The recipe for these easy, dairy-free lemon bars uses clever ingredients to create a better-for-you dessert that still delivers the puckery deliciousness of the original, classic treat.
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Lemon bars are one of my go-to desserts. I make them all year long because they’re so easy to put together and they feed a crowd in no time, but I find them especially comforting in winter. Of course, winter is citrus season, and because I live in a very snowy city, I need any and all zesty treats to get me through those long, cold months.
I’ve been making lemon bars for years and years, and when I first started making them, I started with some classic recipes created by Ina Garten and Martha Stewart. I loved them, but over the years, I’ve become more and more interested in making substitutions that lead to leaner, better-for-you desserts that don’t sacrifice taste and result in the exact same satisfaction you’d get from an indulgent treat.
Over time, I tweaked my lemon bar recipe, reducing the butter and sugar amounts every time. I finally ended up foregoing butter altogether to create fully dairy-free lemon bars: using a small amount of oil in the crust is enough to hold the mixture together and create the perfectly crunchy, sturdy base to hold the creamy, puckery lemon filling.
Speaking of that deliciously tart lemon filling, I’ve also managed to reduce the number of eggs required in the recipe by using a bit of cornstarch to give the filling the right consistency. Although you can vary the ingredients you use (I’ve provided options below), using nut oils and adding ground nuts to the crust boosts the nutritional value of this dessert. All these clever tips help make these dairy-free lemon bars better for you—I’ll gladly admit I sometimes (all right, often!) enjoy a bar as a mid-morning snack!
I published a version of these delightful dairy-free lemon bars in my cookbook Simply Citrus, and I felt it was about time I shared it on my site too. This recipe is a formula, really, so you should feel free to make it your own. Switch up the nuts and citrus fruits you use to suit your personal preference: you really can’t go wrong.
Helpful Tips for Making Dairy-Free Lemon Bars
Try going organic: I don’t always buy organic citrus fruits, but I find it worth hunting organic lemons down to make lemon bars. Every time you use citrus zest, it’s better to go organic, because getting rid of the wax and other undesirable products that coat the peel is difficult, no matter how hard you scrub. Plus, organic lemons are more fragrant and slightly less aggressively acidic. Lemon is front and center in this dessert, so there’s no escaping subpar lemon flavor.
Vary your citrus: Don’t be afraid to play around with the citrus fruits you use in these bars. Try to make them with flowery sweet Meyer lemons, if you can find them. Or substitute limes or key limes. If you don’t like your lemon desserts to be too puckery, don’t increase the amount of sugar—instead, try substituting a third of the lemon juice for freshly squeezed orange or mandarin juice.
Play around with the crust ingredients: My favorite nuts to use in lemon bars are hazelnuts, because their sweet, deeply nutty flavor stands up to the strong taste of lemon while complementing it at the same time. You can also use almonds, walnuts, and pecans—try to match the oil to the nut you use, or simply go for a smooth olive oil or neutral-tasting canola, sunflower, or grapeseed oil. For an exotic twist, substitute shredded unsweetened coconut for the nuts and use coconut oil to bind the ingredients together.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, ground nuts, powdered sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Drizzle in the oil, then stir with a fork or your hands until the mixture is fully moistened. Transfer to the prepared pan and firmly press it down to form a crust. Bake for 15 minutes or until light golden brown.
While the crust is baking, make the filling: In a mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Whisk in the eggs, one by one, then whisk in the lemon zest and juice.
When the crust is done, take it out of the oven. Whisk the filling once again just before pouring it over the hot crust. Carefully transfer the pan back into the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes more, or until the edges are lightly browned and the center is still slightly jiggly. (The bars will set fully as they cool.)
Set the pan on a cooling rack and let the dairy-free lemon bars cool completely, at least 1 hour. Run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan, then carefully pull the bars out of the pan using the overhanging parchment paper. Cut into bars.
SERVING: Sprinkle with powdered sugar right before serving. The lemon filling is moist, so it will moisten the sugar and make it disappear within 15 minutes.
STORAGE: These dairy-free lemon bars are best enjoyed the day they’re made. Store leftover lemon bars in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 day. Bring back to room temperature 15 minutes before serving, and dust with more powdered sugar right before serving to revive that iconic look.
I highly recommend pouring the lemon filling onto the hot crust within a few minutes of it coming out of the oven. Upon cooling, the crust will shrink a little. If you pour the filling over a cool crust, the latter could lift up and “float” to the top of the filling, creating inverted lemon bars. These are completely edible, but they might not look like you and your guests were expecting.
Try using different citrus fruits: Make these dairy-free lemon bars with flowery sweet Meyer lemons, if you can find them. Or substitute limes or key limes. If you don’t like your lemon desserts to be too puckery, don’t increase the amount of sugar—instead, try substituting a third of the lemon juice for freshly squeezed orange or mandarin juice.
Did you make this?
Tell me how you liked it! Leave a comment or take a picture and tag it with @foodnouveau on Instagram.
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