March 7, 2020

Cheesecake Bars with Lemon Shortbread

These bars depart from the traditional graham cracker crust and use a lemony shortbread to carry a light, fluffy and super flavorful filling. Both parts of the bars are made in a food processor and the pie is baked slowly in a very easy, hassle-free water bath. It’s lemon, vanilla and cream cheese shining at their best with minimal effort.

5 from 10 votes
Yield: 10
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easy cheesecake


Here’s my cheesecake philosophy: I’ll rarely, if ever, make it if I have to fuss over it. I hate pressing crumbs up the sides of pans (even though I’ve done it for some very special pistachio butter and apple cider cheesecakes) and I groan at the thought of wrapping up a springform pan in foil for a water bath which will most definitely seep in. So I found a way to make cheesecake that is dead simple, and totally flavorful.





Recipe overview

The first time I made these, I made them crustless. Yep, I cut down the steps and went straight to the point: filling only. It was delicious, if a bit messy. And since these might be the kind of dish you make to take to parties or gatherings, or serve at your own, I figured a crust was probably a good idea. But I didn’t want to go down the traditional route of graham crackers so I made a super simple lemon shortbread (like the one that held up these blueberry curd bars).

The result? Truly wonderful. Adding lemon to the base rounds out every bite. The shortbread is wonderfully crumbly and holds up a filling that is light and fluffy – made possible by making it in a food processor and baking it in a waterbath (which needs no wrapping!). Next time someone asks you for cheesecake and you aim more something easy but delicious – you make these!


Lemony Cheesecake bars

Some people like their cheesecake mostly vanilla, some think it can’t be cheesecake without the lemon. I’m definitely in the latter group. To get more lemon flavor into these I have zest in the shortbread and some juice in the filling. However, one fabulous way to impart lemon flavor into the filling is to incorporate the zest – without letting it interfere with the creamy texture by making lemon sugar.

To do this you’ll zest 1-2 lemons (depending on how lemony you like it) into the sugar, an hour or more ahead of time (the longer you leave it the more sweet lemony it gets, but overnight it can almost taste like candy). Rub the zest and sugar between your fingers to get the zest to release its oils. Set the sugar in a bowl aside to allow the flavor to develop. When it’s time to use the sugar, sift it through a fine mesh sieve.


Recipe Notes

  • The only machinery you need to make these is a food processor. This saves on dishes and time, but it’s also the best tool for cheesecake because it’s the best to remove lumps and get the filling super creamy.
  • I like lemon in everything but if you wanted something more vanilla, skip the lemon here. You’ll want to add a bit of vanilla to the crust too.
  • Our water bath here is just a sheet cake pan filled with hot water. You’ll place the pan with the cheesecake into it and they’ll go into the oven together. And since we’re not using a springform pan we don’t have to worry about wrapping it in foil, yay!


Recipe for Cheesecake Shortbread Bars

Cheesecake Shortbread Bars

Easy recipe for cheesecake made in a food processor, lends the creamiest texture and is set atop a lemony, crumbly shortbread crust.
cheesecake shortbread bars
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Yields: 10
5 from 10 votes


Lemon Shortbread Crust

  • 160g or 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 50g or ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 15g or 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 130g or 10 tablespoons unsalted butter cut into cubes

Cheesecake Filling

  • 220g or 1 cup granulated sugar
  • zest of two lemons
  • 453g or 2 bricks cream cheese at room temperature
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or paste
  • 120g or 1/2 cup sour cream or labneh
  • Juice of a lemon optional
  • two large eggs at room temperature


  • Preheat the oven to 325 F and line an 8×8 or 9×9 square pan with parchment paper (two longer pieces which make a + sign will make the easiest to lift out).
  • In a food processor combine all the dry ingredients for the crust. Pulse it to just combine and then add the butter. Run the food processor until the dough comes together in wet, sandy crumbs.
  • Press the dough into the bottom of the pan into one even layer. Bake it for about 30 minutes, until it is golden all over.
  • Wipe your food processor completely clean (no crumbs left) and process the cream cheese, vanilla, lemon juice, sour cream, sugar and salt until there are no lumps of cream cheese (scraping down as needed). You can also do this in a stand mixer or in a bowl with a hand mixer.
  • Add the eggs and process to just combine, no more.
  • When the crust is done, pour the cheesecake filling into the pan. Place the square pan in a 13×9” cake sheet pan and pour very hot water into the cake pan to make a water bath.
  • Place the cheesecake and it’s water bath into the oven and bake for about 40 minutes, until the center is still a little jiggly but the sides are set.


