freezer, you can enjoy also eat them without thawing.
Can you make lemon bars ahead of time?
Yes, lemon bars with sweetened condensed milk are a delicious make-ahead dessert because they last almost a week if stored correctly. As mentioned, keep them on a covered plate or in an airtight container in the fridge.
You can make them 1 to 2 days in advance. Just wait to dust the lemon squares with powdered sugar until it’s time to serve. Otherwise, the sugar will dissolve into the bars. They will still taste delicious, so don’t worry if that happens.
More lemon recipes
Who wants more lemon recipes? I thought so. If you love lemony desserts as much as me, try some of these scrumptious ideas:
- No-Bake Lemon Curd Parfait
- Easy Lemon Donuts
- Homemade Lemon Curd
- Chocolate Chip Lemon Cookies
- Lemon Cheesecake from A Classic Twist
- Lemon Yogurt Cake from Chef Lola’s Kitchen
How do you zest lemons?
Zesting lemons and other citrus fruits is pretty simple. First, wash the fruit under warm running water and scrub off the protective wax. Then dry with a kitchen towel.
Hold the zester at an angle and run your lemon across to remove the yellow peel. Stop once you reach the white pith, which taste bitter. Then rotate the lemon and repeat until you’ve gone around the whole fruit.
A microplane also works excellent to zest lemons. I’ve also used a cheese grater or box grater to zest lemon peel when I had no other options.
What are the best lemons for lemon squares?
Regular lemons are best for lemon bars with sweetened condensed milk because they provide the best tang and lemon aroma. You can also use Meyer lemons if you prefer a milder, less sour taste. Avoid bottled lemon juice and lemon concentrate.
Does lemon juice curdle condensed milk?
Lemon juice thickens sweetened condensed milk but doesn’t curdle or split it. The trick is to mix the condensed milk and egg yolks before adding the lemon juice.
Can I use evaporated milk instead of condensed milk?
No, I’m afraid evaporated milk won’t work in this recipe because you would have to make too many adjustments. The texture would turn out differently, and you’d have to add extra sugar. The same goes for half-and-half.
Why are my lemon bars not setting?
Lemon bars not setting usually means they need to bake a little longer. Continue baking them until the center of the lemon filling looks jiggly but no longer liquid.
What to do when lemon bars are browning?
If you notice the edges or top start to brown, check that the temperature isn’t too high and cover the baking pan with aluminum foil.