Gooey Lemon Cake Bars

Turn your favorite Gooey Butter Cake into a Lemon dessert! Gooey Lemon Cake Bars make everybody happy and no one has to know you started with a box of cake mix!

For more easy cake mix recipes, try our delicious lemon poke cake next. Or give our cake mix cookies a try for a unique treat.

Lemon cake bars cut into squares and dusted with powdered sugar.


Why this Recipe is Best

I based today’s lemon bars off of this easy Gooey Butter Cake recipe. By just changing it slightly they become a whole new dessert.

If you love lemon treats as much as I do you’re going to fall head over heels for these cake bars! They’re full of zesty lemon goodness, like sunshine in bar form. Sure to brighten your day!

  • This recipe starts with a cake mix for easy assembly.
  • The bars have a soft gooey topping, baked on a cake mix crust.
  • You can store them in the refrigerator or freezer.

If you’re loving lemon, be sure to try our delicious, from scratch, lemon cake recipe. Don’t forget to try the lemon frosting too.

Ingredient Notes

Ingredients needed to make gooey lemon cake bars.
  • Lemon Cake Mix- Start with a boxed mix for today’s easy recipe. Any brand will do.
  • Cream Cheese – Choose the “block” not the tub of cream cheese and use full fat cream cheese for best results. Don’t forget to let it soften at room temperature for a few minutes first.
  • Powdered Sugar – This is used to sweeten the gooey layer, and you’ll want to dust the finished dessert with more for a pretty presentation!

PRO TIP- We love making our own homemade vanilla extract, but if using store bought, be sure it’s pure extract, not imitation (for best flavor).

Easy Instructions

Step by step photos showing how to make lemon cake bars.

STEP 1. Make the crust. Combine the cake mix, butter and egg until well mixed. Press into the bottom of a 13×9 baking dish.

STEP 2. Make the filling. Combine the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and eggs in a mixer and beat until fluffy. Pour over the crust.

STEP 3. Bake, cool and refrigerate. Bake the bars in a 325 degree oven for 40-45 minutes then let cool completely. For best flavor, refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight before serving.

Tips and Tricks

  • Make sure to let your butter and cream cheese come to room temperature. This is important!
  • When in doubt, underbake. My bars are ready to come out of the oven at about 40 minutes. Underbaking also helps show the definitive separation in layers.
  • Chill well. I know the cake smells so good when it comes out of the oven, you’ll be tempted to dig in right away. But cooling the bars and then chilling them for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator before serving helps them firm up to the right texture. I also LOVE the taste of these bars best when they’re cold.
  • Top with powdered sugar. These bars look best with a dusting of powdered sugar on top to add a sweet decorative touch!
Gooey lemon cake bars in a 13x9 glass dish cut into squares.

Recipe FAQs

Are powdered sugar and confectioner’s sugar the same?

Yes! It’s labeled as one or the other, depending on the brand. So if your box says “confectioner’s sugar” it can still be used in this recipe.

Can I make gooey lemon cake bars in advance?

Absolutely. Bake the bars the night before and keep them covered with foil or plastic wrap in the fridge overnight.

Can you freeze lemon cake bars?

Yes! After baking and cooling, slice the cake bars and place in an airtight, freezer safe container (or ziploc bag). When ready to enjoy, allow to thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and enjoy.

More Lemon Recipes

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Gooey Lemon Cake Bars

4.81 from 68 votes
By: Aimee
Turn your favorite Gooey Butter Cake into a Lemon dessert! Gooey Lemon Cake Bars make everybody happy and no one has to know you started with a box of cake mix!
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Chill Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 4 hours 45 minutes
Servings: 15 servings

Ingredients 

For the crust:

  • 1 box Lemon Cake Mix 15 ounce
  • ½ cup unsalted butter softened
  • 1 large egg

For the filling:

  • 8 ounce cream cheese softened
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs

Instructions 

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine cake mix, butter and egg. Press into the bottom of a 13×9 baking dish.
  • Combine cream cheese, sugar, vanilla eggs in a mixer. Beat until fluffy. Pour over crust.
  • Bake in a 325 degree oven for 40-45 minutes (I underbake mine a little to get that definitive separation in layers). Remove from oven and cool completely.
  • Refrigerate for 4 hours (or overnight) for best flavor. ENJOY.

Notes

  • When in doubt, underbake. My bars are ready to come out of the oven at about 40 minutes.
  • Chill well. I know the cake smells so good when it comes out of the oven, you’ll be tempted to dig in right away. But chilling this for at least 4 hours before serving helps it firm up to the right texture. I also LOVE the taste of these bars best when they’re cold.
  • Can this be made ahead of time? Absolutely. Bake them the night before and keep them covered with foil or plastic wrap in the fridge over night.

Nutrition

Serving: 1slice, Calories: 310kcal, Carbohydrates: 44g, Protein: 4g, Fat: 14g, Saturated Fat: 8g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g, Cholesterol: 69mg, Sodium: 317mg, Sugar: 30g
Course: Cake
Cuisine: American
Did you make this recipe?Mention @shugarysweets or tag #shugarysweets!


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About Aimee

Aimee is a dessert lover (specifically rice krispie treats), workout enthusiast, self-taught foodie, and recipe creator.

Learn more about Aimee.