For a more lemony taste, rub the zest into the sugar a few hours or the night before and store in the fridge. 

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Recipe Reviews

  1. 5 stars
    So easy and YUM! I make cheesecake variations often, but I didn’t have my usual crust ingredients (either graham crackers or biscoff cookies), so I decided to go for a shorbread crust recipe and so glad this is the one I landed on. I used the full amount of lemon but would add even more next time because I love lemony desserts. To adapt the recipe to a 9×13 pan, I multiplied the recipe by 1.5 — the filling fit perfectly and I ended up with 24 square bars.

  2. 5 stars
    These were so easy to make and everyone loved them! I held back on the lemon in the crust but next time I will add the full amount. It definitely needs it to stand up to the lemon in the cheesecake! Big plus – first time trying anything cheesecake and no cracks on top!! Thank you!!

  3. Hi Sam, I’m based in Europe where I believe we have slightly different cream cheese,, I’ve understood I need to look for the most solid one but could you let me known how many grams i need? thank you and happy holidays!

  4. Making these first time for friends tonight. the recipe ends without any instructions after the doneness test. How best to store them and do they cool at room temp?
    I love lemon and cheesecake so I have fingers crossed!

  5. These were very good but I would have loved a bit more lemon kick in the filling ( I did use the juice of a lemon). I wish that the suggestion to add zest to the sugar to infuse more lemon flavour was written in the actual recipe instructions rather than just in the writing above. People don’t always read the entire post before making a recipe so having tips like that right in the recipe is very useful.

  6. 5 stars
    Even as an experienced baker, I am admittedly skittish when it comes to making cheesecake. I have been wanting to make a lemon dessert and had just about everything on hand for this, so I finally decided to give cheesecake a go with this recipe. And it turned out SO GOOD. A nice even bake, lovely lemony flavor. I may have just overcome my fear of baking cheesecake. Thanks Sam!!

  7. 5 stars
    Second time making these this month because I couldn’t stop thinking about them. The first time, we were so excited, we started eating when they were still warm. Delicious, but better after they’ve cooled. So creamy, and I’m a huge fan of the more sugar cookie style crust. I have a friend who doesn’t normally like citrus or fruit desserts, and he absolutely loved this. It’s just the right amount of lemon without being too sweet or too sour. As a testament to that, I made these along with Sam’s chocolate ganache, pb pie and noticed people eating them alongside each other.

  8. 5 stars
    This was my first buttermilk by sam recipe and it did not disappoint! The lemon sugar was *chefs kiss*. Lemon is one of my favorite flavors so I knew I would love it and even my husband who doesn’t usually like lemon was into this. I made for Easter 2020 and since there were just the two of us (hellooooo covid) and actually halved the recipe and baked in a rectangular tart pan with a removable bottom so i made a foil moat to protect the water from seeping in and it still worked perfectly!

  9. 5 stars
    Okay. These are incredible! The lemon sugar is brilliant. I doubled the recipe for a 9×13 pyrex, added a bit of lemon extract, and added a sour cream layer on top of the cheesecake layer. They are pure perfection!! The shortbread is sugar-cookie-esque and the lemon cheesecake is so creamy and delicious. Will definitely make these again and again. Thanks for the recipe, Sam!

    Sour Cream Topping (final layer after cheesecake is baked, no water bath needed)
    3 c. sour cream
    ¼ c. sugar
    1 tsp vanilla
    Pour over cheesecake and bake at 450 for 5 minutes

  10. 5 stars
    I LOVED this recipe. The shortbread crust made it extra delicious. Sadly, my husband is not a cheesecake lover but hey, more for me!

    • Good question. I think it helps with the cream cheese in particular, certainly. But because we’re using a food processor here which will work out the lumps, it isn’t absolutely necessary. Short answer: get them to room temp if you have time!

  11. 5 stars
    LOve love this recipe. I am thinking of doubling it into a 9X13. Do you thing that would work well? And using other flavors also 🙂