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Perfect Vegan Lemon Bars (Gluten Free and Sugar Free options)

Bright, refreshing, and perfectly textured, these vegan lemon bars are bursting with lemon flavor and happiness.  Matched with a buttery lemon zest shortbread crust, you will never need another lemon bar recipe again!

Artistic photo of many lemon bars on a white background, dusted with powdered sugar

Confession time!  Growing up, I never found lemon bars appealing.  They were always the absolute last dessert I’d go for in a buffet spread, never the thing I’d grab at a party, and just in general not a dessert I’d find myself craving.  If this were a Buzzfeed quiz about which dessert to save and which to eliminate, this would always have been my quick “eliminate” answer.

BUT.  But.  That is until I made these vegan lemon bars.  I did it because I figured even if they aren’t MY favorite treat, there are other vegan and gluten free friends out there who need a great recipe for lemon bars, and I don’t want to deprive anyone.  So I started taste testing to make sure I knew what I was doing, and then crafted these.  And I’m not gonna lie, I’ve started craving them.  I still crave chocolate more frequently, but I have started wishing I had a lemon bar after lunch each day. 

The added bit of lemon zest into the shortbread crust gives it an extra pop of flavor, the filling is the perfect texture, and it’s the best ratio of filling to crust there is – a lot more filling than crust, but you can still distinctly taste the buttery shortbread crumbling in your mouth with each bite.  Just writing this makes me want to whip together a batch immediately!

Lemon Bars (Vegan & Gluten Free)

How To Make Them:

These vegan lemon bars are super quick and easy, I love recipes where the instructions are basically “throw all the ingredients into a bowl or pan together and let them do their thing”, and that’s what we have here!  BUT they do require some time at the end to fully firm up – I like to let them sit overnight, but you can get away with 1.5-2 hours if you’re making them same day.  I always like to say this early on so if you are reading this at 6pm and need a dessert to be on a dinner table ready to go in less than an hour, look elsewhere (but, ya know, still on my site) and come back here tomorrow!

There are two parts to this recipe – the crust, and the filling.  Both are supremely easy, but completely different.  I make my bars in an 8×8 pan (I am not great with self-control so I like to not have 9×13 amounts of stuff sitting around tempting me) but if you are using a 9×13 pan just double the amounts of ingredients, all else remains the same.

The crust..

Let’s start with the crust!  This lemon flavored shortbread crust comes together by mixing flour, granulated sugar (see the Ingredients Needed section to learn how to make these sugar free!), salt, and lemon zest with cold vegan butter.  I like to take the butter out of the fridge just before combining everything, then you can use either a pastry cutter, forks, or your hands to combine everything until it resembles soft crumbs. 

Press the crust mixture into a parchment paper lined pan and try to make it as evenly pressed down as possible across the pan.  It’s okay if this isn’t perfect!  Bake the crust on its own for 20 minutes, during which time we will make the filling.

The filling..

The filling is equally as simple as the crust.  You combine the lemon juice (ideally freshly squeezed!  This will take 3-4 lemons), canned coconut milk, lemon zest, granulated sugar (again, see the Ingredients Needed section to learn how to make these sugar free), cornstarch, salt, and turmeric in a small pot or saucepan.  Whisk everything together until combined, then let it warm up on medium heat until it thickens.  Keep stirring with a spoon while it comes together.  This will take about 5 minutes, and it will be magical.  For the first few minutes it will just be off-white liquid with some yellow specks from the zest, bubbling a bit as it gets warm.  Then suddenly, POOF, it is a thick yellow gel!

Lemon Bars - mixture
Lemon Bars - mixture

(The photos of this part of the process are tragic because I was making the bars at night and my kitchen without natural light photographs like a dungeon. But hopefully you can follow along if you need visual reference, and of course ask any questions in the comments)

Time to bake!

Once you’ve got your magical lemon filling gel, pour it into the pan with the pre-baked crust, and use a spatula to smooth it around as evenly as possible.  Again, making things smooth and even is not my strong-suit, so just do the best you can.  Put the whole thing into the oven for another 15 minutes, and then let it cool fully to room temperature before moving into the fridge.  Like I said earlier, 1.5-2 hours should be enough time to set it, but for a really perfect bar, let them come together in the fridge overnight. 

Note – if you are using the photos, you will see that I use binder clips to keep the parchment paper in place on my 8×8 pan. I remove these before putting the pan into the oven.

Lined 8x8 pan
Lemon Bars - mixture
Lemon Bars (Vegan & Gluten Free)

Once they are ready I suggest sifting a little powdered sugar over the top, then cut into either 9 or 16 equal squares. And that’s it! Time to eat your perfect vegan lemon bars!!

