There are a lot of options in the lemon bar recipe world, but I will argue that these Lemon Cream Cheese Bars are the only one you will ever need or want. I have had people ask for this recipe almost 10 years after eating them; they were that memorable.Jump to Recipe
Back in the day (way back there), I played high school volleyball. One of my favorite parts of playing team sports was pre-game dinners. I just loved being with my teammates, preparing for a big game, and knowing everyone was going to be fueled well. Seriously, as a captain of my team I took comfort in knowing everyone had eaten. Little did I know this would turn into my career. =)
During these team dinners, one of the moms, Mrs. Bishop, would bring these incredible lemon cream cheese bars. I'd never had anything like them. They weren't the weird jelly kind of lemon bar; I got nothing for those. These were more on the side of cheesecake and I am always on board for that.
When I went away to college, through one way or another, my mom started bringing these lemon bars up when she visited. Oh man, a hug from my mama and a lemon bar did my soul a lotta good, especially as a freshman. They also helped my popularity among friends. That never hurts.
Over the years I have made some improvements to the original recipe that I think take them over the top. If you know me at all, you know I love a solid dessert like my Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies and Pistachio Blond Brownies.
These Cream Cheese Lemon Bars are made from very simple ingredients but the right ones do make a difference.
- Fresh lemon zest and juice - fresh is the best here and I would avoid using the bottle juice unless that's all you have available.
- Yellow cake mix - I prefer ones that also have pudding in them like this brand. However, any yellow cake mix will do the trick.
- Oil - I use a neutral oil in this recipe like canola, vegetable or avocado oil.
- Cream cheese - 2, 8 ounce bricks
First of all, use a lot of lemon zest in the crust. The more the better! Don't be shy.
This is what the crust dough looks like when it's all mixed. It's like playdough consistency. I like a nice thick crust, so don't make it too thin when you press it in. Just make sure you have about a cup and half minimum leftover to use for the crumb topping.
When you beat the cream cheese filling, whip it good! I use the whisk attachment and let it go for 5+ minutes. It's a runny mixture, but I think it helps get it a little fluffy. Also, taste as you go on the lemon juice. I use the juice of 2 lemons, but if you want more zing, go for it!
Lastly, I like to almost entirely cover the filling with crumb topping. So again, make sure you have enough crust left to cover the filling. Since you use 2 boxes of cake mix though, you don't have to worry about not having enough.
- More lemon - you can add more lemon zest and juice if you really like to pucker up.
- No lemon - you can leave out the lemon zest and juice completely and stick to a cream cheese bar with a vanilla flavor. If you do this, add 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla extract to the cream cheese filling mixture in place of the lemon juice.
That's all the secret tips for success! Here's the official recipe.
Lemon Cream Cheese Bars
- 2 boxes of yellow cake mix*
- 2 eggs, beaten
- ⅔ cup vegetable oil
- Zest from 2 lemons
Cream Cheese Filling
- 2 8 oz packages cream cheese softened to room temperature
- ⅔ cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- Juice from 2 fresh lemons
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Spray a 9x13 baking dish.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine both boxes of cake mix, 2 eggs, oil and zest. Stir to combine and then use your hands to finish mixing completely.
- Using your fingers, press about ⅔ of the crust mixture into the bottom of the pan creating a flat bottom of dough. Crust should be about ½" in thickness. Bake for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, beat the cream cheese and sugar together with an electric mixer and whisk attachment until combined. Add 2 eggs and lemon juice. Beat for about 5 minutes. Taste as needed to determine if you want to add more lemon juice.
- When crust is done baking, remove from oven. Pour filling on top of the crust (it's ok for crust to be hot), covering the crust completely.
- Crumble the remaining ⅓ of the raw crust dough on top of the filing to cover as much as possible.
- Bake for 25-30 more minutes, until center of the bars is set and doesn't jiggle, and crumb topping is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool completely.
- Once cool to the touch, refrigerate for at least 3-4 hours.
- Cut into bars and serve as cold if possible.
You can cut the bars as big or small as you like.
There you have it folks. Prepare to have your lemon bar life changed forever.
- Allow these Lemon Cream Cheese Bars to cool to almost room temperature on the counter. Then cover and store in the fridge.
- Keep these cold until ready to store. When they need to sit out for service, consider placing them on top of a cooling mat, like this one.