Affiliate Disclosure:**There may be affiliate links in this post! By clicking on them, or purchasing recommended items I may receive a small compensation. However, I only recommend products I love! Thank you for supporting Shugary Sweets! See my disclosure policy for more info**

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Posted on March 22, 2018

Comments & Reviews

  1. THIS IS A CHEAT! BEWARE! and it’s the MFGR.’s fault. There are no 18.25 oz cake mixes available for sale today. I
    I keep a seal tight container of yellow or white boxed cake mix in my cupboard for this problem 2/3 cup of this will bring the 15.25 to 18.25. This can really help! I noticed this cause I found an old box in the back of my pantry, so I started checking.

  2. This sounds like a great recipe – I only have a single layer (8.5 oz) lemon cake mix – could I cut this recipe in half and bake in single 8″, 9″ square or round pan?

  3. Aimee,
    I took your advice, used my yellow cake mix, added the zest of one lemon and switched the vanilla extract out with lemon extract to the filling-the flavor was spot on. I’m afraid if I had added lemon to the cake mix, it might have been too much. Thank you for your suggestions!

    1. Glad to hear it came out great!!! Thanks for circling back and letting me know (and the readers too)!! Have a great week.

  4. Thank you for “freshening up” an old but good recipe! Was going to make gooey butter bars for a church dinner this weekend. After reading this post, I would like to make a change in my plans but I need a little help-I have a yellow cake mix as I was going to use to make the traditional gooey butter bar recipe. I would like to convert to a lemon version, using the yellow cake mix. I was thinking of adding lemon extract to the cake mix along with some lemon zest. To the filling I would use lemon extract instead of vanilla and add some zest. My question is, do you think I should add some fresh lemon juice to some part of the recipe to bring out additional lemon flavor? I have a Duncan Hines yellow cake mix if that helps. If you think I should go ahead and use a lemon cake mix, that’s fine as well. Was trying to use what I had on hand. Thanks for any advice!

    1. I would say you will be fine with the yellow cake mix. If it were me, I would make the cheesecake filling more lemon-y by adding in zest and lemon extract (and just let the “crust” layer be the yellow cake mix part). I would use one fresh lemon, zest the entire lemon, and I would add 1 tsp lemon extract. Let me know what you decide and how it turns out 🙂 ENJOY!!

  5. I see the chocolate recipe you based this one off of also has 1/2 cup butter in the filling (as I know traditional gooey butter cakes do) So, just to be sure, no butter goes into the filling of this lemon alternative?

  6. Love the recipe, but my gooey topping browned. It doesn’t look dreamy like yours. What did I do wrong? I cooked it for the specified time.

  7. question;
    is the butter and eggs for the crust seprate, (like extra from the eggs and milk the box says to add) or is it part of the cake mix ingredients?

    1. Just combine the cake mix, the butter and eggs for the crust (no additional items like the box says). Then combine the filling ingredients and place over crust. Bake everything together! ENJOY 🙂

  8. My RANT of the year… All these wonderful recipes that use Duncan Hines cake mixes that call for 18.5 oz. that are now 16.5 and even 15.25 (Betty Crocker, which isn’t as tasty as Duncan Hines). . I have an AMAZING Earth Quake Cake that I’ve made over the years, Lemon Blossoms that are to die for… and POOF! The ratio is off. I’d rather pay more for the cake mixes then have the 1% companies make us believe we’re getting the same amount for the same price. Ok… hopping off my soap box. I’m still going to try this recipe with the 15.5 oz box.

  9. Very disappointed. They were neither gooey nor lemony. In addition to the fact that the recipe does not give different baking times for glass and metal pans, I nearly burned out the motor of my small, hand held mixer beating the dough, But let’s get to what’s advertised. Perhaps living in Costa Rica where lemon flavors everything, I found simply using the cake mix fairly bland and with no additives with lemon in the topping, there was no addition zing.
    Adapting the first time, I added 1/4 cup of lemon juice to the batter making a somewhat crumbly base (I’d adjusted cooking time as well) and added the zest of three limes to the topping. It still didn’tr reach the desired intensity. On my final try, I layered in a strong glaize of homemade lemon on top of the cake then added the zest of five limes to the topping and when serving added a combination of lime and lemon zest for color and flavor.

  10. Recipe for the frosting on these lemon bars. Didn’t see it anywhere and would love it to finish them like yours. Yummy! Thanks.

    1. It’s all there in the recipe. There is no separate frosting layer, the top layer gets baked on with the crust layer.

  11. I just shared this recipe on my “Weekly Round-up” series of top recipe finds! This week was all about lemons, so I knew this was a must add. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful recipe with us!

  12. Mine turned out dense and not light or fluffy like the picture. I’m thinking I baked it too long. And, I baked mine using my convection oven. Next batch will be with the regular oven and I will watch the time. Also, my topping never got what I would call light and fluffy, so I will make sure the eggs are at room temp along with very soft cream cheese. I think the recipe is super easy, but the little things matter a lot if you want the perfect result. Thanks!

    1. I usually bake from scratch too. I have never tried this with a from-scratch cake though.

  13. I have made these twice now. The first time I added some extra lemon just and some zest to the cream cheese topping and I got rave reviews. This time I just left it per your instructions. I am sure they will be great either way! Thanks so much for the great recipe!

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