Nutritional info can be found in the Notes section below the recipe instructions.

Storage:

Store in the fridge, they will stay good for 5-7 days.

Pro Tips & Tools:

  • Make sure you are measuring your flour either by weight or using the spoon and level method.  Do not scoop directly from the container, as you will wind up with too much! This is so important! If you want to buy a pre-made gluten free flour blend, make sure it’s King Arthur’s Measure for Measure Gluten Free Flour, it is BY FAR the best one for my recipes, NOT Bob’s Red Mills or any others. If you want to make a homemade blend, here is a link to the one I use.
  • Make sure you measure your liquid ingredients using liquid measuring cups.  This will ensure accuracy!  I love this set.
  • Be a lemon master! Get the finest zest using this microplane, and get the most juice out of them using this juicer.

Ingredients Needed:

  • Flour – Make sure you are measuring your flour either by weight or using the spoon and level method.  Do not scoop directly from the container, as you will wind up with too much! This is so important! If you want to buy a pre-made gluten free flour blend, make sure it’s King Arthur’s Measure for Measure Gluten Free Flour, it is BY FAR the best one for my recipes, NOT Bob’s Red Mills or any others. If you want to make a homemade blend, here is a link to the one I use.
  • Granulated sugar – needed for the crust and the filling. If you want to make these sugar free, I love using this Monkfruit Sweetener in place of granulated sugar.
  • Salt
  • Vegan butter – I use the Earth Balance sticks, which makes it extra easy in this recipe because it’s just one stick
  • Lemon juice & zest – I use 4 lemons to get the zest and juice needed for this recipe
  • Coconut milk – the good canned kind, not the type in the fridge section of the grocery store! This one is my go-to, but you can use any similar ones.
  • Cornstarch
  • Turmeric – this is just to add a bright yellow color, I promise it won’t affect the flavor at all!  
  • Powdered sugar – optional, to dust over the top. If you want this part to be sugar free, you can use this Monkfruit Powdered Sweetener in place of powdered sugar.

What To Bake Next:

Artistic photo of many lemon bars on a white background, dusted with powdered sugar

Perfect Vegan Lemon Bars (Gluten Free option)

Bright, refreshing, and perfectly textured, these lemon bars are bursting with lemon flavor and happiness.  Matched with a buttery lemon zest shortbread crust, you will never need another lemon bar recipe again!
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 35 mins
Rest Time 2 hrs
Total Time 2 hrs 45 mins
Course Dessert, Lunch Box, Snack, tea party
Servings 16 bars

Ingredients
  

Shortbread Crust Ingredients

  • 1 cup gluten free flour can sub all-purpose if desired. This links to my favorite store bought gluten free flour blend that works best with all of my recipes, or see “Ingredients Needed” section for further info.
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar *if you want a sugar free option, this links to my favorite sweetener, you can substitute it 1:1 in place of regular granulated sugar
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • ½ cup vegan butter cold, straight from the fridge

Lemon Filling Ingredients

  • ½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 5 tbsp cornstarch
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp lemon zest
  • pinch turmeric

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 350°F, and line an 8×8 pan with parchment paper (if you want to use a 9×13 pan, double all ingredients, keep all else the same)  
  • In a large bowl, mix together all the crust ingredients.  Use cold butter here and combine with the dry ingredients using a pastry cutter, or forks, or your fingers.  The finished mixture will resemble big, soft crumbs.  Press firmly into an even layer in the pan, and bake for 20 minutes on its own.
  • After the crust has baked (or when it’s nearly ready – this part moves quickly!), combine all the filling ingredients into a small pot or saucepan, and whisk together until combined.  Heat on medium until the mixture thickens up, keep stirring with a spoon throughout this process, this usually takes about 5 minutes.  It will very suddenly go from a milky white mixture to a thick, yellow gel. 
  • Once you have the yellow filling gel, add it over your pre-baked crust, and use a spatula to smooth it and get it as even as possible across the pan.  Bake the whole mixture another 15 minutes.
  • Let the pan come completely to room temperature before moving into the fridge.  Ideally these firm up overnight in the fridge, but if you are baking them for same day eating, try to give them close to 2 hours to come together before removing from the pan and cutting.
  • Once ready to eat, optionally sift some powdered sugar over the top, then cut into 9 or 16 equal squares.
  • Eat and enjoy!

Notes

NUTRITION INFO

Total amount: 16 bars
Serving size: 1 bar
Per serving amounts:
  • Calories – 185
  • Grams of fat – 7.8
  • Grams of carbs – 25.7
  • Grams of protein – 2.1
Keyword gluten free, lemon, lemon bars, lemon zest, shortbread, shortbread crust, vegan
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